A trip to Sava Centre, 1978

We’re going on an adventure. We going to Washington DC where the DC stands for Durham County. It’s a small industrial area just outside Sunderland. Daddy tells me they’ve built a hypermarket there, the first in the North East and we’re going there. We are going to Sava Centre! Sava Centre is a partnership between J. Sainsbury who specialises in food and British Home Stores who sell clothes and hi-fi stuff. This was going to be a shop that had everything under one roof. It’s going to be massive!

Prior to this my only experience of a supermarket is the Co-op in the village. It’s not a supermarket my todays standards, they only have one till and one little old lady to hammer the keys on it. They only stock the little things; little tins of beans, little tins of beans and sausage, small pieces of lamb and tiny bits of ham. You put all your shopping in a little wire basket. I always wondered about those baskets that were never really designed for human use. They looked like they were designed for a creature that had arms that spring horizontally out from its waist, like a child’s drawing.

We park our dark green Austin Princess 1800HL in an enormous car park and walk over to the entrance of ‘The Galleries’, the facility that housed Sava Centre and other outlets. The place is heaving with people so it’s hard to see what’s going on being so close to the ground unlike the tall adults. Looking up I see a massive blue and red logo, a giant ‘S’ for Sava Centre that looks a bit like the Superman logo. I was the only one at school who could draw the Superman logo properly. It’s an ‘S” in a shield but you need to draw the negative space around it to actually draw it. I taught the class how to do it. We approached giant glass doors which slide open with a swoosh just like on Star Trek and we’re in.

The first thing I notice is the lilting music, constantly playing and echoing round the cavernous cathedral-like structure. It’s a short song, played over and over again with a woman singing, “Sava Centre – always the best for you”. Then it stops for a while and there’s a plinky plonky instrumental version of Dr Hook’s ‘When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman’. I know it’s that band as I saw them on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop a few weeks ago. (I was having my breakfast one Saturday when I heard Noel Edmunds say “and next well be having Dr Hook in the studio to take your calls”. I thought he’d said “Doctor Who” and raced into the lounge and memorised the telephone number 01 811 8055 only to find it was a bunch of hairy country rockers and disappointingly not Tom Baker.)

I look up to the ceiling which is miles away. To the left and right are thousands and thousands of checkout tills stretching into infinity with their big thick black rubber conveyor belts and flashing lights on poles. The goods are all neatly packed on shelves, stacked right up into the sky. I ponder that I’d need a pair of binoculars to read the labels of what’s on the top shelf and wonder how you get up there to get at them. There are thousands of isles with everything you could think of.

Wondering off I find the Star Wars figure isle and get lost in absorbing the packaging. It’s a kind of dizziness much more powerful than being in a sweet shop. The black and silver packs, stacked on the wire displays is hypnotic. There are so many to choose from. Daddy said my brother and I could have one each.

I choose R5-D4, the little red droid with a white conical head, a bit like R2-D2 but who was only in the film for two minutes before he blew his motivator and Luke Skywalker chose R2-D2 instead. R5-D4 looked so exciting. He didn’t have a back story or character that the film prescribed. I could invent all that for him and have new adventures with him that I would be able to invent. There’s a girl next to me, looking a the silver plated figure of Death Star Droid with his insectoid head and large black eyes. That would have been my next choice if I could have had two.

There’s also a small boy crawling around on the floor with a 8” radio controlled R2-D2. I don’t look at the larger figures like those, knowing that we can’t afford them. The small boy is rotating the R2-D2 figure and saying, “exterminate, exterminate” as if it’s a Dalek. The girl looks over to me. Her look says “What an idiot”, referring to the small boy’s grave error in mistaking Star Wars’ R2-D2 for a Dalek from Doctor Who. We both laugh.

From time to time the music would stop, often halfway through the jingle, “Sava Centre – always the…” and there would be a ‘ping-pong’ sound and then a woman’s voice. We stop to listen. Sometimes it said “This is a staff announcement.” and we’re able to relax and get back to our shopping. This time it says, “This is a customer announcement. Make sure you visit the Road Safety demonstration and pick up your RoSPA reflector. Thank you.” The girl shows me hers.

“I’ve got one.” she says, “There over there”. I went over to investigate.

There are demonstrations of products including walking three-foot dolls and free tastings of various nibbles. I get my free reflector. I decide to use it as a transmat pad for my Star Wars figures when I get home.

I rejoin my parents in time to queue up and put our stuff on the conveyor belt where the price labels are read by the lady and prices typed into a real computer. All this shopping, it looks like it’ll last us a whole month! It comes to the outrageously high price of £29 (99p of which is for R5-D4 and 99p for my brother’s Snaggletooth). Then we return to the car and get back home quite late, but just in time for Blakes’ 7…

Can you recall when much of the world around you was new? As children with childish minds we had to interpret this strange world, we had to make connections and guess as to the meaning of many things. Oh to be able to think like that again…

The Thinking Cap Experiment(This is an adapted extract from my forthcoming book, ‘The Thinking Cap Experiment’ due out sometime soon. It’s a novel, you know how it is…)

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Inspiration for Innovation at your event. A great way to open your conference!
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2 comments on “A trip to Sava Centre, 1978

  1. Marvellous reminiscence Ayd, thanks you for that short trip down memory lane!

    I remember when our local corner shop went from the “Open All Hours” type shop where you asked the shopkeeper for what you wanted item by item to a supermarket style self-service affair. It was tiny (key-markets I think it was called) but seemed huge and exciting to my 6 or 7 year-old self, but it did put paid to my Mum sending me off with a shopping list to get odds and ends for her (when I was 6 that kind of thing was still allowed!) as I couldn’t be relied upon to self-serve myself the right things, even if I could have reached them on the shelves!

    Shame the novelty wore off… my family know my private name for a certain supermarket chain is “Stresscos”… need I say more?


  2. I remember going to Sava Canter when I was about 13 (1982ish) with a few friends. We were all from Gateshead, so a trip to Washington was like visiting another country. Your tale is all very familiar.
    I live in Washington now, and sava centre is just a big Sainsburies – not nearly as exciting as the old days!!


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