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Thirty years behind the counter, and the cat came too

naishmiltonpofficeawvIn the late 1970s, Edna and I started to look for a village shop and Post Office to run. Life would be easier living on the job, we would have spare time to enjoy more pastimes. Did it work out that way?

In 1983 we found The Post Office Stores in Milton-under-Wychwood. It looked a far better prospect than any other businesses we had previously visited, so we packed up our three children, the house and the cat and after a short stay with my mother we moved into the shop on the 8th August 1983.

To say we were naive would be an understatement, and the whirl of shop life began with daily deliveries of bread, greengrocery, milk, three times a week for pies, bacon, sausages, cold meats, salads and cheeses. Weekly deliveries of gammons arrived to cook for the delicatessen counter; Mr. Kipling cakes, sweets, cigarettes, tobacco and frozen foods and monthly visits for cards and stationery, haberdashery and spices. We then had to fit in visits to the Cash and Carry for general groceries and the florist wholesaler for flowers.

All this on top of running the Post Office side of things; this was a daily task of keeping records up to date, ordering more stock and maintaining a weekly balance sheet. Fortunately, the staff we took on when we moved in were great; they knew what to do and patiently showed us the way to do it. We would not have survived without them. Our philosophy was to listen to our customers and order in whatever they asked for. Some items sold quickly, others left the profit sitting on the shelf. In the first year we doubled the turnover.

Oh yes, the cat, Koki, a pale ginger came to us as a ‘rescue’. A neighbour in Mortimer found him where we lived previously. The father of the family was Greek and named him from the Greek word for ginger. He was very friendly and became well known in the Quart Pot where he would go when we had put him out for the night. Our son-in-law Alan befriended him there, until he passed on aged about 20 years; the cat that is! We had an addition to the family in 1988 when our son Christopher was born, it seems to the delight of the whole village.

As time went on and trading conditions changed, we altered the shop to suit. Haberdashery went, so we were left with a large selection of oddments of wool, in colours that could not be matched. We started baking bread, croissants, pies and pasties, which went very well. We became agents for a dry cleaning company, and stocked birdseed. In the 1990s we began newspapers and magazines, and took on paperboys and girls to cover our seven rounds. The deli counter went and we moved the Post Office counter to the main part of the shop. We stopped greengrocery and most general groceries, and concentrated on the items mentioned earlier. The hours were very long and not sustainable; it was only the Post Office salary that kept us going.

A new cat arrived, a little fur ball, which became FB and this became ‘Phoebe’; not a very friendly cat, but more of that later.

After much soul searching and discussion, in 2006 we downsized the business and moved it to a unit in Rawlins Shop, still facing the Green. We took with us the Post Office, stationery and greetings cards, dry cleaning, birdseed and passport photos. The Post Office installed a monitored alarm system and an open counter with limited capacity plus timers on the safes. With alarm systems there are inevitably failures from, say, power cuts or large moths, usually in the small hours of the night. When we set off to investigate, to our surprise, our unfriendly cat would follow us down the road meeowing, and wait outside the shop while we checked things out, and then follow us home. Perhaps she had some empathy after all. Sadly she has gone now, but we can at least feed the birds again. We ran the shop in this location with the help of Anne, until the 30th November 2014, when the Post Office wanted to change my contract and reduce my salary. So with my 70th birthday approaching we took the difficult decision to retire.

We thoroughly enjoyed our 31 years at Milton-under-Wychwood Post Office, as well as the three satellites: Ascott-under-Wychwood for 30 years, Churchill for 26 years and Fifield for 20 years. We had hoped that the Post Office could have been kept as full time, but unfortunately that was not to be. We shall be forever grateful for all the wonderful staff, some who served many years with us. We still value their company and friendship.

If we knew then what we know now, would we do it again? On balance yes; the villagers welcomed us and they stayed loyal to us. We still have many friends within the villages. What more could we ask?

John and Edna Naish

October – November 2017