If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can picture myself as a small girl standing in the village ‘Sweetie Shop.’ I can paint a picture of it from memory, time has erased none of it’s magic. I can see myself standing outside the shop window, it’s shelves laden with toys and boxes of chocolates; smudges visible on the windows from noses pushed up hard against the glass. The plain concrete step gave no hint of what lay within, it was only as we passed through the painted red door with it’s transparent glass panel that we had any hint of the joys that awaited us. Inside, it was our own candy corner; enchanting us with meticulous displays of mouthwatering delights; as we floated on an anticipatory cloud of sugary bliss.
The floor was covered in old red tiles. Directly opposite the door was a large wooden counter, filled from waist height with all the popular ‘countlines’ of the day. Uniformly ordered in size, the largest were at the top; slabs of red and gold dark chocolate Bournville, deep purple Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, followed by Fruit and Nut and then, towards the end of the row, a few lesser known delights, such as ‘Old Jamaica’- no doubt stocked as one off’s for regular punters. Oh, how different the world was before Green & Blacks. On the next row, smaller, but more popular bars, their popularity indicated by their facings. Mars, Marathon, Twix, Topic, Picnic, Boost, Drifter, Caramac, Fry’s Peppermint Cream, Mintola, Munchies. A kaleidoscope of choccywoccy temptation. On the wall behind the counter, a couple of shelves stocked the most popular boxed chocolates of the day; Black Magic, All Gold, Neapolitans and Milk Tray.
The left wall of the shop was lined with shelves. Neatly placed clear plastic jars with black screw top lids stood to attention, each containing their own candy delights, whispering silently; ‘Choose me...choose me.’ Once selected, they would be weighed out in the large silver scales at the back of the shop and placed into a white paper bag with the corners screwed tight. I used to love looking at the sweets in the jars. My mother would sometimes buy a ‘quarter’ of something for herself, her adult tastes were not for me, she favoured Clove drops or Aniseed twists. Sometimes she’d buy small round silver balls which she called ‘silver ball bearings’. These were very hard and needed to be sucked for a long time, when you reached the end, often you found a little brown pip. I think it was aniseed. I didn’t like it. Occasionally she bought Cola Cubes, we all liked those, and once or twice, coconut chocolate mushrooms, which were 3D moulded, and save for the coconut, did look remarkably like real life mushrooms.
There were two areas of the shop set out as more specific destinations for children. On the left, just by the door, another counter, selling ‘pocket money’ type sweets. Polos, Finger of Fudge, Sherbet Fountains, Curly Wurlys, Refreshers, Love Hearts, Tootie Frooties (I loved Tootie Frooties) Fruit Pastilles, Smarties, Opal Fruits, Chewits. The counter with the till was alongside this. The till was a heavy, ornate metal machine, like the ones you see in antique emporiums today, with large circular lever buttons. As a girl, I felt 'Till lust' every time I looked at it. Playing shop on that masterful till would have been so much fun.
Beside the till there was a purpose built stand selling Tic Tac sweets; white, green and orange pellets that looked like pills. My mother used to keep a box of these in her handbag (breath fresheners after a sneaky cigarette I now suspect.) As a small girl, I didn’t like the sweets but I used to like opening and shutting the small plastic lid of the box, counting them out and putting them back in again. When the box was empty I would ask to keep it, and try to use it as a vessel for homemade flower petal perfume or some other homemade liquid concoction - usually a drink. It always leaked but still I would persist when the next empty box became available - clearly I was still discovering about trial and error.
My favourite part of the shop was hidden behind the large birthday card stand on the right hand wall. A small alcove, filled with boxes and boxes of penny sweets. I don’t remember getting pocket money as a small child, so I can only assume that my mum would allow us 10 or 20 pence to choose some sweets with. Hidden away in that corner of the shop my brothers and I would unknowingly give ourselves an impromptu maths lesson as we added up our 1/2p’s 1p’s and 2’s, and took very seriously the business of choosing whether to have a large white chocolate mouse for 2p or instead have 2 cola bottles for 1p each. It was not a process that could be rushed; we spent many intense moments
Black jacks, Fruit Salad, Drumstick lollipops, Milk bottles, Flying saucers, Candy shrimps, Liquorice laces, Gobstoppers, Jelly rings, Sour cherries, Candy necklaces - we loved them all. Drumstick lollies were amongst my favourites, along with the jelly rings you could wear on your fingers and white chocolate mice. But the one thing I always wanted in my white paper bag, were the candy cigarettes. It seems shocking today that these even existed, but those small matchbox size replicas of real life cigarettes were my favourite. I used to enjoy pretending to puff on them, just like my mother did in real life. Candy cigarettes made me feel grown up. My brother’s must have was ‘fizz whizz’, the sachet of popping candy that would crackle and fizzle on your tongue. Sometimes on the walk home as we lagged behind my mother, eating our swag, we would do swapsies. He always drove a hard bargain, but it was rare that I ever gave him a candy cigarette.
My mother didn’t have a car when we were small. The only food shop in the village was the Co-op and so frequently we would trail the half mile from our house with her to buy provisions. Each and every time, our route would take us past the sweet shop and it was on one of these journeys, that I experienced my first true case of childhood ‘want’.
One day we walked past the shop and saw that the window display had been changed and new stock had been added. Sat in a blue rectangular box, a bear, named ‘Teddy Robinson’ stared out of the window at me. He had golden fur with white accents on his ears and glass brown eyes, but what was special about him, was that you could remove his body fur. He had a fur bodysuit, with a zip at the front that allowed his body fur to be taken right off. Underneath, his stuffed body was covered in white cotton with fur topping his hands and his feet. He came with a pair of pyjamas. Blue bottoms, and a top that had blue sleeves and a white panel at the front, with a rainbow on it. I thought he was simply the best thing I’d ever seen. I wanted Teddy Robinson more than anything in the world.
“Please Mummy, Pleasssseeee,” I would beg as we walked past the shop. My mum didn’t have a lot of money, and gifts outside Birthday or Christmas were unheard of in our house. “You’ve got lots of teddies already” she’d say. She was right, of course, I had, but none like that one. Every time we’d walk towards the shop, my heart would start beating faster as we approached the window, I’d pray he was still there, that no-one had bought him, and once we got there, I’d scan the window quickly, looking for him in his blue box, and then feel relieved, knowing he was still there.
Easter proved to be the answer to my prayers; an Aunt sent me some money in a card. Possibly she was getting rather old and forgetting the value of money, as it was a princely sum for a small child to receive as an Easter gift. I begged my mother to take me to the sweet shop as soon as it was open. Ceremoniously, I handed over the crisp green £1 notes, and finally, Teddy Robinson was mine. I think my mother must have had a word with the shop owner a long time before, as he seemed to have a sense of how badly I wanted him. As he took the box out of the window he said that he would be sad to see him go, as he loved T.R too, and he hoped I would look after him. I promised, like a good girl, that I would.
I’d love to sit here now and say, I’ve still got Teddy Robinson today. But the truth is, all these years on, I don’t know what happened to him. Just as my tastes changed, and I moved on from jelly rings and chocolate mice to Orange Hubba Bubba, I also at some point left Teddy Robinson behind. I don’t remember ever making an active choice to get rid of him, yet at some point, he seemed to disappear. He did however, teach me the valuable lesson that sometimes you have to wait for something you want, and despite the fact I don’t have him today, that lesson has stayed with me.
The Sweet Shop has also gone too, it is now an office for an insurance brokers. The
overheads of modern life just weren’t able to sustain a business built on penny sweets, and that seems true not just of the sweet shop in my childhood village, but of many towns and villages all over the UK. Pip will have his own memories in life, based on the time in which he lives, but if I had one wish, I would love to transport him back to my sweetie shop for a moment, to see his face light up and share the magic; I’m sure it really was as good as I remember.