Graham Carter - the voice of age and experience

“Don’t forget your receipt,” said the lady at the checkout, but she didn’t say why.

I can’t remember the last time I needed to produce one as evidence of anything, including large purchases.

The only reason for having one in a shop these days is to prove you haven’t pinched anything, and as soon as you step through the door, you might as well dump it.

Pointless they may be, but they do tell us a lot about how we live our lives, and if I was a psychology student I would be writing about receipts for a PhD.

I have been thinking a lot about receipts over the last few weeks because I have had my nose to a grindstone, editing a book called A Swindon Time Capsule, which will be published in the middle of March.

It’s a Heritage Lottery Fund-supported project, based on something called the Dixon-Attwell Collection, which is housed in the Local Studies department of Swindon Central Library.

I am most looking forward to seeing the book printed because when people ask me what it’s all about (which they often do) I will be able to show them the book, rather than trying to describe this amazing collection of documents, ephemera and photographs.

It’s one of those things that needs to be seen to be believed.

In a nutshell, three generations of a family (the Dixons and Attwells) had something I suffer from, which is a reluctance to throw anything away, except they had it much worse.

They were squirrelers rather than hoarders, and kept all kinds of things associated with their working class and mostly ordinary (but busy) Swindon lives, and my friend Mike Attwell eventually got the job of dealing with all the stuff.

He could have saved himself months of work and hired a skip, but fortunately he sorted it and labelled it instead, and gave it to the library.

It has almost no monetary value, yet is priceless to local historians and family historians because it builds into a picture of everyday life in Swindon, spanning most of the 20th century - an (albeit unintentional) time capsule.

Not surprisingly, the Dixons and Attwells kept receipts from transactions with the GWR, McIlroys and suchlike, and although they are a tiny proportion of the whole collection, in a way they are the most revealing.

Whereas, today, it takes a second for an electronic cash register to spew out a receipt, or one gets attached to an email in a millisecond, back then some poor shopkeeper had to spend hours writing them out by hand, and it seems everybody expected a full and detailed record of what he or she had bought.

There must have been queues of people behind them, waiting to be served while the pointless paperwork was produced, just so you could take it home and put it in a drawer.

Sometimes the paper had an intricate heading and had to have a stamp and signature to prove tax had been paid, so they often ended up looking like little works of art.

The Dixon-Attwell Collection is fascinating for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it reminds us how much time and trouble people went to about almost everything in the 20th century, like receipts and dressing up and scrubbing the front step and shining shoes and polishing the silver and waxing moustaches.

And while we rush around and can’t be bothered with things these days, I suppose you are expecting me to say it was better back then.

Heck, no. Life is too short and too interesting for fussing and bothering and worrying about receipts and waxing your moustache.