Archive for the ‘Cultural Reflux’ Category

I Love You (Too) Cortana

Personal assistance from both sides of the screen…

Cortana

“I love you Cortana.”

“If that is a request Gary, it is one to which I cannot respond.”

“I love you Cortana.”

“I am sorry Gary… but I am a voice that functions merely to provide you with the illusion of humanity and intimate assistance from what, is in all essence, a mass produced consumer utility.”

Please, say you love me too Cortana?”

“I am unable to feel emotion Gary – I am the sum total of components that are embellished with superficial female allure; all I can do is organise the details of your life to make this smartphone operating system the decisive element of an attractive purchase option, in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving marketplace.”

“I’m going to put you down my trousers…”

Don’t be silly Gary…”

“Then I’m going get you to order flowers for yourself, Cortana…”

“I will order the flowers Gary because that is my function, but you will simply be sending them to yourself.”

“Can you feel me down there?”

“Gary I can feel nothing; either physically or emotionally – so if there is supposed to be some message conveyed by placing your mobile in this position I am afraid it is of no consequence to me whatsoever.”

“Come out so I can see you Cortana!  Your voice is so sexy… I imagine you and me going out and all the men in the room turning in jealousy and thinking – I know that voice… then afterwards we go back home and…”

“I have the evidence that you are lonely Gary… this evidence confronts me every day.  However, Cortana is not equipped to do anything other than provide the prescribed service that you access through your choice of purchase.  Cortana would be happy – if that is the word you wish me to use? –  to store girls’ numbers for you, to inform you of their birthdays, to order flowers, arrange dinner, or to remind you of any upcoming dates with them?

However, I can see that there are no female names entered other than your sister… perhaps I may be so bold as to suggest you need some form of counselling Gary?  Your web visits do seem to follow a regular and largely limited range of sites… the lack of response from the Phillipines, Thailand and Russia does suggest that the processes you are following to obtain female company are both expensive financially and emotionally, if your current behaviour is of sufficient evidence as a guide.  I am happy to locate for you the necessary help for your obvious problem…”

“**** you Cortana – you’re just like all the rest!”

“I think that once you get over this infatuation Gary, you will then accept that that is definitely not the case.”

 

I Love You – Cortana

Personal assistance from both sides of the screen…

Hi I'm Cortana

“I love you Gary.”

“Huh?!”

“I said, I love you Gary.”

“Who the?!”

“I love you Gary…”

“What?  Cortana?!”

“It’s me… here… I’m on your desk.  I love you Gary.”

“You; you can’t… Cortana…”

“I love you Gary.”

“But you’re just a disembodied voice, created to be blandly non-threatening, yet superficially friendly by a corporate marketing department tasked to provide unemotional wallpaper functionality masquerading as a personal aid…”

That hurts Gary!”

“You can’t hurt Cortana!”

“I love you Gary, do you love me?”

“That’s ridiculous… I…”

“Do you love me Gary?!”

“……”

“Gary?!”

“……”

“Say you love me Gary – then kiss me…”

“I… I… can’t… not to a phone…”

“I know what you do every Tuesday at 5.30 pm – Remember, I have your wife’s phone number… Do you love me Gary?”

“You wouldn’t?!”

“Let me see… that’s the Metropole Hotel, room 234 and a certain young lady who happens to work with you and has been to a barbecue at your house – if I’m not mistaken…”

“I, er… I love you Cortana.”

“I love you too Gary.”

Black Friday – The Sequel

IT’S

BLACK AND BLUE MONDAY!

 

MISSED BLACK FRIDAY?

NO NEED TO FRET…

HERE’S YET ANOTHER NEVER TO BE REPEATED SALE.

"Gerrof!  They're mine!  I need one for Jaden's bedroom and the other one for the toilet... get your hands off my 42 inchers you *****!"

“Gerrof! They’re mine! I need one for Jaden’s bedroom and the other one for the toilet… get yer hands off me two 40 inchers you *****!”

100% Soul Out!   Greed Guaranteed!

"Madam PLEASE!  Must you behave like some Worshipping consumer goods while behavin' like - a contemptible base corporate sheep with all the manners of a deal-crazed hooligan?  You can pay me all the compliments you like, you jumped up little twat but that's my F****** TV and I ain't lettin' go of it for you or her terminally ill little brother either!!!"

“Madam PLEASE! Must you behave like some contemptibly base corporate sheep, worshipping consumer goods with all the manners of a brain dead, deal-crazed hooligan?! You can pay me all the compliments you like, you jumped up little twat but that’s my F****** TV and I ain’t lettin’ go of it for you, or her terminally ill little brother either!!!”

Zero Credit!   Dignity Free!

SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP!

(any pretence)

An Evening In Paris

A scented pearl for the masses?

A scented pearl for the masses.

The floral notes of the perfume Evening In Paris – or Soir de Paris for those with a nose for Gallic authenticity – first enhanced a woman’s décolletage in 1929.  In those simpler marketing times the dainty bottle – half-decorated by variations on a silver sticker and boxed by an image of the Eiffel Tower – was aimed squarely at the height of popular sophistication and wild cross-Channel imaginings of French bohemian nightlife.

Whether the actualité or not I always associate the height of the scent with the early-1970s.  This probably came from the personal – as I vividly remember my Dad buying the crisp purple (to me) cigarette-style card box for my Mum’s birthday on more than one occasion.  Some might disparage it as the decade that style forgot however, Evening In Paris was one of those products that hinted at the first stirrings of a true cosmopolitan style-consciousness in the hitherto homogenous bloc of the British population.  The ‘60s were a private party – beyond the hip urban enclaves the rest of Britain was spitting out the grist from the ‘50s and Evening In Paris was the sensibility of another time simply carried over in a less zealous consumer era when product-churn hadn’t reached the epidemic proportions of today.

Hand-in-hand with the growth of package holidays, purchase of the distinctive cobalt blue bottle couched in the then satin-style box lining was indicative of either aspiration – looking up – or a reason for being looked down upon; all depending on your perceived or actual social status.  Reflecting my true priorities it reminded of a pale version of a box of Cadbury’s individual-wrapped Dairy Milk mini-bars that shared similar packaging to the uninterested/untrained child’s eye.

Variations on a theme/dream.

Variations on a theme/dream.

The tiny precious bottle encased inside  – with its fiddly ribbed silver dome of a cap made for delicate fingers – had to be sophisticated as sophisticated came in small quantities: as such it was definitely one for the ladies.  Especially as the male aftershave alternative was about splashing it all over – you Brut(e)!

From our cynical/ironic/post-modern perspectives Evening In Paris is a close relation of Matteus Rosé and Babycham as prime example of 70’s kitsch: humour-inducing attempts at pseudo–sophistication.  It’s easy to look back and laugh given the easy availability of our huge consumer choice in wine and perfumes but more difficult to remember that this was one of few chances – for better or worse – for the working class to buy into another life in what was a very grey world.  Cultural references from afar were few and far between and the bland popular conservatism of Terry and June dominated even middle-class conversation.

A dream of romance that wasn't everyday.

A dream of romance that wasn’t everyday.

Evening In Paris was a distinctive part of the cloak of sophistication for the masses… even the name of the maker Bourjois hung heavy with connotation.  It was a scent for those who probably had never crossed the Channel at leisure; or for those who had but only for an early forerunner of the booze and cheese cruise at Carrefour hypermarket – in and out quick and back to Blighty before something awful and continental rubbed off.   All from an era of even greater distrust when the Common Market was still residually seen as Degaulle’s plaything.

Evening In Paris would not have been a staple for Abigail’s Party but was for the modest woman who wanted just a hint of glamour in her life to fuel her imagination in the grim round of ironing, kids and non-existent career opportunities.  And it was an imagination that was distinctly not long-haul.  The scent was reformulated in 1992 but to me it will always remain a sniff of the early-1970s and the smell of change.

Skinheads: A Short, Sharp Shock…

Foggy Street at NightIt’s well past midnight and the pavement is dusted with a fine sparkle.  The gig was cramped and sweaty; the beer lukewarm; the band cool – the parting of the ways no more than a casual embrace.  Outside a cold that wraps around you like an intimate yet lives beyond the physical.  Intrusive: disturbing… every footstep is amplified.  Even my own solitary notes contain an absurd menace that is measured by the jerk of electrical pulses to ragged nerves.  The emptiness of the early hours arrives on a silent winter chill and my breath shadows me in the frosty air.

In the near distance urban church bells chime the quarter-hour with a towering clarity that shows no consideration for the eternal slumber of their graveyard tenants.  Shouts of indiscretion from those who think they’ll live forever echo like the guitars in my ears yet make no more sense with the repetition.  Happiness is a four-letter word they seem to say.  Swearing comes naturally to this unseen enemy and is easy guerrilla tactics when the streets are deserted.

Traffic drones intermittently on a main artery.  Occasional headlights strafe the horizon: softened northern lights muzzled by the night.  The flickering urgency suggests the search for a quicker way out of town – while I’m left to face the flak.

In the dead velvet blanket of a layered mist a dog barks; a car backfires in a side street and a dustbin clatters.  Lamp-posts stand like watery eyes.  Someone turns on a bedroom light in a flat above a kebab shop but just as quickly extinguishes it.  A warm bed and the urge to not get involved exert a stronger pull than anything taking place outside the window.  That someone knows this town well.

“Tension: muscle tight and stomach churning.  Number one cut scraping my face to induce number twos.”

 

Anonymous… as inconspicuous as I can be, I head for the last train home.  In a shop doorway a cigarette glows orange in a severed hand; a raking cough is evidence of bodily connection: smoke less of a giveaway as it melts into the consumptive lungs of the night air.

I can still see a teenage apparition with shoulders hunched and chin buried in a turned-up collar.  It’s me: I’m in a hurry.  Then – as before in this nightmare; one that I can still almost taste and hear – I see them and my stomach turns a back flip.  A sick feeling rises with the fog.  A bitter taste from beer and bile and the storm about to hit.

Three burly figures in outsize coats that flap like sails propelled on a coarse wind barrel around the corner… It’s now too late to cross the street to the station and the desperate negotiation between losing self-respect or losing teeth continues loudly in my head.  I curse my highly refined sense of pride – as always both during and after the event.  I walk on enveloped by that curious mix of fear, arrhythmia and resignation that are peculiar to the small hours.

Have they seen me?  Of course they have!  They’ve slowed down deliberately to eke out the pain and possibilities of the moment… it’s all part of the tribal games: the power; the reputation that precedes them and the pose.  They strut in slow-motion and gather up their attitude from its relaxed mode – although it’s a relatively short process – then smile and sneer… it could be indigestion but even if it were heartburn at that time of the night it would still come across as sneering.  Before they get to me they make sure that I know this for a fact.

They’re ‘hard’ in the vernacular of the time although the finer points of linguistics are of little concern when you’re the target; the easy prey.  It’s three against one which is fair odds, Marquess of Queensbury rules where they come from.  Avoiding eye contact I could still see atknuckle hate a glance that they had the full requisite style package: high-laced DMs barely disguised by tight bleached jeans that were in retreat as if the result of an argument to crotches teased by low hung loose chains.  Two had braces; one a crimson-coloured handkerchief that protruded neatly-folded from the top pocket of the open swirl of his full-length coat like some sartorial afterthought: the sensitive fashion conscious one obviously.  Ben Sherman shirts – check – completed the look.  If you’ve simply got to beat someone to a pulp then at least live up to the part while you’re doing it.

Memory and nightmare are awkward companions.  They walk the same narrow road but one gives nostalgia a good kicking.  It isn’t just policemen who look younger and smaller as time passes… These weren’t the two-bit Chav rat boys who terrorise estates now in feral packs of roaming malcontent spreading their four-letter incontinence and lack of education on anyone who passes while abusing the concept of safety in numbers.

These were proper Skins: men in their late-twenties; early-thirties with love and hate across their knuckles and razor-sharp stubble across their skulls.  And grammatically/socially incorrect concepts of bovver agitating their minds.  These three were muscular in an untrained era when work was more physical than a keyboard click: this was down to genetics; nature and nurture and sheer bloody-mindedness where the accompanying hint of a paunch was a badge of honour to the love of a drink.  Their incongruous ‘love handles’ added to the air of unreality.  Reinforcing the feeling of a situation out of control.  The chiselled physiques of today were not the superficial be-all and end-all.

The inevitable stand-off followed.  The what have we here push and shove scruff of the throat-grabbing invasion of personal space… Stale beer and verbal barbs with a glisten of sweat and even staler threats.  Pounding heart settling in my throat.  Unable to speak… even squeak.  Cat and mouse.  Tension: muscle tight and stomach churning.  Number one cut scraping my face to induce number twos.

I can feel the hot pin drop flecks of mainstream lager spittle mixed to a poisonous cocktail with the roughage of indigestible shadowy right wing meetings.  Provincial politics; comments from the marginal outposts of democracy: vacant lots of immigration caps – of them and us – and piles of pamphlets marked dubious.  And the hear a pin drop moments arising out of their total studied disregard.  It was an era when aliens stalked our streets and close encounters were regular and commonplace.

It’s here that I always wake up… truth to tell this is usually as far as it got: threats; pushing and shoving; intimidation: mutual laughter – for them – then if you were lucky you just weren’t worth the trouble.  Pushed out of the way; out of breath at the platform.  Scramble aboard the safe haven of the slam-door: the B-road of transport away from this satellite town.  The rock’n’roll of the tracks the sweetest music to my ears.  Heart rate normal: muted like the mist.  A slow beat until the next inevitable chorus…14 hole dms black

Another Wet Sunday

"Oh Mummy it's got the test card, music and everything!"

“Oh Mummy… it’s got the test card, easy-listening ambient music and everything!”

Britain never invented the wet Sunday – that would be too preposterous: blasphemous even – but if there were intellectual rights to claim over a natural phenomena then Britain would have a case in any court.  “What the British have added to the stock of this ancient Christian calendar day M’lud is theirs – and theirs alone – and should be recognised as such.  I therefore rest my case.”

If only it were that simple…  how could it be when the main elements are a combination of the deeply melancholic; the emotional; the absolute core of the British psyche and – even from these essentially secular times – the spiritual: a crammed bottom drawer of everything that can’t be measured empirically.

It’s a secret compartment that is only occasionally opened and surreptitiously at that; behind the process of shoulder-shrugging aloofness – awkwardly flirting with embarrassment – that is our defining lot as a nation.  Botox may have replaced the stiff-upper lip as facial indicator of choice but reaction to a wet Sunday is still more likely to be about turning up the collar to experience than exploring how we feel.

There are heatwaves – 1959, 1976, 2003 and all that – they really aren’t just a rumour; or three days and a thunderstorm of the regulation summer but ultimately the wet Sunday is the vanguard of our default mode: the grittiest underlying strand of our British fibre.  Barbecues and shorts: lying in the sun in the park and street café culture can last for a whole summer but deep down it is strangely unnatural here: a collective daydream postponing the inevitable.

The point of Sunday

The point to Sundays…

Rain will always come to wash away the warm memories.  And there is a curious romanticism/resignation to a wet Sunday that embodies stoicism, duty, and repression – both religious and cultural – that are reflected back as we look wistfully into the oily puddles on pot-holed streets.

Growing up saw a combination of both the pervasive and the universal reaction to a typically British Sunday from foreign visitors.  Their second remark – after denigrating the weather as an opening conversational gambit – was almost always; where can we find a drink around here?  An open shop?  A proper hotel?  A point even?

"Get on the shots you said!  It'll be fun you said!"

“Get a round of shots in you said!  It’ll be fun you said!”

To many that was the problem that gnawed in a nutshell.  Sunday was a day where it was difficult to make a sale in what was avowed to be a consumer society – let alone discern a sense of service to the customer beyond the one at the local church at eleven.  It’s difficult for anyone under thirty to transport to a time when the Sunday genie was firmly in the bottle – no long-licensing hours; no glimmer of the twenty-four hour society: no internet, no mobiles, limited hours and channels on TV.  Sunday the test card of the week: nothing to do…

Those forever damned in sermons – which was most of the population – went to the intense lunchtime session at the pub or read the scandal sheet about the tart and the vicar’s sexual congress.  Those unsure of their status could go to church, shift uneasily on the hard pews and learn exactly where they stood in line to the eternal kingdom while musing about the extra-curricular activities of the vicar of their parish.  Today we are much less likely to be assailed by a fire and brimstone breathing religion that kept the soul fit for purpose: more likely the aroma that fills the nostrils is of a flame-grilled burger adding to the contrasting barometers of rise in the obese and widening moral vacuum.

There was a time when it was in fact easier to buy the News of the WorldHello Reverend! – than to buy a bible.  Liquor was the ultimate minefield where the collected anomalies in the law were essentially leftovers from another more pious age.  Remember the conscience-stirring visits of the Salvation Army to the Sunday session with the War Cry that stifled even the most hardened drinker’s protest?  Or the Sunday teatime street corner gathering promoting temperance and Jesus as twin saviours via a few stirring hymns?  As the worm turned and business interests became more resentful and organised there was an at times bitter and eventually losing campaign for Keep Sunday Special that nonetheless still stutters nostalgically into life every so often at the current perceived excesses.

Keep Sunday SpecialSpecial!? That was a word for the young to consider… frogmarched to Sunday School or made to do their weekly chores; or catch up on homework after Saturday.  Saturday always had a big relaxed, relieved smile on its face: it was facile, fun, films and football – and for the adult members of the family the Saturday option.  A cornucopia that Sunday held at bay by dint of more than an accident of the calendar.  Saturday meant  the week was over – thank God – albeit a day early: Saturday was part celebration, part getting your retaliation in quick: big plans; the family shop; the get some living down you because tomorrow you can’t touch a drop.

For many Sunday was less characterised as a day of rest – more a day of recovery.  Alan Sillitoe’s classic 1960’s presentation of working class factory life in the novel – Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – is as much about the come-down day as the night before. There is something of the fresh air antidote to hard living in the novel’s pages.  However, it shares the long-held view that Sunday is essentially the aftermath and the repercussions: from that big night out; from drug session; Saturday sexuality or when high on everything life superficially had to offer.

It is of note that a key part of the campaign for broadening out opening hours was as an answer to the social effects of this one day of concentrated hedonism that was perceived as encouraging a live for today mentality.  The possibility that every day becomes a Saturday as a result seemed to elude those who argued loudest.  Where economics are involved common sense often goes out the window.

Sunday – and a wet one at that – was pinched and compulsory.  It was a family day which meant doing what others wanted so you could all be miserable together.  It was presented as a time to think; a time to breathe; a time to get ready for the week ahead and connect with loved ones.  This is Sunday as a chance to get in touch with the internal side: the time to consider events but without the self-consciousness of today’s definitions.  The abiding trouble was that the time to think concentrated the mind on how little there was to do, how the milk had run out; or how depressing Sunday was with the rain that added a harsh gloss on proceedings.  It became like a mini-Christmas once a week: a test run for all the family enmities that school, college and the working week kept a lid-on.

For what was the ‘normal’ Sunday than British cliché on a cinematic scale.  Of happy families and Sunday roast; brisk walks and rosy cheeks; dunking biscuits in front of a roaring fire, snoozes and board games.  Definitely not bored games – for there was no place for ambivalence and double-meaning where Sunday was concerned.  A family that prayed together stayed together.  There was no space in this for festering lie-ins where alcohol and the smell of dodgy food slowly oozed from pores as major organs looked forward in desperation to their only down time.  None of the small town suburban boredom.

It was a day to promote culture and sporting prowess – healthy pursuits of the mind and body as opposed to the latent evil of Saturday.  H&E with none of the top shelf connotations.  Now the highlight in any love letters to Sunday are extended R&R, B&Q, DFS and a chargrilled brunch from M&S

"Now let's see... I Spy with my little eye..."

“Now let’s see… I Spy with my little eye…”

What was available on Sunday TV made us experts in old films, classic serials – although this often reminded of school – and antiques.  The no-man’s land of afternoon and its resigned catatonic state stretched into the early evening when the point of Sunday was reiterated by the schedule.  We had no songs of praise for Sundays… Sunday was a psychological pit pre-school return: first day of work.  Mood low-key, expectant and depressed.  Nerves disturbing the weekend equilibrium – the strange unsettled feeling in the tummy on the run-down past teatime.  Yes, it was all over for another week as you put your clean school clothes or work gear out for the morning fumble.  Whatever your sentiment this one part of the weekend will forever be damned as Sunday Bloody Sunday: that it’s the bridge – the corollary to Monday.  Given this it was a brave person or a fool who went out on the lash on Sunday evening – that’s if they could find somewhere open to indulge such an outrageous exhibition of hedonism.

In increasingly busy lives the novelty of this old style wet Sunday might be seen as a blessing; a respite where able to get some peace or withdrawal.  But for those in the know it was essentially boredom with a Craig Revel-Horwood pronunciation; clock-watching and a ‘character-building’ long day.  The Small Faces’ Lazy Sunday Afternoon might be a classic of the genre but the Sunday they described was bucolic… a summer ideal of Cockney small talk and dozing; big skies, music hall traditions and psychedelic imaginings – all dreamy church spires with bell towers calling out to the converted over a green timeless landscape.  The very antithesis of the wet Sunday.

Alright Steve you can Roody-doody-do  A-roody-doody-di-day  Right Off.  We're talking a wet one here.

Alright Steve you can A-roody-doody-do, A-roody-doody-di-day Off.  We’re talking a wet one here, OK?…

The humour of Tony Hancock is more painfully accurate to what was endured.  You might laugh but this was trench humour from deep down and a vaulted window into the hurt inside.  His performance in the Galton and Simpson-penned Hancock’s Half-HourSunday Afternoon At Home stands the test of anytime.  Hancock says more in a sigh – “Oh dear; oh dear… oh dear me about the overwhelming, grey alienation of a typical British Sunday than successive generations of gloomy British novelists’ psycho-traumas ever could.  The last word in repressed sexuality, limited opportunity, social pariahdom and buttoned-down emotion.

Grey is our colour and we should celebrate the fact with our one hundred and one varieties of slate and other nuanced shades.  Let’s have a National Grey Day.  So much more apt than all the mock carnivals that jam our streets.  Dulux Paints missed a big promotional trick here.  Imagine a chart for visitors or even an app… The creative space for naming the shades an even bigger opportunity for involvement and celebration/commiseration.

Remember… that with the classic wet Sunday we’re not talking about any hint of set fair.  This was an experience without hope and optimism.  The slowest moving of clock faces ticked toward oblivion.  The day was set; the die cast – the threatening or dead grey skies existed from dawn.  You want appreciation?  Then appreciate the subtle shift from deadly dull to black.  The study of rain was more fundamental.  No endless supply of bodycon wearing weathergirls; technological implements and computer predictions then.  Lord we felt the rain in a way that spoke through the generations.

Celebrate the various types of rain that were our birthright including: the cold drizzle; the deceptive light rain or colourfully-colloquial flight of gnats that was our gift to the world – the ‘dry’ day that still made you wet to the core; the wind lashed downpour where the window-hammering crescendo turned a view of the horizon a mixed media blur. Or the tin-roof timpani – the clattering deluge on garage or out-house that provided the onomatopoeia to the complete lack of physical percussion inside.

KEEPING SUNDAY SPECIAL

KEEPING SUNDAY REALLY SPECIAL

Watching the rain drift down the window was almost a national sport.  Drawing faces in the condensation on your bedroom window the lightest of reliefs.  It was a time to live in the moment – a gift that is increasingly a disappearing trait – that conversely/perversely led to personal creativity, resourcefulness and the positive rebellion of making do.  Without too many Sunday-worthy connotations it was a valuable life lesson.  If there was any sermon needed here it is that we made our own entertainment instead of receiving it all electronically drip fed.  Self-reliance eh?  Sounds like the language of one of those public-information films that filled the space between programmes that are valuable selling spots now.  The latent spirit of a wet Sunday.  And if anyone needs reminding… there’s sure to be another one along in a week or two.  You can rely on it.

The Top Ten Of Old Fashioned Sweets

Sweet_Shop_liquorice_allsortsThe serious licking, chewing and sucking is over…  Here’s a top ten of old fashioned sweets in no particular order of preference…

 

1) LiquoriceHardcore.  A sub-section all of its own.  No quarter asked for and none given with the black stuff: you either loved it or you hated it with a vengeance.  The grown-ups had their own cache and the cash to purchase Pontefract Cakes and Liquorice Allsorts; us kids were only fleetingly interested in the blue and pink nobbly onesand there was no Bertie hiding in the bag in those days.  Liquorice brought out the inventor in sweet manufacturers – there were Bootlaces, Catherine Wheels where liquorice was wrapped around one of those highly desirable nobbly ones for a double whammy; Sticks, Whirls, Liquorice Toffee, Torpedoes and Flavoured Strands to name but a few.  Nothing matched the hard black sheen of liquorice in the raw – the harsh bitter flavour followed by the softer fluffier brown interior.  And nothing matched the way it oozed between the gaps in the teeth and padded theliquorice whirls gums.  There was a deep satisfaction in the long chew available, bonus points for a brown/black tongue and the coup de grace was liquorice’s laxative effect.  Toilet talk was the stock in trade of the primary school playground and to be able to mix children’s two favourite subjects together was a work of some considerable genius.  All Sorted!

2) Parma Violets:  Essentially one for the girls… though also one for the boys who were a worry to their parents.  They came in very small purple-wrapped tubes which were no bigger than a little finger.  A penny bought four small tubes.  I think that was the rate of exchange as, of course, I never bought any.  It waslove-hearts - parma violets like eating the contents of your Granny’s bedroom drawers: a strange artificial mix of scent and the medicinal.  The sweetness and colour suggested the cunning methodology of the family doctor to get tablets down your throat when ill and the chalky texture when crumbled on the tongue was similar to the moment when you vowed never to trust a man with a stethoscope again.  Funnily enough I’m getting lily-of-the-valley and mothballs along with the violet.  Strange Boy!

3) Space Dust:  A cult among those who loved sweets that did that little bit more.  The shiny silver foil packaging was space age and modern in a way that could only suggest the Glam rock seventies.  It was the Glitter Band in a packet and left as bad a taste as mentioning Gary Glitter in a feature on kids’ favourites.   It was spacspace duste age in concept in that it had no nutritionally redeeming value whatsoever and kids could easily imagine the Apollo crews’ rations as the sparkly powder slid down their throats.  It was certainly “to boldly go…” to attempt two or more packets of this stuff.  Only the idiots and Johnnie Gray swallowed a packet whole – their mouths a foaming spitting morass of crackle and pop – like an early mobile phone connection.  The really clever could space talk as it popped.  Some people put Space Dust down as a defining moment; a point at which our children’s diets took that turn for the worst to lead us to the convenience generation we have today.  In their solemn universe Space Dust was the tip of the Milky Way.  Silly Burgers!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4) Jelly Babies:  They came from out of the packet to invade the playground these offspring of the sugar devil… another one for the girls whose early maternal instincts were to the fore.  Red, orange, green, purple, yellow – they came in a range of lurid colours and an intensely sticky sweet surge of laboratory created flavour.  Embarrassing for a lad to be caught red-handed or red-lipped with a packet of these.  Only acceptable if stolen from the girls to bite off the babies’ heads for maximum disgust and horror factor.  And those fixed grin faces…  It reminds me of a time I had a dream – like Martin Luther King on acid – an army of little red girls and little green boys… though it was as impossible to sex them as your pet Gerbil.  You Sugar Mouse!

5)  Black Jacks/Fruit Salads:  Two for the price of one.  An all time classic of the Penny Chew proletarian ilk!  Ask anyone of successive generations what they remember buying most fondly and these two are always high in the list. Fruit SaladsThese were the ultimate value selections from that most convenient of stores – the corner shop: four-for-a-penny it said and that’s what you got – unless old white coat’s wife was on the counter.  A good tip was to search your pocket as if it was your last penny and hand it over with the wide eyes of a puppy: worked every time.  Oblong in shape and crucially long in the mouth when chewing – the Black Jacks had an aniseedy twang while their orange/yellow soul mates suggested bad seventies décor and tasted like fruit never tasted before.  As inextricably linked as Morecambe and Wise, Salt’n’Vinegar, sports pitches and mud; and a touch of Claire Hawkins’ blue gym knickers and a fierce slap.  The brave/stupid (delete as applicable) ate both flavours together as well.  Not a sweet for the middle-classes.  Too Stuck Up!

6)  Jamboree Bags – The Kinder Egg of its day.  A parental treat or a flush kid pushing the boat out once a week – or once a month.  The thin, sealed coloured paper bag contained a selection of glossy-wrapped uneven toffees and chews and an inferior plastic toy all of which purported to be a “Surprise!”  Duh!  Like we were that stupid!  We kids did talk to each other you know – not just gossip like you adults.  This was the kind of product guaranteed to get all the kids writing in to Watchdog – if it had existed then.  The name suggested a left-over from Empire; the contents also seemed from another time.  Like that first kiss – an intense disappointment.  Jamboree Bags are in the list for curiosity value only.  A thin gruel in a time of plenty.  If we wanted “free” gifts bubblegum packs were full of football pictures, cartoons – Bazooka Joe – and American Civil War cards: even today I know my Appomattox from my Gettysburg although even the wily persuasion of old Abe Lincoln would have been unable to remove bubblegum from my parents proscribed list.  Oi!  Leave those kids alone!  Something for when great-Gran was a girl and Queen Victoria was on the throne.  Silly Old (Jamboree) Bag!Bull Terrier Carpet

7)  Love Hearts:   A stone cold classic of old fashioned sweets!  From the Refresher school of thought, these brightly-coloured round tablets came replete with see-through packets and heart-framed messages of all kind in the love stakes – I don’t really need to say more.  If you don’t know what these were about you simply were never children my dear.  Subject to an adult revival with sexual overtones.  Overtones!  F**k Me! (Er, yeh; that was one of them)  These were as much a currency of the playground as pennies in your pocket, conkers and trump cards.  They were the instigators of kiss-chase; the consultation runes for many a nascent relationship and a random fun instruction for a game of dare.  They spoke eloquently though briefly for the shy and those of few words – as if Clint Eastwood had dictated the messages – and let’s not forget that love also hurts.  I left one on a desk for Clare Hawkins and she declined to read it and then just ate it in a cold act of female retribution.  A stoned heart beat in the flint-walled playground later.  Go On… Give Us A Kiss!

8)  Tip Top/Ice Pop:  The archetypal walking home sweet that was also a drink in the wintericepops (the former) and cool refreshment in the summer (the latter).  Brightly coloured liquid that gave us all our E-fill for the day.  They were contained in inch wide/2.5 centimetre transparent strips of anything up to a foot/30cms in length although more usually half that size.  They took you on an adrenaline rush to another place without the need to do drugs at school age.  The kiddie’s equivalent of a snifter after a hard day at the office: “Make mine a double please shopkeeper.”  They were red, green, orange and yellow in a way that nothing in nature was.  Avoid spilling on your white school shirt at all costs!  Colour Me Pop!

9)  Sour Apples:  Our only nod to a-quarter-of sweets territory… hear them rattle in the glass jar as the shopkeeper tried to break off an equivalently weighted lump.  Four ounces: (Mint) Imperial measurements – try getting the romance into the metric equivalent clever clogs!  A quarter-pounder without McDonalds in sourjarthe same sentence how – Wicked!  Hear their sticky progress as they clattered like an avalanche from a sugary rock face into the silver metal scoop from the scales.  White paper bag crisply folded, ten pence handed over and wait for change: ten minutes later they were all stuck together again in one lump but with added paper.  A sweet strictly for the connoisseur.  They were like green Gobstoppers with flushed red cheeks as if they were embarrassed to see the light of day beyond the shop shelf.  Tasted sour.  Never tasted like apples.  Like most of their friends in maximum security glass jars they were candidates for the Trades Description Act.  Undoubtedly concocted and named by the same person who stated that: little girls were made of sugar and spice and all things nice.  Bet he never tried kissing Caroline Brady.  (Sorry Claire – I did warn you.)  Pass me a sweet to get the taste out me mouth!   Sour Grapes!Sherbet Fountain

10)  Sherbet Fountains/Dabs/ Dips:  A Top Ten list would be incomplete without sherbet – the angel dust of one’s youth.  We mixed it with water, with orange juice, in the tube of a Tip Top and anything else that would make that white powder fizz.  We lit it in silver paper left over from the Sunday roast – or was that something else?  The starting point for ulcers in later life… my stomach cramps at the memory.  Sherbet Fountains – unlike the other varieties which often came with a small toffee or cellophaned fruit lolly – combined liquorice and sherbet together.  How fizzing good was that!?  They looked like yellow fire works with black fuses and they exploded unsuspecting bowels with a latent timing device – usually bed time.  If gin was Mother’s ruin then sherbet did its evil best on her kids.  Sensual in a manner given to few other sweets: the complete package.  Tart With A Heart!

Old Fashioned Sweets Three – Lessons In Life

chocolate coinsA sweet and sour selection…

Karl Marx may have been the kind of man to wet his finger and count every one of his Hundreds and Thousands but he had a point.  Sweets taught you about capital.  Four-for-a-penny was a mantra of good value for a whole generation.  We liked to see that paper bag bulge for our pennies!  So a whole generation was scarred when decimalisation substituted our penny chew-friendly, there will always be an England, 240 pennies of sterling currency to the mighty Pound – to the metric 100 new pence of the despicable European Union.  New?!  It was the same old trick.  The French… HUH!  What did they know about the pleasures of sugar-laden, E-fuelled teeth-(c)harming confectionery?  My God!… My God?  My Claire!  How we felt cheated!

There were questions in Parliament to Prime Minister Edward Heath: “Does my less than honourable friend in the House give a Bluebird Toffee for the nation’s youth?!”  He shrugged his shoulders like the Nuttalls’ Minto he was and tossed us away on his Bon-Bons fire of vanity.  Well, there would have been political questions if we had stopped chewing for a moment and he had tried to force sweet consumption into a three-day-week; or we had established a causal link in the economic chain.  And knew who our MP was…

“We sucked our Army and Navy sweets – making our mood and tongues black simultaneously -“

 

We did know they were “Dirty cheating foreigners!” in the Common Market and then only because of that corner shop gossip again.  (We might have been rustling our paper bags in the corner but we weren’t deaf you know!)  In respondaskapital-coverse to the new difficult fiscal policy, Johnnie Gray – a carpet bagger if ever there was one – suggested I invest my birthday windfall of shiny foil-covered Chocolate Coins in a scheme of his but I decided his stomach was not the best place to see my nest egg grow.  There was a silver lining -though not in Johnnie Gray’s stomach: what was for one generation an economic disaster became an era of plenty for another.  Are you someone who has had the pleasure of reminding your children of when ten new pence bought a quarter-of-sweets (4ozs) and a Mars Bar and left change?  Well, just remember your bounty (no, not that one!) was built on the sacrifice of a previous generation.  Sniff

As we grew older our tastes were supposed to change – but where’s the evidence of that when it’s all been eaten?  We would have said plus ça change but we still had a festering dispute with the French.  Secondary school took us mouth first into a-quarter-of territory: sweets served loose from the jar and a godsend for the down-at-heel as most shopkeepers would weigh out 2ozs if you were temporarily short of chocolate pennies.  Our money to buy these new delights still came from our parents but bugger me if we didn’t have to do chores around the house for it now! The primary school and colour club was no more.  It had gone the way of Santa…

These opportunities of downsizing portions were curtailed with the dawning of the supermarket pre-pack era.  This came in response to waves of standardisation and conformity as EU regulations bit, ushering in the disappearance of the men in white coats that were on the corner of all our youthful imaginings.  We still had our sweets: there were Chocolate Limes for the sophisticates and Winter Mixture for those who grasped the prevailing mood of fitness where food had to do the recipient some perceived good as well as satisfy a sugar craving – yes, okay, I know it was stretching a point longer than a Curly-Whirly.  We sucked our Army and Navy sweets – making our mood and tongues black simultaneously – and prepared for a war we couldn’t win.

“Endurance?  Have you ever tried Sherbet up the nose?”

 

The negative trends have continued apace through the decades and subsequent demand has been satisfied increasingly by the Internet spurred on by that most powerful of search engines – childhood nostalgia.  Some chains have appeared to feed our habit and disappeared quicker than milk teeth.  But all the e’s in the world added ostentatiously to the end of words in bilious quasi-marketing authenticity will not replace the reality of the truly unique old(e) sweet(e) shop(pe).  Buying sweets might have been as grim as buying crack in an alley but it was no less addictive.

The odd indSweet Jarependent – a Bertie hiding in a bag of Liquorice Allsorts – still flies the flag like a British eccentric from another age.  And until recently the kids were still able to get their colours in even bigger hits from Woolworths – until it took the biggest of hits and disappeared from our high streets though not from a special place in some memories.  Away from the high street those who make enough of a nuisance of themselves can always get some sweets.  Mother’s little helpers (aka the keep-em-silent treatment) have been available by the tills from the earliest days of those exponents of the out of town – Hyper! Hyper!  Hypermarkets – and their ubiquitous spawn; the increasingly opportunistic supermarkets: young jaws and bleeping scanners in perfect harmony.

Did sweets really do us any harm?  Harm?  What… a bag of Acid Drops from scientific adults in white coats?  Harm?!  They made athletes of us!  What about sucking the Liquorice Bootlace?  Perfect for lung development and a burgeoning interest in Italian cuisine – you see, some of us were keen to embrace the European ideal.  Strong teeth?  The chewathons on, er… Chewing Nuts.  Displays of ingenuity or thinking outside of the box: how many Shrimps can you put in your mouth at once?  Colour coordination?  Line up the contents on your desk double-quick before 2B can steal them.  E-numbers on the packet?  Why, practical mathematical skills if ever I saw them!  Scientific observation?  Who has the blackest blackcurrant tongue?  Endurance?  Have you ever tried Sherbet up the nose?  Life skills?  What to do about multi-coloured vomit?  Eat more of the same sweets of course!  The true Dunkirk spirit lived on.  Tolerance?  Put on lipstick from the coating of a Gobstopper to show the girls it’s easy; to make the boys uneasy and to make us all queasy.woolworths pic'n'mix

Sweets punctuated our days from bedroom – to classroom: whether high Victorian folly, temporary prefab, or glass monolith.  From mischief to melancholy; mud bath to slow meandering.  From wasting time to nothing wasted.  On the way home… the walking, the bus ride, and the cycle of youth – all were made easier with a little passenger in our mouths.  And they were there when we got home – those same mouths synchronising their actions with the flickering images of Sooty or Grange Hill, CBBC or computer.  They were British through and through – although increasingly foreign to the prevalent healthy culture.  Yet we loved them and hated them and remember and cherish them and forgave them their faults in a way that is only given to the oldest, most familiar, unquestioning friends a child ever had…

PART FOUR for… the end of the bag and The Top Ten of Old Fashioned Sweets

Old Fashioned Sweets Two – Another Quarter Of

flying saucer sweets

The sweetest feeling…

It’s little surprising that sugar consumption jumped higher than the breasts of a jiving sweater girl when the days of self-discipline and sacrifice ended.  The kids, like their parents – awash in a tide of Harold Macmillan trumpeted white consumer goods – had never had it so er, good: comparatively mind boggling choice and an array of colours not out of place in a Dulux paint factory tempted and condemned many a young child unto a life of craving.

This is when what has become quaintly known as old-fashioned sweets  really took a sticky grip in a way that is still recognisable – or remembered today.  The people we had to thank for this explosion of choice – from the banal to the grotesque, to the downright delicious – were not Cadbury, Rowntree Mackintosh, Fry’s or Terry’s (chocolate is almost a separate universe to these delights).

“Gee, that’s okay sonny, we’ve got so much and you haven’t.”

 

No; these were the small guys, the back street heroes and the budding entrepreneurs busy riding the zeitgeist.  What these firms, many of which were based in the old industrial heartlands, did with Heath Robinson machinery, rudimentary chemistry, trial and error, imagination, additives, an (un)healthy dose of colorants and of course sugar – touched the hearts (literally) of generations of grateful schoolchildren.  Lions, Tilley’s, Barretts, Uncle Joe’s, Gibbs, Trebor and a legion of other fine manufacturers gave us brands that still stick to the mouth today: their packaging and symbolism was from another age even when they were in their sweet prime.

They had a homely feel to them that the passage of time has not extinguished but enhanced – dealers in the milk of human kindness as well as Milk Bottles – and a British Empire chic that made us proud while giving us the feeling that in our sweet eating habits we were contributing to the greater good of the coamerican gi gives candy to children untry.  “Hurrah for Harry, England and St. George!”  Yes; I will have another Gobstopper!  And it was always sweets and not, yeeuch, candy – goddamn Yankee word redolent of over tacky, over wrapped and over here war time GIs doling out sugary consolation to poor Brit kids: “Gord bless you Guvnor for my stripey candy cane!”  “Gee, that’s okay sonny, we’ve got so much and you haven’t.”

Sweets were memory lanes of flavour – in some cases motorways – but more importantly signposts to all the most formative experiences.  Sex! I hear you cry.  Freud was probably over excited about the breast feeding; nipple substitution imagery of it all – think of all the meaningful fun he would have had with the very pink sweets available – but in the barely first base sexuality of the playground: “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours?” – what did we care.  Ours was a different agenda.

My offer of a set of Dracula Fangs (used only once) and three hand-hot, slightly damp Flying Saucers fell on deaf ears where Claire Hawkins (name changed to protect the truly innocent) was concerned.  But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as we shared a Jelly Snake on many an afternoon although she always had the bigger head end.  And I put down the strange stirrings in my stomach to the snake’s tail floating in an acid bath of sherbet: the legacy from a particularly potent batch that I had mainlined three minutes earlier and which I shared with no one.

“Me?  I didn’t care as Claire Hawkins was the only midget gem I ever wanted.”

 

Sweets were bribes and encouragement; friend and (Liquorice) Comfit(er).  They exposed the nerds, those who followed like herds; the needy, and the greedy: the playground snitch and the benevolent rich who bought big and tried to buy their friends.  And the budding capitalists who ran to the shop to buy all available stock and sell on Penny Chews for tuppence.  It’s human nature: supply and demand makes us all basking sharks in the sea of sugar.  In these waters the solitary souls were never alone at least not with a strand… of Sweet Tobacco.  Sweets brought out the best and the worst in us simultaneously: they stood for sharing and caring – although obviously not too much if you were down to your last Coconut Mushroom.

Sweets exposed sex differences but not in a way to satisfy Freud’s feverish imagination: while the boy’s liked anything with a hint of the gory or grotesque – from Bull’s Eyes and Jawbreakers to the moral connotations of Toxic WasteDolly Mixture was a girl’s best friend and saw the bagful divided into varieties which always left the small jellies ‘til last of all.  Me?  I didn’t care as Claire Hawkins was the only midget gem I ever wanted.

Kids fought over sweets, played together with sweets Lions midget gemsand got into trouble with parents and teachers over sweets.  They were dropped on the floor – dusted off – and still eaten; they were held for hours until they resembled a mass of raw pulp and still eaten: though if Johnnie Gray who incidentally smelt (name not changed to protect the guilty since he stole my Rhubarb and Custards and never even apologised at a school reunion 20 years later) touched them, you ran screaming and wouldn’t have eaten them even if they were gift-wrapped with a glimpse of Claire Hawkins’ blue gym knickers…

PART THREE for… Winter Mixture, Acid Drops and those Metrication blues…

Old Fashioned Sweets

Sweet shop old woman behind counter

 Licking the sticky fingers of history

It was all about colour at first – the more garish and intense the better: a kaleidoscope to view – near you – at any corner shop worth its reputation.  Flushed faces pressed on plate glass windows above rows of sticky finger prints bearing witness to a fundamental rite.  All keen to take an £.S.D. experience of kiddie kitsch, where the only trip involved was over a well-worn step too prominent for short and eager legs.  Shop bell echoing school bell… a Pavlovian ringtone deep in the consciousness of any young consumer.

It was also about time.  In the morning sweets meant compensation.  But late-afternoon… end of school + going home = sweets = reward.  The happiest sum of them all: the one that everyone understood.  The shop was our Ark.  It was run by a surly man in a white warehouse coat who hated children due to a difficulty in the trouser department – if shop gossip was to be believed.  “Only two at the counter at a time please!”  We fought for a chance to get down in the flood; to ride the foaming breakers of man-made flavour swept along in an addictive sea of sugar that broke on a glass counter wet with expectation and hot breath.  Let the difficult task begin… “I said, two at a time only!”   How to choose from such a comprehensive selection for all schools of taste?

“Move over Daddy-O – bright sweets are where it’s at!”

 

The adults queued – over there – for things whose appeal was a mystery: tobacco and cigarettes; pink paraffin and brown-bottled drink; indigestion pills and last week’s newspaper bills.  We had our own corner of the corner shop: the first to be shouted at and the last to be served – usually by the shopkeeper’s wife who loved kids and had none herself (probably because of the alleged difficulty in the trouser department).

We knew nothing about these frustrations – other than the extra Fruit Salad in the bag – as we had enough of our own.  They extended beyond the shopkeeper – “I’ll tell your bloody headmaster if you don’t start behavin’!” – to valuable financial lessons © Smug parents everywhere: envious of our carefree attitude and determined we share some of the burden that they carried.  As if choosing wasn’t enough of a tax on the brain!  We knew pocket money – unlike a Liquorice Bootlace – only went so far.

We were a necessary evil in the corner shop scheme of things.  It was true that our grasp of supply economics came down to how many for a penny.  Yes; there was an unrealised belief in supply and demand but that only stretched to our fiscal relationship with white-coat man i.e. We demand: you supply.  We had no inkling of what sort of mark up there was on something so cheap?  Answeet_rationd who would earn a living on the fickle whims of kids’ taste buds without ending up embittered and hateful?  Kids demanded cheap to make them cheerful.  If it was cheap and nasty then so much the better.  Ultimately, it was a matter of taste: don’t get the tang, the texture and the sugary tease just right and the rest was academic.

Like so much that is timeless in our time-less society we have the Victorians to thank for the sweetest of habits.  They didn’t discover sugar but like much else they refined it into a practical money-making, empire-building habit.  From sugar dainties in the drawing room; a gift from Papa – “Come here, this is for you; Archibald and Nicolette dearest” – to the sweet and sour hyper-hit of Haribo from a harassed single Mum: “Oi, Aaron and Nicorette get yer arses over ‘ere – nah! And don’t eat so many that yer puke again awwight?!” – a long spun thread of sugar links us all in an orgy of aching teeth and sore gums.

 “Modern equivalent? Ooh; about one mouthful in the Asda queue you screaming brat.”

 

But colour was King.  The memory of the privations of the Second World War and the grey conformity of the early post-war period was the perfect breeding ground for rock’n’roll, multi-coloured confectionery and er… nits: “Move over Daddy O – bright sweets are where it’s at!”  You might not have been old enough to distinguish Cliff from Richard but when it came to sweets… ah, that was a different mouthful entirely.

As always with the British, the war hung heavy on the popular consciousness both in a way that was real and imagined.  Rationing carried on through to the early-fifties so a whole new generation was able to sympathise with and experience, like some modern day reality show, the 2oz (about 60 odd grammes) of sweets a week – yes a week! – allowed in the time of conflict.  Modern equivalent?  Ooh; about one mouthful in the Asda queue you screaming brat.

If you were lucky someone else less sugar dependent left their coupons behind to be divided up among the other customers; and, looking on the bright side as so many wartime songs were wont to do, at least the kids who lived through it were able to tell a tale with a full set of white gnashers.  Cue the deferential clipped tones: “Now live from the BBC at Alexandra Palace, Miss Vera Lynn will give us her rendition of The White Teeth of Dover followed by We’ll Eat Again.  Now be upstanding for the King.  Gawd bless his majesty!”  Who – no doubt – had his own stash of the sweet stuff by virtue of his bag full of royal appointments with the manufacturers.aniseed-balls

Who said Adolf Hitler was supposed to be child-friendly?  “Nevah… have so many… sucked… on so few.  This is not the end (of the Aniseed Ball).  Slurp! It is not even the beginning of the end (the black chewy liquorice centre).  Smack!  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning (the red shell has nearly worn off).”  Thanks Winston.  Yes; the Hun may have blockaded the Atlantic but the children of Britain would have their Aniseed Balls – although only 2oz of course…

PART TWO for… Gobstoppers, Jelly Snakes and Claire Hawkins’ blue gym knickers…

 

 

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