Archive for the ‘Confectionery’ Tag

The Killing Floor (8)

traders-work-at-their-desks- 

“What’s that all over your desk?”

“What does it look like?!”

“Well… Liquorice allsorts er; obviously…”

“Literal and correct – as always… you never disappoint.”

“Okay, where’s this going exactly?”

“Ah; I’m just reminiscing – that’s all.”

“Never had you down as someone who was remotely sentimental – let alone a sweets kind of person.  Always the next deal: coffee; more than the odd cigarette… oh; and plenty of booze after work of course – but sweets?  Nah…”

“These represent a turning point in my life if you must know.”

“What… remembering when you first ate them as a kid?”

No… first day on this job I was given a lesson in economics at a nearby bar by the late, great Marcus Cousins – dealer extraordinaire and all-round great white shark in the murkiest of waters.  Biggest there was in his day.  And it just so happened that in imparting his considerable wisdom he used a bag of Liquorice allsorts.”

“Why?”

“They were to hand… he stole them from a kid on his way to work… the corner shop was fresh out of Jelly babies… How the hell should I know?!”

“Hang on… Cousins?  Bit before my time – I was still at Uni deciding what my career options were…. but wasn’t he responsible for that insider dealing scandal?  If I remember he nearly brought down a Tory Minister and a couple of blue chip companies…”

“He did… shafted them all – and the Minister’s wife for good measure…”

“Classy guy then?”

“Like I say the late, great…”

Right… fled to some Pacific island dictatorship with no extradition treaty and oodles of other people’s cash.  A real crook by all accounts.  Let me guess… What did he see in you?”

“Natural talent…”

“So he taught you everything he knew with his bag of Liquorice allsorts?”

“Not quite taught… I didn’t need that much…”

“Of course not – silly me: as if?”

“He mentored me if you must know… you’ll understand that given all those corporate bonding exercises you insist upon going on – he pointed me in the right direction.”

“A life of crime?”

No… he knew a great dealer in the making…”

“So much so that he offered you his bag of Liquorice allsorts?  Didn’t your mother warn you about sharks offering sweets?”

“Just have a sweet and shut up will you?”

Oooh yes – I’ll have one of those… Mmmm that’s good; though they’ve gone a bit soft under all these strip lights… aaahmmmm…. alright; put me out of my misery and tell me what he taught you… mmm….”

“When you’ve quite finished?”

“Oh er; sorry… this one’s stuck all over my teeth… sorry… carry on; ahem…”

“Okay… Let me see if I can remember it all near enough… like I say it was a long time ago now – a different world… Each one of these sweets represents a deal.”

“Okay got that… mind if I have another one?  Mmmm lovely… So what about this one the solid round liquorice?”

“That’s a basic commodity deal – What You See Is What You Get.”

“Er… What about the round liquorice one with the white centre?”

WYSIWYG is true – but not always: sometimes there is hidden leverage to be had in the deal or another to be struck.”

“It’s good this – I’m beginning to get the drift – so how about the sandwich?”

“A complex deal on more than one level so take care you don’t get caught in the middle.”

“The multi-sandwich?”

“An extremely complex deal on a whole number of levels – but with the subtlest rewards like the flavour of this one in the bag.”

Okay… this is fun!  The round coloured coconut one with a liquorice centre?”

“Beware of some deals… they’re surrounded by so much hype and PR that it’s a while before you can get to the core of the matter.”

Mmmm… I like coconut.”

You would…”

“Okay; so what about these – the aniseedy, chewy ones with the scores of little nobbly bits on them; you don’t get many of them in a pack.”

“Precisely… some deals are very rare – especially where you can make hundreds of thousands on them.”

“The Bertie Bassett?”

“Never had them in the pack back then but if I had to hazard a guess – they’d represent the  financial regulator: never needed them; never wanted them – never asked for them.”

“And the special red Bertie?”

“Oh I don’t know – the financial regulator with the scent of foul play in his nostrils and the government of the day up his arse?!”

“Are the different colours relevant?  After all there’s pink and yellow for the coconut ones and those chewy aniseed drops come in blue and pink… and…”

“Only in as much as deals come in all shapes and sizes I suppose… ”

“Oh…”

“What’d you expect – pink for the girls and blue for the boys?”

“No… just that it would have made it more interesting if…”

“Look!  They’re a metaphor – not a bloody handbook!”

“I just thought that…”

“Well don’t!”

“Alright, if each one represents something – is a metaphor like you say – then what about the pack as a whole?”

“A warning for being too greedy maybe?”

“How?”

“By wanting it all too quickly…”

Mmmm… mind if I have that last coconut one?”

“Go ahead… eat as many as you like… yeh; that’s it…”

“What?”

“The metaphor for the whole bag… No one can have it all – if you try and do all the deals at the same time you’ll end up with a nasty taste in your mouth and equally nasty stains in your trousers.”

“Still like to know what the man himself thought… Anyway – I’m off…”

“Coffee run?  I’ll have an Ethiopian – three shots as usual…”

“No!  I’m going the other way… there’s a 24-seven on the corner by the Tube… you’ve actually inspired me for once – I’m going to get some Haribo mixed and see if I can’t bring this up to date in time for that team building weekend in the Lake District.”

Sweet Jesus… It takes all sorts…”

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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