I doubt I’m the only one in the world but I have definitely mastered the art of eating Starbursts while driving. I’m not saying you should copy me or even that it is advisable, but if you did ever wonder then I’m here to tell you it can be done. And they say men can’t multitask. The trick is to use your left hand and your teeth. The teeth unfold either end of the wrapper and pull open the central overlap and voila – access granted. Weather can have an impact though, so be wary: too warm and the sweet will get sticky and leave you with a mess, and too cold and the wrapper becomes harder to tease away. Of course, I’ve made it sound simple so I would strongly recommend you have a few trial attempts at home first. You could simulate the car environment by using a toilet brush as a gear stick, the lid of a tub of Celebrations as the steering wheel and a bread bin as the glove compartment. And no, I’m not insane – you only reach across to open the glove compartment and select your Starburst of choice when the car is stationary. And why am I talking about Starburst anyway? We all know they’re still Opal Fruits.
Opal Fruits was always a better name but we shouldn’t wallow in nostalgia too long because they were actually an inferior product. You may recall that Opal Fruits consisted of orange, lime, lemon and strawberry flavours; and therefore were citrus heavy to the tune of 75%. When they were rebranded some genius decided (and when it comes to confectionary I use the word genius very seriously) to replace lemon for blackcurrant, and looking back I could identify that moment as one of the most significant and rewarding changes that have been made to a sweet in my lifetime. Of course we all know that there have been plenty of whoppers too – the de-flavouring of the Caramac bar, the shameful devaluing of the dolly mixture, the unstoppable rise of Haribo, the shrinking Crème Egg (they can say what they want, it’s fucking smaller) and the complete disappearance of Paynes Fruit Creams. Bastards.
Now that I’ve mentioned them I ought really to go back to the dolly mixture, which may well be the greatest sweet ever that doesn’t involve chocolate. There was once a time when Rowntree held its dolly mixture as highly as the liquorice allsort but then, quite suddenly, they decided that the dolly mixture was in some way the runt of the litter and the purple bags of magic just disappeared. For a while Haribo, oddly enough, produced a very satisfying version of their own but these days you probably have to go to a corner shop near Durham to find them. And what’s the big deal with liquorice allsorts anyway? When you think about it the sweet stuff is just there to make eating the liquorice bearable, because liquorice is bloody awful stuff and only a clown would want to eat it on its own. That’s another driving trick of mine – eating liquorice allsorts but removing all the liquorice. The only set back is that the dash board becomes a graveyard for neglected liquorice and that doesn’t look good on a first date at a drive through cinema.
Of course the world of sweets has been through massive changes in the last 43 years. Gone are the quarter pound paper bags that you would choose from pretty much any newsagent. The back shelf would heave with glass jars stuffed full of every sweet under the sun: aniseed balls, cinder toffee, at least four flavours of bonbon, sherbert lemons, rhubarb and custards, jazzies, raspberry ruffles, kola cubes, barley sugar (which would instantly congeal into a hard blob and fuse together with the paper bag – paper never tasted so good) and the list goes on forever. Sure, you can still get most of those if you look hard enough but something was lost when they wound up the old paper bag and scales kind of a set up. What else would you ask for a quarter of a pound of these days? Drugs, I suppose.
And that’s all sweets are – tooth rot and gut rot for people with an addiction to sugar. Is there really anything else in sweets except for sugar? You probably wouldn’t eat a whole bag of sugar but make it colourful and give it a silly name and funny shape and watch them go. And I’m not forgetting chocolates here, because they play their part too. I have yet to find a chocolate more addictive than a Cadbury’s Mini Egg. It’s not my favourite chocolate but it is the most addictive, and I like the way they take the trouble to make them different colours and some are speckled, as if that makes one any different from the next. I don’t know who created them, and let’s face it they’re hardly mind bending in their concept, but once you open a bag that’s it, they all have to go. You can let them melt in your mouth slowly or you can shovel them in like gannet but please don’t tell me you’re going to leave the last three for later. Same goes for Maltesers which are laughably marketed as some kind of healthy snack these days but which are just as calorific as the next bag of whatever. Healthy or not, they have cocaine or something like that in them, though the really dirty chocolate drug is anything in the Reece’s Peanut Butter family; every member of which is rammed full of nasty shit and yet is as all consuming as a crystal meth habit. There could, of course, be worse things to spend your money on.
I like sweets. No, I love them. They still have me dribbling like they did when I was a little twat and would bounce happily down to Harrison’s the newsagent in North Harrow and stock up on several different types of pure sugary crap. I know they’ve tried to revive the sweet world with Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe but they’re just overpriced daylight robbers. It’ll never be the same. Jesus, sherbert fountains now come in a plastic tube and that is a fucking disgrace. Their cousin, the sherbert dib-dab is also going strong as a member of the ‘retro’ sweet universe but where, I ask, did the far superior lemonade dib-dab go? And those bags of rainbow puffed rice? And those candy sticks that they actually used to paint one end of red so they would look more like cigarettes (which when you think about it is pretty dreadful)? All gone. Next you’ll be telling me that the Crunchie has to go or that flying saucers are being put out to pasture. Isn’t the world rough enough already without taking away the little pleasures. And to think I was inspired to write this rubbish on the way back from the gym as I rewarded my exercise efforts with a blackcurrant Starburst. Very nice it was too.
G B Hewitt. 01.03.2020