In my younger days, near every school, there would be a “tuck-shop” usually called the ‘sweet shop’. Most of those shops were decked out in shelving that supported row upon row of big glass jars with large screw top lids. Each held a variety of sweets and we knew what they were called (and when you didn’t, you could just point). The brightly coloured confectionary took our fancy. All that magic became available in the 1950s when the austerity of rationing was finally lifted by the government. Fortunately, a number of the old pre-war confectionaries were made again. Usually they cost a farthing* each. We bought four Blackjacks’ for a penny for example; or sweet cigarettes, Gobstoppers or Pontefract cakes.
In my case I loved most liquorice sweets – either a penny pipe or the long stringy, Catherine wheels wrapped around a central almond sweet, that could take ages to unwind, on that inevitable journey passed that black sticky scrumptious ribbon of delight to get to the usually pale blue sugar coated almond.
Oddly enough, I was also enormously partial to the tartness of Barrett’s sherbet fountain as well as sherbet lemon sweets that I think were two pence or perhaps three pence for a two ounce bag. Those sweets had to be vigorously sucked until the hard outer coat dissolved in order to release the explosion of sherbet. You got an awful lot of baby dolly mixtures for two ounces that made short work of rotting your teeth, but in those days, no one considered teeth as important.
All the hundreds of newly available confectionaries were made available by the mid-1950s enticing both children and adults to part with their few pennies. Usually, on the very top most shelf, gift wrapped boxes of chocolates were available to mark special occasions like birthdays or Christmas – but of course those boxes retailed at a lot more than pennies. Very occasionally Dad would take me and my older brothers aside and slip us a ten shilling or a pound note, saying “its Mum’s birthday coming up on 1st of October, and it would be nice if you bought her a box of Black Magic chocolates, they are her favourite”. On that auspicious date we boys would get up that extra bit early, in order to make our own breakfast but also to take Mum her breakfast in bed after Dad had left for work. We would normally argue about the best way to present the breakfast tray and nestled beside the cup of tea and the boiled egg with toasted soldiers we would sit on Mum’s bed, carefully eyeing the lovely box of chocolates with its distinctive black silk bow.
Of course, I know now that this annual charade was part ritual in celebrating Mum’s birthday but perhaps also designed to teach us, three boys that we could all learn to feed ourselves, without Mum having to be there. In later years all of us boys cooked full Sunday roast dinners with simple puddings to follow. A skill, I would ever be grateful to Mum and Dad for. Dad said very little about our culinary skills but launched into of our efforts with great gusto. He accompanied this with much lip smacking and appreciative gestures,
In hindsight, I tend to think I had a very good childhood, where with little effort I can remember even to smell of entering the sweetshop in anticipation of what I might purchase with my meagre few pennies each visit. Is that a magic now sadly gone forever?
Don’t forget the fruit-gum’s mum!
*A farthing was a quarter of a penny and lowest domination coin in the 1950s.