SHOPPING is not what it was. Whether that’s a good thing is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

A glance at shops gone by might bring the subject into focus.

On February 12, 1910, Mr Vibert, a Newport grocer, arrived at his shop to open up.

He found it full of gas fumes and opened the windows to clear the air. After a few minutes he lit a match, as you do.

The resultant explosion nearly killed him.

The County Press reported: “When Mr Vibert entered his shop at the corner of Lower St James Street on Wednesday morning it was found that gas had been escaping from a chandelier and the doors were thrown open to get rid of the gas.

“However, when a match was lighted later on, Mr Vibert was knocked over by the force of the explosion and was singed about the face and head.

“The explosion blew the plate glass panels out of the shop doors, pieces of glass being driven right across the street.”

Another lucky man was Ventnor grocer, Charles Gilbert. He was charged with selling adulterated coffee.

On March 3, 1894, the CP reported: “Sgt Adams visited the defendant’s shop and asked for half a pound of coffee, with which he was served by a young girl.

“When the witness said it was purchased for analytical purposes, Gilbert said, “I can sell you coffee, but that is chicory and coffee”.

“The public analyst certified that the sample contained 33 per cent chicory. Gilbert pleaded that the mistake occurred because the young girl was not being accustomed to the shop.”

It was a flimsy excuse from a miserable pleader, but it worked.

The articled continued: “The chairman said the bench were willing to take a lenient view of the case but he should be aware that he was answerable for the acts of his servant.

“Fined 5s. and 19s. costs, or seven days.”

In Victorian and Edwardian times, ‘ringing the changes’ was a common swindle.

It meant tricking someone out of their cash by confusing them during the transaction.

The CP reported in June, 1896, that “John Little was charged with the larceny of 30 shillings by means of ringing the changes.

“Inspector Coleman said Miss Dore identified him as the man who had stolen 30s. from her about an hour previously by means of ringing the changes.

“Prisoner said, “Well, if there is any mistake, I will make it up to you sooner than have any bother”.

“Witness charged him with the offence and he replied, “I know I am in the wrong”, and said he would tell where the postal orders were.

“He said, “Excuse me”, put his hand up to one side of his nose, gave a good strong blow and out flew the three postal orders from his nostrils (laughter).

“Prisoner was remanded until Saturday.”

Meanwhile, one summer’s day in 1905, a Mr Scovell was walking past Hilliers, a Cowes butcher’s shop, when a lump of meat sailed through the air and crash-landed on his Panama hat.

Outraged, he took resort to law.

Under the headline A Stained Panama, the CP reported: “William Scovell, a retired superintendent of HM Customs, of Cowes, sued H. Hillier, a Cowes butcher, for £1 damage under somewhat amusing circumstances.

“Plaintiff excitedly explained to the Court that as he was passing the defendant’s shop in St Mary’s Road, Cowes, in July, he was struck on the top of his new 30 shilling Panama hat by something which came out of the defendant’s window.

“He looked inside and saw the defendant in a crouching position with the thing he flicked flies off the meat in his hand, and when he told the defendant to keep his hands to himself the defendant laughed in his face.

“His hat was stained with blood necessitating special cleaning which cost one shilling.

“Defendant said he did not know that he hit plaintiff, but if he did it was accidental and if he had come to him and told him about it, instead of sending him a lawyer’s letter, he would have apologised and paid for the cleaning of the hat.

“The hat was produced, and His Honour, having inspected it, asked what was the matter with it.

“Plaintiff: There is nothing the matter with it now.

“His Honour said it was perfect rubbish, when what was apparently an accident happened, for an irate old gentleman to think he had been terribly injured and to incur legal costs.

“If he wanted to indulge in the law in such a matter he must pay for it. He gave judgment for the defendant, with costs.”

We will end with the thoughts of the late-great Brian Greening, friend and former contributor to these pages.

Brian didn’t like modern shops. “Shopping,” he said, in one of his columns, “is not what it was. The other day I was told to wait for assistance as I tried to purchase my single bottle of beer because the machine didn’t know whether I was 16 or 69.

“In none of the old shops was I reduced to telling a piece of metal to eff off.”