Apart from the delights mentioned previously, there were many others on offer if you had the odd penny, halfpenny, threepence or sixpence to spend at the local shop. The jars around the sweetshops were numerous and most sweets were sold loose and needed to be weighed out. As a youngster, the amounts tended to be two ounces, or if you were lucky, a quarter.
One of my favourites, and I had many, were Love Hearts. These were round hard and brittle sweets of sherbet and each had a message, such as, Love Eternal, He Loves Me, or similar. They were wrapped in cellophane and you would remove one at a time, read the message and then suck or crunch your way towards the next one and the next message. If I was feeling particularly indulgent, I would stuff half a packet into my mouth and savour the delights of slowly dissolving sherbet. What joy! At the time I wasn’t interested in girls particularly and so the messages were only a curiosity. I did love sherbet though and the Bassett’s Sherbet Fountains were another delight. A yellow cardboard covered tube, filled with white sherbet, with a twist at the top where a liquorice tube poked out. The knack was to be able to suck the powder through the tube, but if you got too much it would make you choke, but what a way to go! The other technique was to take the liquorice stick out, lick the end and use it as a spoon to get the sherbet out. When you got to the end you would tip the remaining sherbet down your throat and if you weren’t lucky another coughing fit could result.
There were so many variations of sherbet. Flying Saucers always looked more attractive in the jars than in real life. The yellow and pink rice paper round, saucer shaped sweets were difficult to eat. For a start the rice paper tended to stick to your mouth as it was so dry and absorbed any saliva. The texture tended to put my teeth on edge in a similar way to silver paper and it was sometimes quite unpleasant when it stuck persistently to the roof of your mouth. You could, of course, bite them in half to release the sherbet and that could be wonderful, but other times they seemed to form a sticky mass without releasing the joy of the fizz. Another form was the Sherbet Dabs. These were paper sealed bags and in each bag was a lollipop and a quantity of sherbet. You tore the top of the bag off, sucked the lolly, dipped it into the sherbet, which stuck to it in pleasing quantities and then you could suck the end and get the joy of the fizz and the sweet lolly at the same time.
Was there no end to the joys of fizzy sweets. Well obviously not, is the answer as there were sherbet lemons, hard yellow sugar candy lozenges with a small quantity of sherbet inside. The skill was to suck the lemon for just the right length of time, before you crushed it in your mouth and released the sherbet. If you were lucky there was a decent amount of fizz released, if not it was another of life’s disappointments. Of course you can still buy them, but they seem to have even less sherbet than when I was a child and if you suck too many the candy becomes sharp and produces slight, but painful cuts to the tongue.
I have gone off sherbet lemons after a near death experience. As an adult, here in Perth, Western Australia, I was sucking one as I climbed up the stairs to a large shopping centre. I was on my own and for some reason I was jolted a little and the fresh sherbet lemon lodged down the back of my throat. The centre was busy and no one seemed aware that I could not get my breath and I was just about to collapse in full view of everyone, when the stuck lolly became detached and I could get a lungful of air. I don’t think anyone noticed, but relief and embarrassment flooded into me, along with oxygen and I regained my composure. This put me off sherbet lemons and, let it be a lesson to anyone else, that just because we did things as children it does not mean we can still do the same as adults. I can see the epitaph now, ‘Here lies the old fool who learned to regret his childhood joys!’
How I still have any of my own teeth amazes me as I think about the masses of sweets and sugar I consumed. What were even worse for the teeth were chews. Again, I loved them, and in particular Refreshers. These were large yellow and pink rectangular chews that were hard until chewing softened them up. They would last a long time, but pulled mercilessly on any loose teeth. They also had a sherbet centre and sometimes there was quite a lot to add to the pleasure, but on other occasions they were disappointing. There were two chews, made by Trebor, that were particularly tasty. Fruit Salads and Black Jacks were wonderful. I am sure that Black Jacks have long since disappeared as they had a picture of a little black faced boy on the wrapper. They had a fantastically strong, slightly acid flavour and you could buy quite a few for a penny or two. The Fruit Salads were pink and yellow and they had a different, but similarly acidy flavour. They lasted for ages and were a great joy on a cold grey day.
Of course there were other choices and popular ones were chewing gum and bubble gum. I think the craze started in the USA, and it never became as prevalent as it appears to have become there, where many adults chew gum all the time. Beech-Nut chewing gum had a hard candy shell. It was mint flavoured and you got it from the machine outside the shop. You put in your money and turned the handle and the packet was dispensed. The machines were set up to deliver two packets every so often, which was a real thrill. Wriggley’s Spearmint chewing gum came in a long packet and there were flat hard pieces of gum wrapped in silver foil and these you pushed into your mouth and softened them to get them into a really chewy mass. The mint flavour didn’t last long and you added a new piece and carried on chewing. By the end of the packet your mouth was full with a tasteless mass of gum. You were supposed to dispose of it carefully, back in the foil and in a bin, but the pavements were strewn with remnants left by those who just cast them to the ground. You were told not to swallow it as it could lodge in your insides. I don’t think this was true, as I swallowed it on many occasions, but I don’t think it was digested and would pass through you. Maybe it is all still inside me, lurking with intent!
You sometimes came across the sticky mess under your desks in school and it could adhere to your clothes and was a devil to remove. Even worse was if you got some in your hair. The only real way to remove the tangle was by cutting it out. Many a girl ended the day in tears as the gum had to be cut out of her long hair.
The same problem could happen with bubble gum. The most common bubblegum was Hubba Bubba and this came in paper covered round disks of gum. They were sweet and contained a lot of sugar and no mint. Again, they were hard and filled the mouth until you had warmed the gum up by chewing. The gum became much more pliable than the chewing gum and, as a result, it could be blown into bubbles that could get quite big before they burst and stuck to your face. It took skill to learn to blow a good bubble and the talent was much sought after by the kids at primary school, as it was a mark of a cool kid. I finally managed, but some unpleasant friends would sneak up when you were creating a world record bubble and flatten it across your face. You then had to spend considerable time peeling the remnants off your cheeks, eyebrows and lips.
Another skill that we all sought to master was whistling. Some children seemed to be able to produce a loud shrill whistle, effortlessly, whereas I struggled to produce more than a raspberry. Other children ran lessons for us unskilled mortals and their god-like status grew even more. No explanation seemed to help and it became very frustrating to be cursed with such a handicap. Even more impressive was the way that some could use a leaf or piece of grass to produce an ear-shattering whistle. Oh, how I envied them! Eventually I managed to learn how to whistle a tune, but never reached the dizzy heights of some of the school.
I have gone slightly off tack with my recollections, so I hope that you will forgive me. I have a host of other sweet delights, flavours and food stories that I will return to in a future tale. As I have been writing this I can savour the flavours and feel of each of the sweets I have mentioned. It is amazing what is lurking in our memories: the sounds, the tastes, and the feelings of childhood are there still, and I hope my memories have brought back your own, and that it was a time as joyful and innocent as mine was.
Below is my latest Album- Jump Start. Feel free to give it a listen.
Parts 1 to 11 of my audiobook, Blaze is available to listen to on the Soundcloud player below.