Everybody called him Hughdie. He was the owner of the sweet shop in the village, a little shop that was part and parcel of my childhood. I lived a short distance from it and to this day, more than half a century later, I can still, in my mind's eye, recall everything about that shop.
Hughdie was a small stout man who wore a large cap, small gold-rimmed spectacles and carried a watch in his waistcoat pocket. He sat on a high stool behind the counter of his long dark shop that had a tiny back window and a larger one at the front. Most of his stock was displayed on the wide window sill that looked out on the village street.
It is little wonder that I remember every item in the shop. Did not my friends and I stand outside nearly every day of our young lives with our faces cupped on our hands and our noses touching the dusty panes? We made a mental inventory of Hughdie's stock and decided on what we would buy with our next penny.
Good viewing was difficult. Apart from the dusty window there was a hole in the centre of one of the two panes. It had been repaired, rather clumsily, with a pot-mender, and the many cracks radiating from the hole, further obscured the viewing.
On the right hand side of the window sill was a box containing 12" lengths of liquorice laces at a penny each - not one of my favourites. Nearby were more refined and shorter lengths, called twist juice at four a penny. In the same area was a box of liquorice allsorts -still available today, and pipes with red sugary hats and silver belts - very popular with little boys.
Then came the drumsticks, the ancestor of the modern lollipop - covered in chocolate and coated with coconut, each offered one an hour's licking. They were deadly on the molars but in those days no one cared. I remember how Hughdie always requested the return of the lollipop stick -after the sweet had been eaten of course. Why? He needed it to fill the widening gap between the two boards that made up the counter. This was economy at its best. Children gladly returned the sticks.
Next came Peggy's legs at a penny each. They were scrumptious but had one draw-back however, the diameter of this cylindrical sweet was too great for a small mouth to encompass. Consequently it had to be broken up, by a stone, usually, or on the edge of a wall and a comminuted fracture of Peggy's leg, which was always the result of this operation, left some of the sweet uneatable and what a loss that was! I smile as I remember, when no grown ups were about, how many a little girl, including myself, used her tongue to salvage the splinters and sweet dust. And that's how good a Peggy's leg tasted!
Next came the rock, in all sizes and colours, striped like a barber's pole and flavoured with mint. I rarely bought one but often wondered how the pink streak got in. Come to think of it, I never found out. There were boxes of toffees everywhere on the window sill carrying names like Mackintosh's, Sharps, Cleeves and Sunny Smile. There were also unnamed ones called "10 a penny". These were very soft and did not last long. But there was a bonus for the buyer. Ten toffees being too many for a small fist to hold. Hughdie put them into a poke and to watch him make one always fascinated me. A square of newspaper, cut for the purpose, a twist of the index finger and thumb and hey presto! the poke was made. How often did I, in my own make-believe shop, try to make pokes like Hughdie - by the time I became adept, I no longer cared.
Birds nests were almost too sweet to eat, if that were possible for children. The eggs were made from icing sugar and the nests were like meringue - they just melted in the mouth. They were only bought when pennies were plentiful as on procession days, Christmas or when generous relations came visiting. Sponge-creams were also an extravagance. Four inch lengths of marshmallow-like sweet, pink on one side and white on the other, always came to an end too soon. We could rarely afford them but I used to think to myself that when I grew up and became rich I'd live on sponge-creams.
Jelly babies, fruit-gums, aniseed balls and black jack had their places on the window and on one of the almost empty shelves inside the shop could be seen extra strong mints and linseed sweets - definitely for the older consumer but came in handy to give granny on her birthday. Into this category came the brandy balls, bull's eyes and clove rock and no shop was considered well stocked without a supply of shining cans of boiled sweets hanging from the ceiling.
For the older child, Hughdie had a supply of conversation lozenges or "talking sweets" as we called them. They brought a message to those who received them, and were sent anonymously to some budding Romeo or a Juliet maybe, who had just moved into his or her teens. These heart shaped treats brought engraved messages as "I'll love you till I die", "You are my heart's desire", etc., etc. How charmed the recipient must have been. Thrilled enough, it was said, as to devour the message! I could never make up my mind if this was a wonderful way to be appreciated or not!
Now, I come to my favourite sweet - the Milroy Butterscotch. It cost a ha'penny and was beyond doubt, the most delicious, the best value and the most sought after of all of Hughdie's sweets. It was a four inch bar wrapped in silver paper with a distinctive buttery taste. Nothing ever tasted like it.
Hughdie also stocked cloves, cinnamon buds, sherbet, balloons, lucky bags, penny watches, and Patrick's Day badges and a hungry child on his way home from school could buy a slice of bread for a penny.
Regrettably, Hughdie has long since gone, as has his little shop and years have dulled the sharpness of my sweet tooth, but nothing, I hope, will make me forget my wonderful childhood, the sweet shop and the gentle shopkeeper who dispensed ha'penny and pennyworths of comfort to hundreds of children, often on their way to school with "spells" and tables not learned.