The recent ‘shocking’ Toblerone re-sizing scandal (See the NY Times article here) has sparked outrage amongst chocolate fans and has undoubtedly encouraged those people whom constantly whinge at the shrinking size of Christmas chocolate tins to be outraged. When we were kids everything seemed massive and it is natural for things to look much smaller when you’re now at least four foot taller (and wider if you’ve been constantly bingeing on those chocolates) but you cannot ignore the evidence provided. Whether it’s the uncertainty that Brexit or a new US President brings to financial markets and businesses they cannot hide the fact that chocolate and sweets aren’t what they used to be “in the good old days.”
Incidents such as the Toblerone scandal make me look back at what kids from my era (70s to 80s) loved to eat and drink. Personally I was never a lover of sweets as I think my low-level OCD didn’t like the mess and stickiness, which resulted from stuffing your face with a ‘10p mix’ of sweets in a scrunched-up, grubby paper bag. There were never any napkins handed out or pocket-hankies in those days so sticky mouths and fingers were wiped on sleeves or cuffs already soiled with dirt and snots (often with that unmistakeable snail trail cascading upwards from your wrist gaining you a clip around the ear when your Dad saw it.) Sweets that weren’t too messy, such as Barratt’s Sherbet Fountain, were the ones that I tended to go for but even then I was still weird with them. I never liked the Liquorice stick so I’d dip it into the sherbet to help loosen it up and pour the sherbet into my gob until the sherbet was all gone. The Liquorice stick would either be offered to my brother or a friend (un-licked of course, I wasn’t that mean) or simply binned – something I hated doing as I was, and still am, against wasting food.
I did a similar thing with the lolly in Barratt’s Dip Dab but that would often get the odd lick before being binned so I didn’t pass it on to anyone else, honest. Double Dip, on the other hand, had that nice Swizzle Stick, which was really nice to eat so there was no waste from me with that one.
My older brother had ‘The Dandy’ comic each week and I’d read it when he wasn’t around. I think the fact that Desperate Dan was the main character in it made him think it was a much more butch and manly comic than the wimpy Beano or Topper comics that I would read. As an avid comic reader there was often an abundance of free gifts to encourage kids to buy the comic or to join the comic’s fan club such as the infamous ‘Dennis the Menace’ fan club.
Freebies included everything from fortune telling fish and cardboard thunder bangs to small bags of sweets like Jelly Tots, sweet cigarettes and sachets of Nesquik or Space Dust (Pop Rocks), which exploded and crackled on your tongue.
The original space dust/pop rocks was invented by a General Foods scientist in 1961 but didn’t go on sale to the public until 1975 and they removed it in 1983 citing lack of sales and short shelf life as the reasons.
stomach to explode from too much carbon dioxide. Such alarms were caused by an urban legend in which the child actor who played ‘Little Mikey’ in the Life Breakfast US cereal adverts supposedly died after a pop rocks and coke-a-cola lethal overdose which caused his stomach to explode. So it just goes to show what crap we used to swallow when we were kids! However the exploding stomach myth was debunked by the TV show MythBusters during their very first episode.
The youth of today probably haven’t had the pleasure (if you can call it that) of pretending to smoke with a sweet cigarette as I think they renamed/rebranded them as candy sticks and, as an ex-smoker, I’m glad they did. I always remember my Dad throwing his cigarette away after we came home from shopping at Leo’s Supermarket (Leo’s was the name given to larger co-operative stores in the 1980s) and, as he and my Mam carried the shopping into the house, I picked the stub up
and took a sneaky drag. My Dad returned to find me coughing my guts up and I could tell he was trying not to
laugh as he verbally bashed me for it (I should have listened to Tufty and never picked the bloody thing up!)
Sweet cigarettes were, unfortunately, hugely popular and helped tobacco companies to line up their future customers. Many of these sweet cigarettes were endorsed with TV and comic book (DC and Marvel) characters such as Spiderman to encourage and sway young minds.
Over the years a lot of sweets and chocolates have undergone major changes, such as different (and probably cheaper) ingredients and rebranded with ‘New Taste’ or simply just ‘New’ emblazoned across the wrapper. Others have been replaced with something with a totally different name and new packaging but very similar, if not the same, food item within to consolidate products across different countries.
Opal Fruits (developed in the UK by Mars confectionary in 1960) became rebranded as Starburst so it matched the US name for the product. Opal Fruits was introduced into the US as Starburst back in 1967. In the same way the chocolate bar Marathon was rebranded as Snickers in the UK to also bring it inline with the US name for the same product. Others products have suffered from poor sales or new marketing ideals and have been removed from sale altogether, such as the chocolate bars 54321, Banjo and Fry’s Five Centres. Although we have seen a recent revival of many retro sweets and chocolate, which have returned either by the companies themselves or
as a result of consumer demands and petitions on social media. Products such as Trio and Wispa are hopefully here for good even if some of the chocolate factories such as Cadbury’s aren’t.
Cadbury’s, which was established in Birmingham, England in 1824 by John Cadbury, is famous for its Dairy Milk, Milk Tray, Flake (1920), Creme eggs (1923), Fruit and Nut (1928), and Crunchie (1929) chocolate bars. Hershey’s in the US distributes Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Kraft Foods bought Cadbury in 2010 and the Somerdale factory (formerly part of Fry’s chocolate), which is located in Keynsham near Bristol, was closed by Kraft Foods that same year. After shipping all the confectionary equipment to Poland Kraft made all of the UK staff unemployed. Some of them had worked there all their lives.
One sweet I did buy a lot of when I had pocket money was the Bazooka Joe bubble gums (from the US), which contained a small comic in each packet and many kids bought them in order to collect as many of the comic strips as they could and they would swap ‘doublers’ with their friends. Other than the fact that they were both bubble gums, Bazooka Joe had something else in common with Gold Nuggets, for me anyway.
And that was that I loved the initial taste when you first chewed either of them but within seconds that sweet taste would subside and it would just become like any other tasteless gum and I’d spit it out… yep, I know, I was weird. Apparently the once collectable comic strips are no longer included with the gum but the wrapper does include brainteasers and codes to unlock videos and video games online.
The one thing that I’ll never forget from my childhood was the vast array of Tupperware containers, glasses and bowls in numerous colours, depending upon which family home you visited and what colour decor they had. There were containers for just about every food product you could think of, after all, who needs a brightly coloured cereal carton/box when you could have a Tupperware cereal container? I think the only time I used a bowl other than a plastic Tupperware bowl for my cereal was when we managed to collect enough tokens to send off for a Kellogg’s bowl.
Before SunnyD (originally ‘Sunny Delight’) came hurtling into homes everywhere in 1998 and rotting kids teeth under the pretence of being juice (it only has 5% juice) we all had ‘council pop’ with Quosh – tap water and cordial (squash) to those not in the UK. Quosh’s advert tag line was “any drink can quench a thirst; only one can Qoush it” and when the summer came Tupperware had the answer to our prayers (and the parents pockets) in the form of Tupperware Lolly makers. Pour your water and Quosh mixture into the little moulds, put the lids on and slide the handles in and chuck em (carefully) into the freezer and voilà, instant cheap lollies! Though we couldn’t go far with our Tupperware lollies, as my Mam would have a fit if my friends or I lost the plastic holders.
With the advent of the Internet today’s children are rarely seen playing on the streets but when I was a kid we were out until the streetlights came on or our parents bellowed out our names.
If we had some money we’d often go and get a Slush Puppy (which became available in the UK in 1974) from the local shop, unless of course, you were lucky enough to have a Mr Frosty for Christmas. If you did I’m sure you made your own on a daily basis or, more than likely, you played it only once over the
Christmas period before relegating the ‘toy’ to the top of your wardrobe. Despite those who didn’t have one really, really wanting one most Mr Frosty’s were probably sold at a Jumble Sale in the New Year and never seen again.
When playing in the street during the school holidays every kid got excited when they heard an ice-cream van’s jingle in the distance and, despite some kids being told that they only played music when they’d run out of ice-cream, most kids would hurl themselves back home to beg their parents for some money.
The two main companies that I remember are Walls and Lyons Maid who both produced loads of different ice creams and lollies. As with sweets I hated anything sticky so I always preferred ice creams to lollies and one of my favourites was the Walls Screwball but, yes, you’ve guessed it, I’d throw or give the bubble gum ball (or whatever it was) away.
Most of the time my ‘afters’ or dessert for teatime consisted of Bird’s Angel Delight or a Birds Eye Strawberry Supermousse, which we kept in the freezer – it was better than ice cream and cheaper to buy too.
If I did have proper ice cream at home we’d often embellish it with Bird’s Ice Magic, which was a syrup style sauce, which went hard and crispy on cold ice cream but, if we were really lucky, we had a slice of Arctic Roll or Viennetta. Although the latter was something that normally didn’t appear unless it was a special occasion such as a birthday or Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas, apart from the obvious tins of Quality Street chocolate that the family shared, us kids loved nothing better than waking on Christmas morning to a stocking at the bottom of our beds. My earliest memory of my Christmas stockings was that they always contained a bag of chocolate coins, some nuts and a piece of fruit (even though I rarely ate fruit) but as the years passed by we started to get the selection packs of chocolate and tubes of sweets such as Smarties or Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles too.
These packs always contained at least one or two chocolate bars that I didn’t like (yes, I was a fussy git) but they became a regular stocking filler item and always something to look forward to. I also remember getting a Cadbury’s chocolate machine money box one Christmas and it didn’t last long at all.
Being a fussy git I didn’t like fruitcake (and still don’t) as it contains spider bodies and rabbit poo (raisins and sultanas) so my Christmas ‘pudding’ would be a slice of
Christmas Log which, as my father used to work for the local bakery called ‘Braces’, we had more than the average supply of cake slabs and gateaux during the festive season. Although one year my father dropped a full fresh cream gateau on the kitchen floor and as my parents jaws dropped so did the cats. His face was buried in the gateau in nanoseconds, so no gateau for us that year, but I was allowed the odd can of lager… OK, maybe not real lager but the closest thing us kids would get and that’s a nice cold can of Top Deck Lemonade Shandy.
I have fond memories from my childhood of the amount of items that were delivered to our door by local salesmen. Obviously there were no online sales and deliveries in the seventies and eighties but there was an abundance of local stores that delivered to your doorstep on a weekly or daily basis. For instance the milkman delivered more than just milk (hush your filthy minds), he also delivered fresh eggs, orange juice and, at Christmas time, he would have his own catalogue supplying Christmas chocolate.
It was usually the milkman who supplied most households with their tins of Quality Street or Mackintosh’s Week End Christmas chocolate. Other door-to-door salesmen included the ‘pop’ man from either Alpine or Corona who delivered would seemed like an enormous selection of different flavoured carbonated soda pop. My two favourites were Cream Soda and Dandelion & Burdock, but it was only in the last few years that I discovered that Burdock was also a plant. As a kid I always thought it was just a made up name for the pop. What was really good about these pop man deliveries was that they would pay 10p for each empty glass bottle that you returned so they could be re-used.
So we would scavenge the neighbourhood looking for discarded bottles to earn some extra pocket money to buy more sweets or chocolate. My father, Barrie, told me a funny story about when he did the same thing as a kid on the streets of Blackwood. He and a few of his friends would collect bottles and one of them would take them into the local shop and collect the money.
They would then wait for the shopkeeper to put the empty bottles into the crates that were stacked in the yard at the back of the shop. Once the shopkeeper had disappeared back inside the shop one of them would keep a lookout while another climbed over the fence and passed the bottles back out. They would repeat this cycle until each of them had taken turns to go inside the shop to return the same bottles and they each had the same amount of money. Now that’s what you call business savvy at an early age!
I couldn’t write a blog on my sweet memories without talking about crisps (potato chips to our American cousins) and biscuits. To this day my Mam swears blind that I lived off Custard Cream biscuits and copious amounts of Cheddar cheese whilst desperately trying to dodge vegetables, especially Brussels sprouts, until I left home to join the Royal Air Force in 1988. And, although the creams were my favourite biscuits, there are a few other contenders for the title.
For the sweet tooth it had to be Iced-Gems or Party Rings and for dunking (in a mug of tea or coffee) it was either Lincoln biscuits or the Sports biscuits, which, sadly, I don’t think, are available anymore.
My favourite crisps were Smiths Salt ‘n’ Shake with the ‘little blue salt bag’ so you could have them with or without salt, however, if you did opt for adding the salt from the little bag, chances are the top few crisps would be salty as hell even if you did shake the bag. Other crisps that I enjoyed were the Smiths Horror Bags of ‘Fangs’ or ‘Bones’ but I never fancied the Hedgehog
flavoured crisps as someone told me they were made from real hedgehogs, which was horrific for a child to comprehend, but I think I may have been a tad gullible as a kid.
To end on a bum note, regardless of what your favourite sweets or chocolate were when you were in school, if you ate too much from the tuck shop and gave yourself the squits you had to use the medicated toilet roll that the school provided. We all remember what that was like on your butt crack. Also how many of you remember being sent to the toilet by the teacher to get some ‘tracing paper’ (toilet roll) so you could use it to draw with? Come on, be honest!
Note: All the pictures in this post are from a Google image search. If you own the copyright (and can provide a copy) to any of the pictures in this blog post please let me know so I can give you full credit or remove them altogether if you so wish. Thanks 🙂