Talk of sugar tax takes me back to sweetie heaven – the irish news

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Just home – high on a sugar rush from glorious Bruges where every second premises is either a patisserie or a chocolate shop – to the unwelcome threat of a sugar tax.

Health professionals, profoundly alarmed at the number of obese youngsters and ever-expanding adults who’ve got that way from a diet heavy in fats and sugars, are preparing to legislate us back to optimum proportions.

They have a point. We’re no longer eating to live, but living to eat. Every


supermarket display, every advertising feature encourages us and our children in the direction of ‘more’. “Sugar addiction is too serious to be solved with better labelling and education,” scolds Nanny state. You know it makes sense.

I inherited a sweet tooth from my mother who could demolish a quarter pound of wine gums in minutes. She’d offer the bag around once, but by the time you were ready for another, they were all gone. We were plainly reared. Porridge for breakfast, cornflakes being insufficiently filling, tea and toast (butter OR jam, never both because, according to Auntie Mollie, “You can’t have two kitchens”) and pudding only on Sundays.

Victims of stringent domestic economy, we only every got ‘halfers’ of anything nice – half an apple, orange or banana, a nearly transparent piece of cake. Cantrell and Cochrane’s brown lemonade was measured by the half-glass and if you complained of thirst, you were directed to the cold tap. ‘Pester power’ was a concept whose time had not yet come. An occasional slice from a plain white loaf spread with butter and dunked in sugar was a comforting treat, but only dispensed to the injured.

Sweets were the longed-for focus of all our desires but we lacked the wherewithal to indulge them. Pocket-money? Only middle-class children in storybooks got pocket-money. We might earn a penny or tuppence for running errands for a neighbour who’d slip you a copper or two, but you’d have been murdered by your parents if they ever discovered you’d accepted it.

The week was bleak and sweetless indeed, except for the Saturday sixpence that was utterly dependent on model behaviour for the previous six days. After a week of moral rectitude we’d rush with our riches down the street – and oh, the choosing! Clove rock? Aniseed balls? Jap Dessert? Watching with bated breath the silvery arrow of the Avery scale tremble on the two-ounce marker while Bridie-in-the-sweet-shop’s eyes narrowed and her hand hovered to withdraw the one sweet upon which depended her profit or the poorhouse. Never in my young life did I see her add one.

The cannier amongst us preferred to spread our purchases, quantity rather than quality being our objective. Four blackjacks for a penny and a black tongue, a gobstopper big as a golf-ball that had to be examined with grimy fingers between sucks to see what colour it had turned; a penny Bubbly that produced bubbles so big they stuck to your nose, tuppence for a sherbet dab that made you sneeze. Best of all, a leathery-textured, sugar-impregnated strip of everlasting toffee that nearly lived up to its name. And we ate them all at once in an orgy of delight, the principle of deferred pleasure never having been explained to us.

But we were active youngsters. We ran the streets in all seasons – chasing, scootering, roller-skating or bicycling. You only got in if you were sick or it was raining. Ours was a crisp-less, Coke-less, pizza and burger-free world where we ran off the few surplus calories we consumed, where stay-at-home mothers cooked made-from-scratch dinners with fresh ingredients and chocolate was an Easter egg and a Christmas selection-box. Pre-television, pre-computers, we spent family evenings together, listening to the radio, playing cards or board games, reading and actually holding conversations.

Patterns of consumption have changed more rapidly in this generation than any other, as has our attitude to food – and not for the better. The principles of instant gratification far outweigh common sense. The sugar tax may be a bitter pill we’re forced to swallow.