Sweet Nostalgia

It was a trip to Matlock Bath that brought back memories of my childhood. Although I'd passed through many times on my way to Bakewell, it had been years since I stopped off there.
Now, a walk around Derbyshire's very own "seaside" resort is like taking a trip back in time, with its kiss-me-quick cheerfulness, ice-cream kiosks and fish and chip shops. But being Derbyshire, rock shops are full of fluorite and Blue John, rather than sticks of the seaside version. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of places peddling fudge and candy floss.

There's nothing like a sugary trip down memory lane and the shops that particularly took my fancy were the old-fashioned sweet shops. In one I stared wide-eyed at shelf upon shelf of huge jars of traditional sweets. From sherbet pips to cinder toffee, sarsaparilla tablets, bulls' eyes, floral gums and barley sugar. Name any old sweetie and I'll bet it was there. The shop also had a huge selection of liquorice products: wands and wheels and fudge as well as liquorice-filled chocolate. I didn't really like the sound of that. Actually I didn't like the sound of any of them, since I've always loathed liquorice. So much so that, to avoid it, I always ate my sherbet fountains with a spoon.
For me one of the delights of a visit to the crooked-spire town of Chesterfield in the north of the county was that wonderful fragrance that hit you the second you stepped off the train: the smell of Refreshers coming from the Trebor factory. As an adult I visited Hershey, Pennsylvania, where the intoxicating aroma of chocolate fills the air. Mind you, there is a town that celebrates candy in the extreme; even the street lamps resemble chocolates.

Every summer, in homage to my schooldays, I treat myself to a pick-and-mix bag. Such things were usually reserved for school holidays because it was all too easy to spend a small fortune filling up those huge paper bags with sweets. Although the demise of Woolworth's has taken the shine of that a bit - no-one does pick-and-mix like Woollies did! What my parents did allow me to have every week was the wonderful tenpenny bag. Which for today's kids would probably cost about a pound. Funny isn't it, how when you get all nostalgic, you end up turning into your parents? But when I was a little girl, ten pence worth of sweeties could last you all weekend. I reckon for that amount I could get a toffee log, a couple of flying saucers, a chocolate saw, some parma violets, a marshmallow cable and four halfpenny chews. Sometimes, though, I just blew the lot on some Love Hearts and a candy watch.

We had plenty of novelty sweets, too. We were the first generation to experience Space Candy, a sweet that exploded alarmingly in your mouth when you dropped some on your tongue. It was utterly compulsive, if slightly unpleasant. If you dipped in the packet with a wet finger you ran the risk of activating the candy before it reached your mouth, so popping some in the direction of your eye. Health and safety would have had a field day. Yes, eating sweets can be hazardous. We've probably all lemonade-crystalled ourselves into sneezing fits. And you underestimate the tongue-slicing power of a cracked sherbet lemon only once.

Back in Matlock Bath I decided to try a bag of "Derbyshire Mix". I'd never heard of that before and feared it might be a modern invention, but oh what a treasure trove it proved to be: humbugs, and fruit rock, rhubarb and custards, and satin pillows aplenty. I tried to resist but had got only as far as Cromford before giving up any pretence of maturity and taking a sneaky dip-in. But then I was betrayed to my fellow bus passengers by a pear drop-induced coughing fit.
I thought briefly about offering the bag around, but held back. Some things you just have to indulge in by yourself.