Looking back the idea of a Tuckshop seems almost Dickensian, but Roundhay School really was clinging on to its traditions and harking back to days of Public Schools.
At Harehills County Primary we really weren’t so posh and we just went over the road to buy our choice of sweets. The nearest shop by the crossing was a real old traditional sweetshop and tobacconist’s. There were numerous glass jars arranged along the shelves and the display counter held the most tantalising of offerings. We didn’t have much money to spend but the shopkeeper never seemed to mind and was happy to take our pennies or threepennies, and I suppose the number of shoppers made up for their spending power. Of course adults would have been the big spenders on newspapers, cigarettes and more expensive treats. There was a far larger range than you would find nowadays, but the sizes were much smaller. Chocolate bars were tiny compared to the enormous, but recently shrinking, family blocks of today. Oh, Walnut Whips were magnificent then, as were the Cadbury’s Creme Eggs at Easter, but I mustn’t get distracted!
I have spoken in the past about some of the strange and wonderful delights on offer. Victory V lozenges were one of my favourites and the fact that they contained ether and chloroform probably made them more appealing and addictive. When these were removed they lost their taste and their attractiveness. Some of the offerings were not politically correct and I am sure that Black Jacks now have a new name and icon. Little Imps, Refreshers, Love Hearts, Sherbet Dips, Sherbet Fountains, Pomfret Cakes, Sports Mixtures, Spanish, Jubblies, the list could go on forever and each name conjures up the specific flavour. Shrimps, Bananas, Murray Mints, Bubbly Bubble Gum, Gobstoppers, Humbugs, I can’t stop! Whatever we ordered there was a ritual. Two ounces of wine gums, I might have requested, and the shopkeeper would turn, find the correct glass jar and take it down and bring it to the counter,. He would unscrew the lid, red I believe, and then pour with experienced ease the required amount into the silver dish of the scales. He might have to alter the weight if it was a larger amount required, but his judgment was almost exact and would, at most, require the removal of, or addition of one sweet to make the weight. With an easy, smooth glide the contents would be poured into a paper bag, either cone shaped or square depending on the amount. Finally, with a flourish, the bag would be held by the corners, flipped a couple of times to fasten it and this was then placed in front of me and I would push the pennies across the counter and, like dueling cowboys, it was a competition to see who could reach for the money or the sweets first. It was a glorious ritual that is missing in most self-service, limited selection supermarkets or newsagents’ of today. What a time to be a child!
Arrival at Roundhay School was a whole new experience. Yes, there were shops to get your sweets at Oakwood and at the shops outside Roundhay Girls’ entrance, but by then things were changing. Plastic, foil and paper packaging were more common and this was probably for hygiene and convenience, as sweets were on display and you often helped yourself and paid at the counter. The magical world of true sweetshops was disappearing but did return in the form of nostalgia driven specialty shops. There are one or two here in Perth, Western Australia. There was something that Roundhay had that Harehills didn’t and that was a Tuckshop. Now many will be asking themselves what was a Tuckshop? Tom Brown’s School Days, Billy Bunter and similar stories told of midnight feasts in boarding school, but these were hampers of cakes and pop sent by parents living in their country houses. The reality was much less exciting. The Tuckshop was a room and store room under the stairs and from a hatch window packets of crisps and other delights were sold to the boys at breaks and at lunchtime. Older boys would run the shop and it was mainly younger boys who crowded the window, jostling, punching and fighting their way to the front. It was a seething mass that was pure survival of the fittest and would certainly fail all health and safety requirements of recent times, and social distancing requirements presently in place.
Injuries might have occurred, but you would get no sympathy from the teachers as they occasionally glanced down on the hordes, attired in their black academic gowns, like giant ravens. Roundhay had an aim to make men from boys and if a few should be sacrificed for the strengthening of the many, so be it. I say it was mainly, but not exclusively younger boys and the reason for this is the middle years were often having a fag in the boiler room, or in the bushes near the girls’ school, the sixth formers were in the Mansion Bogs, where the smoke was so thick, your eyes stung and no one was using the place for its original purpose. The older boys were also attracted by another delight and so rather than stuffing their faces they preened and paraded themselves near the dividing bushes where equally enamoured young ladies behaved similarly. Oh, and there were two other pastimes and they were soccer matches and fighting. Often the two pursuits were combined and sometimes drew crowds from the tuckshop melee as watching a good scrap was a good way to liven up a school day.
Testosterone has a lot to answer for and I speak from experience of all of the above. I have often said that I do not see what completely sensible and charming teenage girls could find interesting or alluring in spotty, smelly, greasy teenage boys, whose minds are focused on things I won’t mention, fighting and, in mine and many others’ cases, music. Clearly some divine power, evolutionary quirk, takes sense of smell and common sense away from young ladies during this period of development. It obviously returns to them at a later date and they realise what mistakes they have landed themselves with, before being replaced by another irrational desire to have families. Boys and men fail to change and appear completely bemused by life and the fair sex, but seem content with their lot, on the whole!
To be part of the tuck shop staff was a position of kudos with the younger boys and one to aspire to. They seemed to see a wall of waving hands, and have the ability to pick out their friends no matter where they were and serve them with speed and aplomb. Money was taken and goodies delivered. The lucky boy then had the Herculean feat of battling against the tide of would-be purchasers as they tried to make their way back out to the playgrounds. I don’t know why, but I aspired to be one of those skilled retailers and to have the power to make or break a boy’s day by serving or ignoring them. The really skilful boys could get out of a lesson before the bell, often by subterfuge, and thus make the very front of the window before it opened. The boys serving were granted special dispensation to leave the classrooms early and they were viewed with envy by those who still had a minute or two of maths, Latin, or French still to suffer.
Joe Wareham was in charge of the tuck shop when I was there and he seemed to quite like me and I am unsure whether it was in the fourth or fifth year when volunteers were asked for and I was chosen. The room was stacked with boxes of crisps and things had moved on a little from Harehills CP swimming days. There was now a wide choice of flavours that had replaced the Hobson’s choice of with salt or without. Chicken crisps, which for the life of me have never tasted remotely of chicken, beef crisps, my favourite, salt and vinegar, my least liked and cheese and onion added to a smorgasbord of tantalizing tastes for teenage tongues. To add to this was something I had forgotten about and that was the mint Yo-yo biscuit. This was a dark chocolate covered biscuit with a cream filling and had a strong mint flavour. I just loved these and ate many over my time at Roundhay.
The job was totally unpaid, I recall, but was hectic and wild. We were running, resupplying those doing the selling, opening new boxes and taking away and flattening the empties. It was a mad-house and the school must have made a fortune, but of course there were some stock losses as the sellers always seemed to have a packet on the go. Teachers would also buy crisps and Yo-yos, but they missed the throng by using the side door. Some children had more money than sense and chubby first years would buy half a dozen packets and scoff them during break all by themselves. We probably didn’t do much for fitness and hardening of the arteries, but we did a roaring trade. Nowadays it is probably healthier fare on offer, but nothing helped teenage boys with pimply faces more than a diet high in saturated fat on a twice daily basis. Of course there were school dinners to add to the calorie intake overload, but growing teenagers seemed to be able to handle them and still remain thin. It must have been all the soccer, rugby, fighting and chasing girls that burned it off, with the odd cross-country run.
I think I might have done the tuck shop job for a year or maybe two, but certainly not when I was in the sixth form. That would have been below us men at that point in our lives. Our blazers changed to black, I believe, and so did our moods. When I was in the first year the sixth formers looked like men: hairy faces, deep voices and a swagger and confidence that is only found in the young, and when I became one of them I left such occupations behind. We were given the privilege of mixing with the girls along the driveway and there was no way that a packet of crisps, or even a mint Yo-yo were going to keep us away from the endless possibilities of fraternisation.
Book 2 of The Moondial Series free to listen to the audiobook on the Soundcloud player below.