Sweet sweet memories

Traditional 1970s sweets
Stamps commemorating 150 years of professional police officers issued in 1979

Forty years ago this week, my dad was marking the 150th anniversary of this country’s professional police force in his column of 16th June 1979. Over the months following the article, a number of events were planned nationally to mark the occasion, including concerts, parades, services and shows.

Another memento was the publication of some commemorative stamps, and what fascinated me were the prices. At that time, a first class stamp was just 10p, and the new 10p stamp featured a bobby on the beat, while the 13p was a female police officer on horseback, and the 15p was the image of a police patrol boat on duty. But the one that made me take most notice featured an officer directing traffic. That one would set you back 11½p.

I’d almost forgotten we used to have half pences until I read Dad’s column. Although they weren’t in existence for that long, they were around for most of my childhood, having been introduced in February 1971 as part of decimalisation. It was worth about the same as 1.2 pence in old money so that it would make the re-pricing of lower-value items more accurate. It bit the dust in December 1984 when it was was no longer considered a useful member of our coinage family.

I’d also forgotten that back then, it was possible to buy a single halfpenny stamp, and although it has never officially been withdrawn, it stopped being sold from 21st June 1985. Ha’penny stamps were only ever issued in turquoise, although there were many versions over the years, and some are quite prized by collectors. An original from the 1970s could today set you back anything from 15p to £25, and if you have any lurking in your drawers, you could legally still use them, although obviously you’d have to use two on your envelope to make it up to a round penny.

The half pence came in handy on pocket money days when I tried to eke out my 10p allowance while scrutinising the array of sweets on the penny tray. You had to ask the man behind the counter at the post office to bring it out, which only added to the excitement and expectation. He would then wait patiently while I dithered about what to pick. Should I be canny and go all halfpenny fruit salad chews, meaning I’d get twice as many sweets for my 10p? But then wouldn’t it be a bit boring having all the same thing when there were so many other tempting delights on offer? What about the one penny foam bananas and the shrimps? Or the flying saucers, which were like holy communion wafers but with fizzy sherbet in the middle? Or the shocking pink Bubbly bubble gum? I don’t think I was ever tempted by that aniseedy reprobate, the black jack. But then, who was?

I would usually select a combination of halfpenny and penny sweets so that I would feel that I’d got my money’s worth and then make my hoard last as long as possible. But every so often, I’d throw caution to the wind and buy the extravagantly-priced Refresher chew, a big hunk of a sweet that could put your jaw out, but it was worth it when you got to the sherbet in the middle. At 2p a pop though, it took a significant bite out of my 10p budget. I had the same dilemma over the Swizzle double lolly, a slightly fizzy, slightly powdery yet hard ball of deliciousness that, if you were savvy with your sucking, could last most of the afternoon.

If I was really lucky, I had extra money from a birthday or Christmas, and then I would go all out and buy a double lolly, maybe even two, or a sticky Drumstick lolly, and possibly a few candy cigarettes, and most excitingly, a quarter of rainbow crystals. This was basically just a bag of coloured fizzy sugar which I’d then spend all day dipping my lollies into. It may have been terrible for my teeth, but boy, did it taste good.

You can still buy many of the sweets that we used to love, and there are plenty of websites selling these glucose-laden blasts from the past. I’m tempted to go and order my favourites, although I’m not sure I’ll have any luck finding halfpenny chews these days.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 14th June and the Gazette & Herald on 12th June 2019

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