Sunday, 9 January 2011

Then and now, in three parts

One: Just before Christmas, I went to a garden centre with my mum, near where she lives. We went under the pretence of buying a few last-minute Christmas presents. We really went so we could have a cream tea in their cafe. But then we actually did end up buying some last-minute Christmas presents. Oh, we felt like two of life's winners that day, let me tell you.

At the cash register, I found myself transfixed by this display of sweets, which represented the forbidden fruit of my childhood.

I say fruit. What I mean is boiled sugar with a small amount of 'fruit' flavouring.

As a young family, we took many long car drives to grandparents' homes and far-flung holiday locations (Yorkshire! Northumberland!). To me, these tins of sweets were the most precious jewels in the rack of prohibitively expensive trinkets placed near the till at each branch of Little Chef that we stopped at. To my parents, these tins of sweets were substantially more expensive than a bag of Opal Fruits. What was wrong with Opal Fruits, after all? Nothing. Except maybe the name. Oh yeah, and they didn't come IN A TIN that you could keep afterwards and put special things in, like insects and bits of birds' eggs that you might have found in a wood. And they didn't come with DUSTY WHITE POWDER ALL OVER THEM. So exotic. So rarely allowed. So much whining and unsuccessful emotional blackmail on my part in their pursuit…

But when I saw them more recently, I realised I could afford to buy all the fancy sweets in tins that I damn well like. Well, maybe not that, but certainly enough to make myself gratifyingly sick. Or for my neighbours to break into my flat and find me totally wired on sugar and listening to a hissy cassette of Captain Beaky & His Band (our soundtrack to long northbound car journeys) on repeat at an ear-haemorrhaging volume
, with dusty powder all over my face, hair and clothing, trying to force next-door's cat into a small empty tin.

And then I didn't want them any more.

Two: People often talk about reverting to the behaviour of their youth when they return to stay at their parents'. I'm not sure if this is true, but maybe that's because my mum has moved from my former childhood home, so I no longer have the opportunity to hole up in my teenage pit poring over the sleevenotes to what-I-would-like-to-say-was-The-Smiths-but-was-in-all-honesty-more-likely-to-be-Wet-Wet-Wet, while yellowing posters from Look-In bear down on me from the walls. But even if I still had my adolescent Batcave, I'd like to think my powers of conversation are slightly better developed, as well as my interest in being in a room with more people than just myself. But then I would say that.

Still, I sometimes wonder if this relapse into sighing-and-solitary-confinement comes about through other people's projection. At the Christmas dinner table, while we were trying to divide ourselves into two equal quiz teams, we thought we'd shared the children out perfectly with a young niece on each team . Until Young Miss Jones The Younger, my junior niece, said, 'But what about Auntie Hannah? She's a child.'

I am 37 next week.

Young Miss Jones The Younger has many excellent qualities, but she has apparently yet to grasp the empowering nature of adult singledom.

Three: Ms R and I just missed a train home from Beckenham Junction last Sunday because we took time to check the departures board, instead of throwing ourselves blindly onto the waiting train in the station. It is amazing how often one is undone by caution. So we took shelter in the waiting room to pass the half-hour until the next train. After a little while, a man came in, early 60s, outdoorsy, wipe-clean rucksack and woolly hat. He sat down, took out a box of Continental chocolates, removed the lid and held them towards us.

'Would you like a chocolate?' he said.

Erm, no thanks, we mumbled.

'They're Belgian,' he said, with a heartbreaking hint of desperation. 'I can't eat them all. It seems a shame to waste them.'

When I a child, I would have been incredibly firm about my rejection in this scenario. Strangers! No! Strangers with chocolates! No, no! Tell your mum. Tell your dad. Tell a teacher.

But now, older and sadder, I very nearly said yes. Not through greed. Although a bit. But through sympathy. Oh god. Save me, please save me, from an old age of offering strangers chocolates. Save me from thinking it's OK, and save me from knowing it's not OK but being unable to stop myself.

Still. The fact is, I'm a little bit selfish and I don't like sharing. This, I'm going to make very sure, is never going to change.


Anonymous said...

Now that I know there were chocolates on offer I wish I'd opted for the train not the bus.

Alison Cross said...

Just buy chocolate covered Brazils when you're an Ancient. Satisfy your sweet tooth by sucking off all the choccy and then offer strangers the naked nuts.

You get to share AND be selfish. Win : Win

I do recall offering my dad some chocolate drops that were actually doggie chocs. They were damned tasty too.

Anonymous said...

That has brought back memories of my childhood car journeys, which weren't complete without my mum reaching for the glove compartment and exclaiming 'Travel Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet', then showering us all with white powder. You weren't missing much, honest.

Nicky said...

Always Jelly Babies in my parents' car. Still do it today, any long journey and I buy a packet of Jelly Babies. No doubt my son, now 20, will inflict the same on his kids. And so it goes ....

Ragged Thread Cartographer said...

Oh, yes. The magic dust tin in the glove compartment supervised by my mother. You've brought it all back! Father driving with his little round specs. Thank you. x

David H said...

Loved this, but I think you should have taken a chocolate!