Kitty’s Cabin in Kilkenny has Reese’s and Hershey bars. It has Willy Wonka chocolate bars. It has packets of Love Hearts. And it has jars and jars and jars of sweets; so many it is hard to choose. It is a shop where you can still order sweets by the quarter and the man will know what you mean and will pour 110 grams of sweets into the scoop on the scales before tipping them into a red and white striped paper bag and twisting it closed.
There can only be one choice, though.
‘A quarter of lemon bonbons, please?’
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, forty odd 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.
Lemon bonbons are part of a litany of reassurance, things remembered when feeling fed up. The list includes:
Points West: The BBC local news programme broadcast from Bristol each weekday at 6.00. It had always the feel and the reassurance of a local newspaper. Living in Northern Ireland from the age of 22, too often the local news was a repeat of grisly stories that had filled the national news. Points West rarely had anything grisly to report, it was a daily reassurance that all was well with the world, and, where things weren’t perfect, then some earnest person would appear on camera to explain how things would be put right.
Car headlights on a country road: There is reassurance in real darkness. Standing watching from an upstairs window, it was possible to follow cars making progress towards our tiny village from the small town three miles away. There was not a single street light in the village; the illumination of hedgerows, garden gates, parked cars, and night animals, will forever create a childhood sense of being homeward bound at the end of a long day.
Grocery vans: Shopping options in the village were limited, but each Monday teatime a man called David Macey would arrive with a big old van that was more the size of a lorry. It had a long nosed bonnet and you could step up inside it through the back doors to buy stuff from the shelves on either side. He had his scales just behind the driver’s seat and it was here that you paid 3d for Barrett’s Sherbet Fountains. Looking back, it was hard to imagine that there was much of an income to be derived from kids with thrupenny bits and the odd villager buying a few things.
The Western Morning News: Perhaps an imagined memory. The Western Morning News is a Plymouth paper, why would it be on a kitchen table in Somerset? Perhaps it was the Western Daily Press, that would be more likely, it’s Bristol, that’s our area. The image remained firm, the Gothic type of the newspaper title. The paper was on Mrs Vigar’s kitchen table at Manor Farm. Manor Farm was where we went to be collected each morning by the car that transported a handful of us to the grammar school, plucked from our friends and community at the age of eleven. The newspaper on the table perhaps suggested continuity, stability, an order in things.
Feeling battered and depressed about the church, on this side of the Irish Sea, the lemon bonbons are the only option available.