Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Time for Christmassy thoughts

The lane going up past our top field on a snowy day in 2010.

I thought I would blow the dust off a couple of Christmas books I have, and share some Christmas customs and folklore with you.

I am a Hampshire Hog, born and bred (for all that my roots are in the West Country), so I will start with some extracts from A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller.

John Arlott, "the voice of Cricket" was a Hampshire lad, born in Basingstoke on 25th February 1914.  Here are a few of his memories from Christmas past . . .

"Again, Christmas shop smells were more vivid 45 years ago (this in the 1920s I think, that he was remembering).  It is doubtful if there was a single refrigerator in all Basingstoke and some of the odours from frozen vegetables or sheerly rotten food were utterly offensive.  But a grocer's shop smelt of grocery = his goods were not tucked mutely away in cellophane wrapping, but displayed bodly, to be seen - and smelt - in the large.  he sold cheese and you could smell it.  Gorgonzola was a special Christmas item - and it was Gorgonzola, not Danish blue - and not a grocer but was ready with his joke about it 'talking'.  An assistant would turn and pull open a drawer and the smell of cinnamon, or nutmet, ginger or cardamom, cloves or mace, allspice or carraway floated out into the medley of the air.  The high, brassy coffee-mill threw out its working smell far across the street; yellow and carbolic soap formed a stern background and the gentle sugars of the dried fruit were clear to the sdweet-toothed young.  Dates and figs - new after the war - appeared in heavily squashed mystery, their novelty and sweetness over-riding any suggestion of nausea at the stories that the Arabs trod them into the boxes with their bare feet.

Bakers in those days baked: they did not merely sell goods cooked a day - and forty miles - away.  The shop was full of the warm smell of new bread, soft as foam, and irresistible to the picking fingers of boyhood.  The reek of doughnut fat, the deep richness of baking cakes - especially the fruity cakes, almond paste and sugar icing of Christmas - all made the shop - and the street outside - an aromatic excitement.

The dairy, with its huge grfeen-and-white crocks, painted with flowers and country scenes, had a positive, fresh - almost frosty - smell of new milk, with just a salty hint of butter.  The corn-merchant's, low-ceilinged and dark, breathed its earthy vapours out into the nostrils of the passer-by.  All this was normal, but heightened at Christmas time by profusion, additions and the strange pockets of warmth which welled up from back rooms fired far into the night for the comfort of late workers and the preparation of all kinds of confections.

Even the familiar sweetshops varied the all-the-year-round aniseed balls, sherbet suckers, sherbet dabs, everlasting balls, fruit toffee, gob-stoppers, sweet-cigarettes, liquorice strips and the more refined almond drops and hazel fondants with chocolate 'gift boxes'/  Christmas crackers and crystallized fruits - and all their scents merged in a juvenile incense of heavenly sickliness . . ."

I don't know about you, but that last paragraph is the one which transported me back in time.  I think I could write a dissertation about the sweet shops of my childhood, and my teefs will testify to this!!!


  1. We have an old fashioned sweet shop here in our market town and there is another one in Hawes. At Christmas particularly the windows are absolutely lovely. I feel like standing with my nose pressed to the glass. Dare not go in because it would expand my waistline.

  2. Gobstoppers, chewy chews, sweet cigarettes or (fags hanging out of our mouths) there also used to be a yellow dipping substance (caley??) which took the skin of your tongue. Those liquorice strings were horrible, blackened your teeth ;)

  3. We Thought we were so grown up when "smoking" a sweet cigarette! and I remember packs of weird coconutty stuff called sweet tobacco too. Seems such a strange idea now.
    We haven't got any old fashioned sweet shops locally which is probably a good thing!