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Such sweet memories

Victoria Neumark binges on Smarties and jelly beans

Rosie loves sweets. She likes to go to the sweetshop and spend her own money on two snakes, a poached egg, a half-peeled banana, a dummy and a pair of luscious red lips, all made out of lurid gelatine. She picks them carefully and offers up her small steel tray to the newsagent, who counts out the penny, two-penny and five-penny items. A long snake is 10p, so it goes back. Try two large jelly beans, instead. Then Rosie adds a necklace of glazed pink and white comfits, a bargain at 15p. Sometimes Rosie's granny buys her Smarties, which when licked make very good face paints.

Rosie looks in her white paper bag. "They are beautiful," she says simply. "But they rot your teeth," nags her mother. "My teeth haven't got any fillings," she points out. "Yours have." Rosie is nine. Not much gets past her. Rosie's mum grinds her (filling-speckled) teeth and slowly explains that that is because she used to eat so many sweets when she was young and that she regrets it now. To which Rosie answers, "You've just forgotten, haven't you?" You do forget: the three-cornered bumblebee humbugs which split sharply in your mouth; the glorious crunch of sherbet lemons when the white powder fizzes along the outside of your teeth; the long, slow, chewy tangle of liquorice bootlaces; the small explosions of space dust. Sweets are not just bad for you - they are good for you. They spark off the senses. They are bright colours and shapes, smooth and slithery and bouncy and grainy and slowly dissolving all around the tongue. What's more, they are cheap.

Sweets are often a child's first independent purchase. They are a universal means of exchange, too. "Swap you two Astros for a Fruitella." "Give us some Skittles." "Only if you let me have one of your Fizzy Chewits."

They have wildly inventive names: Nerds, Dweebs, Jelly Tots, Jolly Ranchers, Starbursts, Refreshers, Flumps, gobstoppers, jawbreakers, flying saucers ("Those are really disgusting," says Rosie's elder brother). They sock into your tastebuds and dance up your nose, especially those sourballs. And, of course, many of them make you horribly sick. Children eat sweets for many of the same reasons grown men get drunk. You get off your face, outrageously, vilely, base.

Rosie clutches her bagful to her, protectively. "And," she says, daring the boundaries, "I'm not going to share!" Her mum is shocked. "But, Rosie, where would we be if . . .?" But Dale, her older brother, is quicker off the mark. "OK, then you don't get to share my Coke." Rosie holds out the bag, and Dale grabs the very best item, the peeled banana. Gulp, gone. Rosie wails. "Mum!" Dale smiles. "That'll teach you to hog your sweets, piggo."

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