The first thing I ever did with my new box of Smarties was tip it out and count out how many red ones I had! The red ones were precious gems. All you needed to do, was to slightly wet it, and then carefully rub it along your lips! Then you had cherry red lips. Share the red ones? Never! Hold them out as bribes to younger sisters? Always!
I just bought a new box of Smarties and to my delight the red ones are still there! Well, they are almost red. They are a paler version of their old brilliant selves as now the food dye is out and it is natural colouring. Calories, fat grams, salt, sugars, sat fats, sit boldly on front of the package to remind you that this is not food, this is candy, sweets. We didn’t worry about those things as kids. We were outside playing, climbing in trees, getting into trouble with Mrs. Green just down the road, as we snuck through her fence, our favourite pirate short cut. We weren’t stuck in front of computers or televisions. We roamed the streets trying to put fear into all that dared enter our world of Robin Hood, and Pirates. I always had my sword at the ready!
I didn’t know it at the time and would have rolled my eyes in boredom, but Smarties were around a long time before I plopped down my pence at the corner shop counter. Smarties had a slogan in the 50’s and 60’s, ” Did you eat the red ones last?” I don’t remember hearing it, or reading it back then, I think my reaction would have been, “ummm, who doesn’t?”
Rowntrees of York is the genius behind these candy gems originally called beans. I like that. Chocolate beans to eat, and coffee beans to drink. Fancy some Smarties with coffee? Sounds lovely. Smarties were invented in 1937 and sold for 2d. There are eight colours to choose from, red, orange, which has real orange oil, blue, green, yellow, pink, violet and brown. All the colours are faded now, looking as if the sweet was slowly fading away into memory, each colour muting with time.
I remember going to the sweet shop, standing there with my coins in hand. That jar was 7 sweets for three pence, that tall jar with the red balls, was one sweet per three pence. What to choose? We always went for the three for a penny and marvelled at the large bag of sweets we now clutched in our hands! Then there was the awesome jar, with the sweets that we weren’t sure we wanted, but they were seven sweets for two pence! Imagine how that would fill a bag! Yes please, I’ll have some of that! That was magic.
My grandmother gave me 21 pence, and would send me off with a cheerful Cheerio, to buy my sweets. I would on my way to the Victorian Shopping Centre, (it was called that, I’m not that old!) where I would always stop and put in seven pence in the head of a metal cocker spaniel, marked PDSA. It was a wonderful charity, still in operation today– the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. I wasn’t sure what all that meant back then as I was still in the throes of wanting a dog and being denied a dog by my parents. This charity box dog with a slot at the top of its head was the closest I was to get to owning a dog. We lived in flats and now I well understand my parent’s reluctance in acquiring a dog, it was not appreciated by me at the time. After depositing the coin safely into the Cocker Spaniels head, I headed to the sweet shop and spent an agonising time debating what jar to choose from. Once chosen, the awful wait with held breath began, as the shopkeeper carefully weighed the candy on a black scale. It took so long as he slid the bars, adjusted the weights, peered closely at the numbers and wrote it slowly on a pad of paper. Hurry up, we whispered, oh do hurry! Then with a serious look on his face, he scooped the sweets into a paper bag, folding the top securely. Not once but twice! That was always too much. There was no rushing him and there was no hope for those sweets to remain in the paper bags for long, no matter how tightly the tops were sealed!
For a while we had a passion for Pear Drops. They were massive hard-boiled candies in the shape of a pear! Once in the mouth they pushed out the side of the cheek like a bullfrog’s throat, large, then small as the Pear Drop moved from side to side. It had a biting taste, mouth puckering, (apparently its isoamyl acetate, sounds yummy?) It was sweet torture of sorts. Could you suck the whole thing without crunching down or spitting it out? Anise Balls, Acid Drops, and pink Shrimps! Jelly Babies, did you bite the head off first or the feet? I can’t forget the honeycomb! I loved honeycomb and how it crackled and melted in our mouths. It was all good fuel we needed for the hours spent riding our bikes, hunting in city woods for thieves, and ice-skating as princesses in cold winters. Now I need less fuel and my tastes have changed. I prefer dark chocolate accompanied with an espresso instead of dashing outside in the cold. Now I prefer musing about alleyways, hanging off fire escapes, and brandishing my little sword. It’s safer that way.
In case you were wondering… I did try the red ones this morning, just to see if they still doubled as lipstick. Well my lips are a little redder, but I am sure it is from the frantic rubbing, rather than the pale red Smartie.