Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Tanners, or the confectionery pleasures of childhood

A powerful flashback brought on by walking into the newsagents on ul. Rozbrat. As in this case, the phenomenon works in the following way. I'm going about my routine business when suddenly a very specific concoction of molecules hits my olfactory senses and brings on a sudden rush of memory, so strong, so profound, that I could have been there right then.

What's puzzling is that this particular newsagents is on my regular beat; I often pop in to buy a paper before eating at the Vietnamese lunch bar round the corner. Yet I've never had that same intense reaction before, nor since (this happened two weeks ago).

All of a sudden, the exact combination of the smell of newsprint and confectionery (it had to have been the precise balance of chemicals) reminded me of Tanners, the newsagents and confectioners on Oaklands Road, round the corner from our house 45 years ago... A small boy would pop in, with thruppence or indeed even a tanner* pressed into his hand, to buy some sweets on his way home from school.

There's that characteristic smell of confectionery mingled with the smell of newsprint from copies of the Daily Herald, Daily Sketch and London Evening News (the latter delivered by Bedford vans, side doors slid open, delivery boys dashing out with bundles to drop off at the newsagents).

Large glass jars of sweets ('candies' to my transatlantic readers) stood alluringly colourful on shelves behind the counter, right up to the ceiling. Sold in quarter pound measures (4 ounces = 113 grammes) these sweets played havoc with young teeth. The boiled sweets ('hard candies') in particular; acid drops, pear drops, winter mixture, bulls' eyes, aniseed twists - these were manufactured using sugar and various chemicals - absolutely awful when I think about their dentine-destroying potential! (see previous post)

Along with the sweets in jars were those on display - brands still with us (Cadbury's Dairy Milk, Mars Bars, KitKats, Bounty, Smarties, Fry's Turkish Delight) and others long taken off the market (Spangles, Rowntree's Butterscotch Gums). Liquorice. Bootlaces, Blackjacks, All-Sorts, Pomfret cakes (I once ate an entire quarter pound bag and came out in a skin rash all over my body).

In summer it would be ice lollies - Zoom was my favourite (red, yellow and green in colour, with collectable cards of spacecraft or jet aeroplanes inside the wrapper).

Chewing gum and bubble gum also had collectable cards. Many of these were from the USA, Bazooka Joe, for instance. More interestingly for me were the historical ones, with facsimile pages from American newspapers in WWII, b&w photos (here's one I clearly recall). There was another series from the American Civil War, which included facsimile Union and Confederate banknotes; however I found this less compelling.

My favourite reading material (mid-'60s) was TV Century 21 comic, full of the illustrated adventures of my favourite children's TV puppet shows, Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds. (A selection of front covers here.)

As well as selling sweets and papers, Tanners also sold cheap toys, the best being Matchbox cars, which at the time cost a shilling (see post here about pre-decimal money in the UK).

* 'Tanner' - as well as the shopkeeper was coincidentally also the slang for a sixpenny bit (six old pence - two and half pence in decimal currency). Much then could be bought for that tanner pressed tightly in a little boy's hand.

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