There’s a sweet shop in Portlaoise. Not a shop that sells bars of chocolate and bags of crisps, but a proper sweet shop that has its window and shelves filled with jars and where you have to go in and point to the jars and the assistant pours the sweets into a scoop shaped bowl that sits on the weighing scales and then tips them into a paper bag.
Meandering through the town late yesterday afternoon with an English companion. I remembered the shop. ‘Come on, I want to get some sweets’.
The door was locked; it was after five. I peered through the window in disappointment. The assistant must have been so disconcerted at the sight of a clerical collar peering in from beyond the jars, that he came and unlocked the door.
‘Aren’t you closed?’
The choice was vast; how could you decide which jar without a long period of reflection?
The most extravagant first. ‘Have you Chocolate Brazils?’
‘I have. Over here’.
‘A quarter please’.
My companion laughed. ‘A quarter of what?’
‘Of a pound, of course. How else do you buy sweets?’
Chocolate Brazils were the choice when going to a sweet shop that used to be near Donegall Place in Belfast. They were not cheap, but were always a treat.
Given that the man had reopened his shop, it would have been mean just to buy only a quarter pound of sweets. There was a need to buy something else, just for the sake of respectability. There was no shortage of choice. What would be most nostalgic?
‘A quarter of lemon bonbons, please?’
‘Are you sure you want lemon? There are toffee bonbons as well.
There was a day I went fishing in the River Cary with the Brooks brothers from down our road. We had stopped at the village shop with the few pennies in our pockets and bought sweets. That day, maybe forty years ago, I had bought lemon bonbons. I had caught nothing, but it had been a magical day and the taste of the lemon coating of the sweets remains as intense as ever.
There were spearmint chews in another jar. ‘I’ll take a quarter of those, as well, please’. He gathered the jar and took it and the bonbon jar to the counter.
More disconcerted than he had been when I arrived, he said, ‘Do you want all of these in the same ba?’
‘But, of course’. What an odd question; why would I want three bags of sweets.
He keyed the amounts into the till. ‘That will be €4.80, please’.
I handed him a €5 note. Less than the price of a pint, but hours more pleasure and an abundance of memories, particularly the spearmint ones.