Before It's Forgotten
Tuppence to Spend
The old order changeth and the customs and currency of Carmarthenshire childhood changes with the speeding decades. The sweet shop, the sweet stall in market and fair and even the sweet-maker must ever remain among the fragrant memories, of youth to many.
Not so very long ago, the little sweet shop was there, tucked in a curve of the steep road that led from the church square to the market of the small town that still drew its life-blood from the feudal system.
A little shop it was. We seldom passed without flattening our noses against one of the three tall arched panels of glass that separated us from the three long shelve's within, laden with sweets, plain and fancy.
So near and yet so far! We knew the poignancy of those words as we peered into Miss James window!
But sometimes Fortune turned a kindly cheek. With pennies warmly clasped or rattling riotously in a pinafore pocket, we ran helter-skelter, past the sweet Shop window and into the porch. There we had to linger, however great our haste, for the door of the sweet shop was, by tradition, locked.
Up three steps, worn to a semi-circle in the middle — knock, knock, knock, on the glass panels of the inner door. Knock, knock—knock again, waiting for the echo to meander through the shop and down cavernous corridors to the very kitchen itself. Knock, knock, knock; rattle the pennies; knock, knock, dance on our toe's. Knock, knock, knock,
rattle the door. Would the Chatelaine Of Good
Things never come to lower the drawbridge?
But even at this very moment Miss James has padded into the shop. Opening the door adroitly with her elbows, her hand's and arms encased in dough, she stands aside and lets us pass into her Hall of Delights.
For my part, I had forgotten. This is baking day. Besides sweets, Miss James sells bread, and cakes and tarts; she also serves teas, plain and fancy, for market folk on Saturday.
"I've tuppence to spend, Miss James. Hooray!"
With hands pressed hard on the weld-scrubbed counter, I stiffen my elbows and swing myself upward in ecstasy. I am nearer now to the rows and rows of glass bottles on the shelves that line the walls. I sigh with pleasure; there is so much to see, so much to choose from. Here indeed is deliberate agony of choice. Here in truth, is pleasure mixed with pain. What, oh what shall be my choice?
There is no harm of course in letting my eyes linger over those big boxes of chocolate. There are those white boxes with photographs of members of the royal family wreathed in gold. There is a box with a red rose in rich glory on its lid. Nearby there is a golden casket, but surely that must be ten shillings or more.
"What about some bull's eyes, my dear? Four a penny."
Miss James tall form, her blue and white apron, with wide winged shoulders protecting an amplitude of skirts, stands behind the counter. The stock exchange wavers and then drops headlong. Miss James understands high finance. She trundles a tall glass jar, greeny-hued along the counter.
"These have just come in. Better than the old black and white. These change colour when you suck them."
"Er—mm—mm—yes. I was thinking, just thinking
, Miss James, of some cokernut chips; you know the toasted kind."
"There are plenty here." Miss James reaches out to an oblong box where they lie, honoured with a shroud of white corrugated paper.
"Think again," she counsels. "The coloured eyes will last much longer — eight hours or more, if you're careful not to swallow
them. But take your time, my dear, take your time. You've tuppence to spend!"
That was one of the grandest things about Miss James. No matter though you were only a child, she paid you due respect.
What - oh what shall it be? Jelly Babies, black, red or green. Nine a penny! A bargain here and a cannibal delight in biting
off their luscious heads.
Lemon Caley — small, oval chip boxes, brimful of magic powder, food for the gods themselves. A little silver spoon peeps out brightly from the drawer of each box — pleasant to possess it is true, but inferior to one's own red tongue, dipping deep and yet deeper into the acrid effervescent powder.
I part the green curtains and peep into the shop window. Miss James has no patience for window dressing. It seems as though some benevolent, sweet-toothed god, has shot out the contents of his horn of plenty in rich confusion into this window. There are toffee apples with coloured sticks, huge cakes of cokernut ice balancing dizzily on mounds of sun-blighted melting rock; there are vast slabs of treacly home-made toffee, nutty or plain; brown sticks of paregoric, soothing if not so nice; everlasting liquorice pipes; sherbert and lucky packets, green, puce and magenta, containing a ring and some children maintained loudly, a whole half crown! Then in a far corner in a shallow wooden box lies Marmaduke, Miss James' own cat, somnolent and mysterious I view the counter again. I leaped up in a box on my right is a whole menagerie. Mice and horses and elephants and even fish, all made of some sickly-sweet spongy stuff. High up on a little ornamental shelf, all on its own is a pretty curved glass bottle with a pink ribbon bow; inside are scented crescent-shaped cachoux, labelled Cupid's Kisses. Once, not long ago, I asked Miss James, "Who is Cupid?" She had flapped her loose-fitting false teeth
and said I'd meet him soon enough. An unsatisfactory answer! Far better now examine my old friends, Fry's Five Boys in their sailor suits — Desperation, Expectation, Acclamation, Pacification and Realisation.
The Five Sailer Boys stand sentinel over a long closed wooden box. Once it held bars of chocolate but now it has another purpose.
The lid has been nailed down and a slot cut in the centre. On the surface Miss James has printed in big, uneven letters FOR THE BLIND.
My eyes turn to the roller blind above the window panes. Some day - some day when the long flat wooden box is full of pennies, Miss James will surely have a new blind. It will fit securely on its roller above the window panes where the wasps and flies are even now ascending, upward, ever upward — they never seem to come down.
"Well, calon fach
, what is it to be?"
Miss James rolls the bull's eye bottle temptingly along the counter again. I take yet another look at the shining straps of bootlace liquorice, nibble, nibble to the very last bite. Ah! that last half-inch of shiny black strip, like the last lick of an ice-cream wafer, the nicest morsel of all.
Someone said that Miss James was a Pembrokeshire woman; but that must have been long, long ago for she was unmistakably "one of us", part and parcel of our childhood lives.