‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Build-Up to Christmas. Winter and Christmas Parties at Harehills County Primary School in the 1960s. – Cup of Tea Tales
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Build-Up to Christmas. Winter and Christmas Parties at Harehills County Primary School in the 1960s.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hippy Attempt on the Summit of Mount Snowdon. What Foolish Things We Did as Students!
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Ashworth’s Sweet-Shop, Harehills. Sweets, Victory V Lozenges, Sweet Cigarettes and Other Delights We Have Lost Over The Years.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A’ Levels, the Final Year at High School, Planning to Leave Home, Getting into College and Growing Older if Not Wiser.
- David’s Bookshelf Issue 5
One of my earliest memories of my father is his returning home after work and producing what he called ‘magic’. That is, he would pull out some sweets or bars from his pocket for my brothers and me. I suppose he called it magic because he made it appear out of thin air. Silly, I guess, but as parents, we do silly things to amuse our children. A range of chocolate bars, chews and sweets might appear and it was a real treat for little boys. Times were very different from the more obvious affluence and excesses of modern life, where family or jumbo-size bars and bags mean that parents have to worry about overeating. As youngsters, we were thin, active and growing, so a small treat wasn’t a problem and probably more appreciated, as it was seen as a special occasion. My family would not be considered poor, but money was short and birthdays and Christmas were special, maybe because toys and gifts were not something we experienced on a regular basis.
There was something magical about having a little pocket money and going to the sweet shop. Ashworth’s was the one opposite Harehills County Primary School on Roundhay Road, where there is now a crossing. The corner shop was a treasure trove of delights. Jars lined the walls and counters and inside was a dizzying array of mysterious items to test and tantalise the tastebuds. The whole process of asking for two ounces of aniseed balls and then standing, whilst the shopkeeper found the correct jar, screwed the lid off, poured an amount into the silver pan of the scales, made adjustments and then poured the contents into a cone bag or later a square paper bag, was wonderful.
I must add that I am not sure if we have lost the range of flavours, or whether it is just that my taste buds have dimmed over the years, but I feel that sweets and lollies are sweeter, but have less flavour than they used to do. Some may be on health grounds, and some may be an attempt to increase demand by making the flavours so bland that they are no longer an acquired taste.
Let me give you an example. Victory V Lozenges, I loved them. I can’t say why. They had a strong, almost chemical flavour that you either hated or loved. I believe it was ether, liquorice and chloroform and they were created in the middle of the 19th century, in Lancashire by Fryer and Smith MD. They were flat lozenges of a rough khaki colour and you could suck them until they became just a sliver and then disappeared. They came it tubes, but you could also buy them loose and they were great if you had a cold or sore throat, but I am not sure the ingredients were good for you. The ether and chloroform we removed in the 1960s and they were never the same and I only bought them once when they were changed and never since. I will add here that I got a similar taste from eating the Airfix model glue that stuck to my hands after building model planes or boats. The glue had an astringent chemical odour and taste, but if you ate too much, you could feel it burn the lining of your throat as it passed into your stomach. Thinking back, I wonder how I ever survived. I also loved the smell of the tarmac they spread on the roads.
The sweet shop was an opportunity to try all manner of delights, and some had specific seasons. The approach to Bonfire Night in November saw toffee lollies on sale. They were toffee or treacle toffee in a jam tart foil case with a wooden stick stuck in them. I thought they were wonderful, and they provided hours of sticky licking. They also had apples that sat on trays, covered in toffee, and had wooden sticks standing out like rows of soldiers, but the toffee was red, the apples were often bruised, and I never really liked them. They also used to sell toffee apples at the fairgrounds at Woodhouse Feast or Roundhay Park, along with brandy snaps.
Another unusual option that is probably no longer available was liquorice root. These were kept in a jar and were the dried roots of a plant. They were a nicotine yellow and at first just tasted like an old dried stick, but as you masticated the root, it split its fibres and released the liquorice flavour. You could, and had to, chew it for a long time to release its full potential flavour, but eventually, it lost all flavour and became just wooden again. This was the point when you had to spit it out. The best part of these was that you could chew off a piece and put the rest into your pocket for later use. They didn’t cost much and were excellent value. In Leeds, we called liquorice Spanish. I assume it originated from there. Another option was the hard black liquorice sticks. These were shiny, brittle sticks maybe three inches long and you could also get them from the chemists. I think they were used as a laxative, but they were also great to suck on if you had a passion for the liquorice flavour. Then, of course, there was the usual array of more common Spanish treats: liquorice pipes, with a few hundreds and thousands on the top of the pipe, not politically correct nowadays, Spanish shoe laces, torpedoes with a sugar candy shell and the black sticks, six inches long, round and with a flattened section at the top two inches. Finally, there were Little Imps. Imps came in boxes half the size of a matchbox and were tiny bits of black shiny squares. There had a very strong flavour and were very much an acquired taste, but I loved them.
Another favourite of mine was aniseed. I loved aniseed balls. These were in one of the glass jars with a screw top and the bright red marble-sized balls called to me as I would look around the shop wondering what to buy. Two ounces of aniseed balls could last two days if sucked correctly. The shopkeeper would make a show of taking down the jar, undoing the top, pouring the balls into the shiny metal scales, adding the two-ounce weight to the other side of the balance, adding or removing a ball or two and then selecting a cone paper bag, pouring the balls in and then making a magical twirl of the bag top and placing the goodies on the counter. I would push over my threepence, or whatever the amount was and then would turn and leave, cradling my goodies as if they were buried treasure. Once outside, I would pop in a ball and start to suck. At first, the flavour was just sweet, but after a moment or two, this was replaced by the distinct flavour of aniseed. One ball could last for nearly half an hour and at its centre was an actual anise seed that you could crush between your teeth. I know they still sell aniseed balls, but they have very little flavour and they don’t offer the same experience.
The other long-lasting treats were the gobstoppers. I never really liked these as much as aniseed balls, as they were bland and just tasted sweet, but one of the giant balls could be made to last for days. Of course, you couldn’t suck them during lessons, but you just slipped them into your pockets until the next break or after school. Yes, they collected fluff and dirt from out of your pocket, but after a few minutes of sucking, they became clean and pristine. The extra bits just added to the enjoyment! I once nearly choked to death as an adult after swallowing a sherbet lemon whole, so I wonder how many children died after having a gobstopper, as some of them were huge. In our safety-conscious times, I am sure they are not allowed to be the size they were in the 1950s and 60s. I am not sure if the Heimlich Manoeuvre was about in those times, but Mr Kelly at Harehills, I am sure would have saved the day.
I mentioned the liquorice pipes, but the other treat that no longer exists is sweet cigarettes. Cigarettes were not the taboo subject that they are nowadays, and packets looked very similar to the real deal. The white sticks had red tips, and we used to stand around mimicking smoking adults. Even better, but more expensive, were the Camel chocolate cigarettes. These were in packets that were copies of the real Camel Cigarettes and the packet was soft like the original. They were a similar size and wrapped in cigarette paper and I am not sure if we were supposed to eat the paper, but I heard it was rice paper, whatever that is, and so I ate the whole thing. Later there were chewing gum cigarettes, also wrapped in paper, and even more offensive imitation cigarettes that must have had talcum powder or something similar, as you could blow through them and a little cloud of dust came out at the end. Happy days.
The shop also sold comics and there were Superhero ones from the USA. I enjoyed the stories, but what always fascinated me were the adverts. I remember X-Ray glasses and sea monkeys. Apparently, sea monkeys were some sort of brine shrimp that were in suspended animation when dried but came back to life when poured into a jar of water. Of course, the fact that we couldn’t buy what American children could, made them even more desirable. When you were really flush, you may have left with lollies and a comic.
If for some reason the shop was closed, there were a couple of coin-operated dispensing machines. One would dispense mint chewing gum in packets and another bubble gum balls. You put your penny in, waited for it to drop, turned the handle and listened for the gum to drop. If you were really lucky, you might find two when you opened the door to the drawer. On those days, your state of bliss knew no boundaries.
Just a little of the range were: Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, Flying Saucers, Hubba Bubba bubble gum, Little Imps, Cherry Lips, Love Hearts, aniseed balls, Sports Mixture, sweet cigarettes, gob stoppers, sherbet dips, Lucky Bags, Riley’s Chocolate Toffee Rolls, Refreshers, parma violets, bananas, shrimps, sherbet fountains, walnut whips, cinder toffee, treacle toffee lollies in silver tart trays, toffee apples, Smith’s crisps with little blue twisted bags of salt, Sunpat raisins, pear drops, lemon drops, acid drops, cough candy, mint humbugs, rock, sherbet lemons, dolly mixtures, allsorts and jelly babies. I am sure that I have probably missed out some.
I am sure that you would have had your favourites, but I can still remember the highlight of my week was when my mother had placed a Mars Bar in the fridge and, when cold, she sliced it into pieces. For some reason it tasted so much better that way and it had the benefit of being a shared family experience as we all could have a piece. Small pleasures, but ones that have lasted my lifetime.