I appreciate that I may once again be accused of unremitting nostalgia, melancholia and a yearning for times past , (as well as an appalling propensity for puns in my titles) but there was only one significant disappointment on my recent holiday to Suffolk and the sense of it is lingering, like a little bit of Opal Fruit stuck in a filling.
Woodbridge has an ‘old-fashioned sweet shop’ called ‘Granville’s’, and learning of this in the weeks leading up to our trip I made sure I sneakily manoeuvred us to this pretty small town in search of my Holy Grail of sweets – chocolate hammers, spanners, saws and paintbrushes. The penny sweets, not the posh ones you can get in a tin in Lakeland, or the ones that they sell in garden centres alongside chocolate secateurs and computer mice (mouses?). Granvilles is a lovely shop, rows of jars on shelves, stripy paper bags, tubs of chewy things – but they didn’t have any chocolate tools. As I paid for a packet of ‘Zubes’ for my mum (nothing better for clearing catarrh, apparently) the helpful women behind the counter empathised with my craving for doing cheap chocolate candy DIY. ‘I know they exist’, I said, ‘I get them from Cranch’s in Totnes’. This competition for my custom may spur them to put some on their next order to the Nasty Cheap Sweet Co. or whoever markets the plastic tubs we steer our children away from, but I suspect not. When I did eventually find some in Bury St Edmunds they had mixed them up with chocolate foam bananas so they smelled horrible. I suspect they are not a big seller.
They don’t actually taste very nice, really. Not as bad as Hershey bars which taste like acid reflux, or the ‘chocolate flavoured coating’ on the cheap choc ices from a van at a car boot sale, but they are certainly not the work of a master chocolatier. I am not even convinced they are currently made by the original company (Matlow’s probably) as they are not the same shape as the ones I remember and have silly names embossed on them like ‘Sammy Saw’ or ‘Percy Paintbrush’. So what makes me yearn for them still?
I think it is because I associate them so closely with my Dad, who adored them. In fact, he went into our little local sweet shop and bought up a whole box, orange,with layers of tools still separated by dark brown corrugated paper. It sat on the sideboard, incongruous when surrounded by a bowl of fruit and a canteen of cutlery rather than a tub of Black Jacks or jelly worms. Perhaps it is also because it brings back memories of a time when my whole family sat round the Radio Rentals telly watching Dr Who, New Faces and The Persuaders. No-one had a mobile phone or a PC and my Mum thought making curried mince was cutting edge, authentic ethnic cookery. Happy days.
So I have been led on from this to think of other iconic sweetmeats from my youth. I am not the only one with childish cravings. A simple Google of ‘Retro sweets’ brings up a host of online emporia offering a quarter of this or that. Companies have seen an opportunity to resurrect certain products, such as Old Jamaica rum and raisin chocolate, Wispa, or most recently Galaxy Counters, to tempt those of us who have never properly grown up into buying things that of course just don’t taste the same as they used to. One site ‘Retro Tuck Shop’ has a ‘Top ten all time favourites’ list. As at the end of August 2010 pop pickers, the countdown looked like this:
- Flying Saucers
- Fruit salad
- Black Jacks
- Candy Shrimps
- Foam bananas
- Lions Sports Mix
- Fried eggs
- Cola bottles
- Fizzy cola bottles
- Lassoes (what are they?)
I know my husband has a ‘thing’ for a pink candy shrimp, and my brother has a disturbing need to dissolve a sherbet (I hope) filled, rice paper flying saucer on his tongue every so often, but this list lacks a little imagination to my mind (shown by numbers 8 and 9 both being a variant of the disgusting cola bottle) and I think there are some significant omissions. My personal list would include:
- Chocolate tools (of course)
- Black jacks and fruit salad (you have to mix both)
- Bar Six (where the devil did that go? It was much nicer than KitKat)
- Paynes Poppets (in the boxes tempting you from the old machines at Underground stations – 9 out of 10 times you lost your money)
- Pez (why did they never find a way to get the little sweets in without them springing up in your face? There was always that one that wouldn’t lie down..)
- Fry’s Chocolate Sandwich (much better than hummus and roasted veg)
- Cola Cubes (have to be Trebor, and can’t seem to get them now)
- Rhubarb & Custard (with just slightly more pink than yellow)
- Pink Panther bar (along with Tom & Jerry banana flavoured bars, something we only ever bought on holiday in Devon)
- Caramac (another one that doesn’t taste the same now – did it used to have cannabis resin in it or something?)
Clearly I am greedy, these are not all penny sweets, but they are, I believe, icons of my youth and as resonant of times in my life as The Osmonds, Keith Chegwin, certain songs, or books. I love a trip to Cranch’s in Totnes not because I am going to come out with anything particularly delicious, or even edible to be honest, but because it brings back a childhood in the ’70s that seems in retrospect to have been so entirely innocent. My brother, sister and I had the freedom to roam about, aged 10,8 and 5 in a way that now would be frowned upon, and perhaps dangerous. We knew nothing of additives (we all got high on ‘it’s frothy man’ Cresta on a number of occasions I am sure – does anyone actually know what they put in it make it different from ordinary fizz?), or iniquitous global ‘brands’. We were not conscious of being influenced by anyone other than the owner of the sweet shop, standing there holding the little paper bag and counting as the penny sweets went in, (and probably cringing as he heard ‘how much is that so far?’ for the millionth time that day..).
Or perhaps it is the different way in which I have responded to sweets with my children that makes me feel so nostalgic? They may have similar yearnings for Haribo and Millions in thirty years time, but when faced with a Caramac now I would first see it is made by Nestle and choose something else. I would pretend to look a bit shocked when Auntie Jane brought a bag of sugar and additive filled stick-to-your-teeth chewy sweets round just before dinner, and I will chomp my way through a horrible Christmas-only box of Cadbury’s Roses when, apart from the maker, I like Quality Street so much better.
So maybe my craving for chocolate tools or cola cubes is the same as any other – a need for the forbidden, illicit pleasures of something that will make your tongue sore, has no nutritional value whatsoever, will make you feel sick if you eat too many and will possibly keep you awake all night.
Maybe not so innocent after all…