Not, it should be said at the outset, a celebration of Celebrations, which are not great sweeties.
My father’s mother, Jeannie Wyllie, my Grandma, was found dead on the floor of her wee house in Menstrie, with a Curly Wurly in her hand. My father, who found her, was of course shocked and sad, for Jeannie had been a loving and indulgent mother and grandmother, but he reflected that she had, at least, died, happy, for the Curly Wurly was almost finished. Jeannie, who never had a day’s employment in her life, loved butter and sliced sausage and biscuits, but mainly she liked sweeties. Jimmy Wyllie, her handsome, blue-eyed, grouchy husband had his fags and a bit of gambling, and Jeannie had cakes and chocolate. During the Second World War my father was a teenager; he claimed that all the way through rationing he only had one pair of shoes, because Jeannie traded the shoe coupons for sweetie coupons, to keep them both laden with sugar in many forms, including a mysterious sweetmeat called “Mint Pies” and terrible Stardust chocolate which was still available in the wee Tuck Shop on Vennel Place beside George Heriot’s School when I was 5, and which one bought rather than the infinitely better Cadbury’s because a huge bar of Stardust was only 6d. Quantity rather than quality – it was a long bus ride home.
My family always loved sweeties. My father used to make toffee and tablet – the latter for my mother – and sometimes on Sundays, when my middle class classmates were no doubt walking dogs on sunny hillsides, we would have our post lunch naps then settle in front of the telly to watch a film. Our sustenance would come in the form of a large bowl of assorted sweeties, purchased from Marandola’s – Kirkliston’s authentic Italian/Scottish ice cream parlour – and carefully selected by me to cater to the family taste, so Terry’s Chocolate Russian caramels –I have no idea why they were Russian – mixed with marshmallows, Turkish Delight, fruit pastilles – which we called ‘jub jubs’ – and hard sweets like lemon sherbets and cola cubes. Inevitably my selection came in for criticism, but hey, I liked old Mrs Marandola, and the marble counter, and, in the summer, there was the possibility of ice cream too.
At Christmas, of course, things got worse. As children, we were lost in a sea of selection boxes, always, of course, leaving the item we liked least in each box till last – whoever thought of a Marathon, for example, presumably so called because it takes you three hours to eat it? When he was older, and living in London, my brother brought my mother chocolate cherries from Prestat in South Molton Street, in a beautiful wooden box with the cherries wrapped in pink foil in a bed of straw. There were many of them and reasonable people might expect them to have been savoured over – or possibly slavered over – for a week or so at least, but no, even satiated by Christmas food, we nobly battled through the whole lot on Christmas night, partly out of greed but also, curiously, because my mother wanted the box for some arcane use.
When I was a boy, at the top of the confectionery tree were Parisian Creams, made by Duncan’s. This Scottish sweetie-maker also made a box of smaller fruit creams, good but not great, which we had a lot. Of these, I liked the orange ones best, my mother the rose flavoured ones, so we sat and bit the ends of them and swapped. This was companionable if, perhaps, not elegant. But Parisian Creams were of a different order, large chocolates, which came in neat plastic trays of ten, each of the ten of a different flavour. I was a connoisseur of the Parisian Cream from an early age, an expensive taste (2/6 a quarter) discouraged by my mother, but, pleasingly, indulged by Jeannie. On one hot and sweaty summer day on Princes Street, Jeannie announced we would not be returning home until she had got ‘Parisian Creams for the bairn.’ My mother was incensed – she more or less always wanted to kill her mother-in-law anyway and Jeannie’s extravagance was a central feature of this pathology – but Jeannie prevailed and the bairn got his special sweeties, which may have been somewhat melted by the time we got back to Kirkliston.
And now, at 63, I have ‘elevated blood sugar’ – what a surprise. In order to avoid diabetes, I have, of course, had to cut back on sugar. My colleagues may find it unbelievable when I say that I haven’t had a muffin for eight months; I don’t drink smoothies anymore; my God, I sometimes have yoghurt for pudding. I don’t, in truth eat more than a square of chocolate a day but two weeks ago I had a sensory vision of Parisian Creams and Jeannie, twinkle-eyed, forging into the sweetie shop. Bless Google for allowing me to discover that they are still made, not by Duncan’s but by another company who bought the original recipe for these ‘fondant creams in fruit flavours, with a thick dark chocolate couverture’ and, joy of joys, available online. They do twelve flavours now, so to test I bought three bags – raspberry, passion fruit and apricot and the pleasure of biting through the chocolate and letting the creamy good slide around the tongue…well.
I have one a day and I am holding off on the apricot, because I’m an adult now, so I keep the best for last.