The sweet shops of my youth

First off, it’s important to warn you that, like shopping at the supermarket, you should never write a Blog on an empty stomach. Especially one that talks about food.

I am eating hot crumpets, with a light smattering of butter on top. Salivating yet? This simple act has taken me on a journey home. I am in my mom’s kitchen and it’s tea time on Sunday afternoon. I am moaning about being hungry and she says something about kids in Africa and I say I’m still hungry. So out come my lovely toasted friends. There has to be cheese on top too. The very smell of them and the act of popping them in the toaster reminds me of these safe times in the bosom of my mother, now deceased.

Childhood memories - sweets

I begin thinking about how food can create such intense associations with memory. We were not fancy eaters in our house. Indeed, I don’t think a piece of pasta passed my lips until I was a grown woman. My parents did not understand it at all. Foreign muck. Whilst I think about this I am taking a short break to feed my face as I have now made myself hungry and it’s lunchtime.

OK, I’m back.

In particular, I am thinking of childhood sweets. Candy. Call it what you will, it’s a timeless treat for a child with wide eyes and an appreciation of colour.

Our local sweet-shop as kids for my brother and me was the newsagent. As for many kids in the UK in the 70s we were often given 10p to buy a little white bag of goodies, which we could happily cram full of ha’penny yummies for that tiny amount!

Frankly, looking back now, almost all of the sweets we used to eat have disappeared – perhaps this is because they were almost entirely inedible or unethical! Take Parma Violets for example. Whose stupid idea was that?! Sweets that taste like perfume? They smelled like my nan (whom I adored by the way – and I suppose it was better than wee).

These long thin paper-wrapped tubes seemed to overtake the traditional ‘quarter’ of sweets in a 3-cornered bag. Refreshers were a family favourite. “The fizz that gives you whizz” was the tagline (sad I know) and featured a granny on speed (or Refreshers presumably). No wonder our parents were reluctant for us to eat too many of them.Childhood memories - sweets

My favourites were Sweet Cigarettes. Now, let me tell you how my 11 year old feels about this revelation. Disgust, mild amusement and total disbelief that the manufacturers had the audacity to name them that way, and that we were allowed to buy them. My, how times change! Not only did we buy them (in bulk on occasion) but we pretended to ‘smoke’ them as if they were real. If I remember correctly they even had pink tips to simulate burning ash!!! But, my, they were tasty. Your favourite cartoon character would be depicted on the front – lovely child-friendly packaging and advertising!Childhood memories - sweets

Sherbert dabs were another treat. Still sold today but in modern form. The old-fashioned variety would be a little white bag of loose sherbert (colour of your choice if you were lucky), accompanied by a stick of liquorice to dip in to it. More speed.

I also remember the often forgotten Cherry Blobs, Pacers and sweet necklaces on elastic. – you can wear it and you can eat it – who knew?!

The newsagent was a place where children skulked in corners whilst adults purchased newspapers, but when the counter was free, the great family of giant jars came into view.  Cherry Lips, Childhood memories - sweets Wine Gums, Chocolate Eclairs and Chewing Nuts, Honeycomb and ‘Millions’. What a feast for the eyes!

When all was said and done, however, there was one particular sweet which has not only survived the test of time, but has probably been present at most of the defining moments of my progression through childhood. It was there when I fell out of a tree. It was there when I followed my brother and his mates on their Chopper bikes, frantically trying to keep up. It was there when I broke my arm on my plastic roller-skates. Of which old friend do I speak so fondly? It is the humble Bubble Gum. Childhood memories - sweets

Always pink and always individually wrapped. I must have chewed a thousand of them and swallowed around 500. This gave my mother grave concern for a number of reasons. One – she had no idea whether there was really any danger in eating the stuff, but she was highly superstitious anyway, so urban myths about stomach entanglement didn’t really help. Two – I was, at that stage of my life, a hair sucker. I used to put chunks of hair into my mouth and chew it. It was a bad habit and at moments of great stress I occasionally still regress to hair sucking (feel my shame). My mother was convinced that the combined result of hair balls and sticky bubble gum entering my stomach would surely render me instantly comatose. There was no choice – the hair sucking had to go.

Food plays a great part in our lives, of course, but the extent to which it is present in our nostalgic imagery is fascinating to me. Evocative of a past era, a carefree childhood perhaps? Or maybe, like me, you are just plain greedy.

I’d love to hear from you with your memories of childhood, sweet-related or not!

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Helen x

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