Pocket Money

Friday was pay day for my Dad. For me, in turn, it was pocket money day. On Friday night, I would dutifully ask, "Can I have my pocket money? – Please." I had to ask because he needed reminded, or maybe, he was making me ask deliberately out of sheer humiliation.

At first, pocket money was one shilling. Twelve pence. One twentieth of one pound. I used to compare notes with my friends to see how much they got. Some got half a crown – two shillings and sixpence, some got sixpence. Some got none at all. So, I was somewhere in the middle.

As soon as I had my shilling in my hand, it was off to the sweetie shop. There were three shops about ten minutes walk away, or five minutes of flat out running, more likely, and each had a different selection. One was a grocery shop that sold sweets. One was a post office, that sold sweets and the third was a tobacconist and sweet shop, and had the best selection by far. It was run by Mr and Mrs Martin who lived out the back and would emerge from the nether regions when the doorbell clanked.

On a Friday night however, all the kids in the neighbourhood would have their pocket money and would descent upon the sweetie shop at about the same time.

"What have you got for thruppence?", a mite would say.

"Well, you can have three penny chews, twelve fruit salads or twelve blackjacks. You can have three sticks of liquorice, two penny halfpenny lollies, three penny bars of chocolate or three bubblegums or two gobstoppers."

The little girl would look at her friend then back at the shopkeeper and make a stab at mixing and matching from the selection on offer.

Then it would be the friend's turn. "What have you got for thruppence?"

And, with a sigh, the menu would be rolled off again.

When it came my turn, I knew exactly what I wanted. I had been working it out for most of the day beforehand, maybe changed my mind a few times, discussed it with my mates, baring in mind all those warnings from my parents about not eating 'rubbish' and then totally ignoring it. In a way, the confectionary was secondary. I would eat any junk if it had a card with it. Sweetie cigarettes had aeroplane cards. I loved aeroplanes. Dollar Bubble Gum not only had a colourful card with a picture of a film star, the wrapping was a greaseproof paper dollar note – oh, and there was a tiny strip of disgusting, pink bubble gum.

I was told by my parent that some confectionary was "good for you" – chocolate, nougat, boiled fruit sweets. Chewing gum, bubble gum and especially a strange spinning monkey on a wire frame with a red, tubular liquorice handle. I think it was liquorice. I never really knew what it was, if edible at all, but I ate it anyway.

Later, my pocket money was upped to half a crown. There is no way that even I could eat half a crown's worth of sweets at one go so there was some money left over for Saturday and Sunday.

At weekends, we had the ice cream van. Wall's Ice Cream. For thruppence, you could get a cone or a wafer. Wall's ice cream came in solid paper wrapped bars and had an oily taste, which I later discovered to be whale oil. The slab of ice cream would be inserted into a rectangular topped cone, or between two wafer biscuits. An option to the ice cream was an ice lolly. These were triangular prisms and came in orange, lime and raspberry flavours. If you were really feeling flush, there were choc ices costing sixpence wrapped in a silver foil. In the shop, you could buy a choc ice for four pence, but it was slightly smaller and had a more watery texture. Still good though!

One shop in the town made its own ice cream – The Rendezvous. This was quite different from the usual shop or van bought varieties. This was real Italian ice cream. It came in a cone, with or without chocolate flakes or as "Sliders", between two wafers. Again, with or without chocolate flakes. Then there was the deluxe one that had an ordinary wafer biscuit on one side and a thick nougat wafer on the other finished with a chocolate edge. You could also buy a tub, a waxed paper cup filled with delicious ice cream and toped with a sticky, raspberry syrup and a wafer sticking out on top. This was all eaten with a small, flat wooden spoon.

I have this vivid image of standing with my Father in a large room with someone else. It was the garage of the local taxi firm, Ramsey's, which doubled as the undertakers. At the back of the room was a window and outside the window, and very close to it, was a waterfall covered in green slime. I never figured out what it was or why it was there but the water cascaded down continuously like some damp, eerie grotto. As I stood there, I was handed a small bottle of lemonade but no straw. I was supposed to drink from the bottle and I had never done this before. I put the end of the bottle in my mouth and tipped it up but the liquid would not come out. They told me I had to open my mouth to let some air in, which I did whereupon most of the contents if the bottled spilled out of my mouth and down my face. The fizzy bubbles went down the wrong way and nearly choked me.

I had, by this time, developed a very sweet tooth, which would come back to haunt me with a vengeance in years to come.

Joe Gillespie

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Joe Gillespie
Joe Gillespie

Joe reminisces about his childhood in Larne in the 1940s and '50s.