Monday, November 12, 2007

Sweetie Cigarettes and imaginary horses

A colleague and I took our mid morning dooter out to the shop beside this week and amongst the heaps of selection boxes and bargain piced tins of Quality Street (Get thee behind me Satan) we spotted a couple of packets of sweetie cigarettes.
Now we all know that dummy fags aren’t perhaps the most PC things in the world to be doling out to your wains. (Then again if the ‘experts’ had their way the only thing we would give our children are those godawful dried druit bars that look a bit mouldy). And personally I don’t think I’ll be taking up the chance to have my three year old pretend to smoke for the sake of a sweet treat, it did bring back some memories of my own childhood.
It’s no secret that as a child I was a bit of a gack - then again I imagine that could be true of most of us are under the age of 10. If my son and his five year old cousin are anything to go by gack-dom goes with the territory. Both have multiple personality syndromes, a stunning array of funny voices, and very endearing habits of acting the complete eejit to great effect. (Last week I got a great video of them both break dancing in Halloween costumes - the back spins were quite impressive).
Sweetie cigarettes, I would guess, played a huge role in the gackdom of a many a child of the 70s and 80s. It was long before the time when we thought smoking was uncool or dangerous and many a Derry wain would take to buying a packet of sweetie cigarettes on a cold day so that when he or shee breathed out it looked like real smoke was coming from their mouths.
There was plenty a day when the walk from Rosemount Primary School to Leenan Gardens was accompanied by such acts of grannydom as wains adopted sultry swaggers and puffed on their sweetie fags before getting home in time for She-Ra or He-Man.
Needless to say our acts of eejitness were not confined to fake smoking and watching She-Ra. There was many a hut built in the mucky field between Broadway and Beechwood. I’m sure they never really looked like anything, but for a while each afternoon we would convince each other that perhaps our make-shift dens of branches and stones would be waterproof and a suitable place to spend a night.
It never dawned on us that some overgrown wasteland was not perhaps the safest place for us to play - it certainly never felt dangerous and we were blissfully unaware of the perils of stranger danger or health and safety regulations. We were just, innocently and blissfully, having fun.
As I help my niece learn how to read, I’m also reminded of the silliness of our own methods of learning to read when I was at school. When I was in P3 we had a particularly strict teacher* and there would be a real quaking in our boots when it came to reading out loud.
Should one of our table struggle with the pronounciation of a word, we would ask our classmates and then get them to write down the word so that it would stick in our minds. It never dawned on us that scribbling down the word never actually helped us pronounce it any more than seeing it in the original book. And yet it seemed to work. It kept the scary teacher at bay and helped us progress up the ‘Peter and Jane’ ladder.
Then again that was the same year where I pretended that I wasn’t in fact going to school, but instead was going to the office to work and would dream of the day when I would have a shiny phone and computer at my use every day. (Oh, the folly of youth).
When school was over we (my sisters and brother) would climb on our imaginary horses and gallop back up Broadway. We were convinced that this made the journey home a lot quicker and that we actually did take on the speed of a galloping horse. (Then again, gackiness runs in the family. Although he will kill me for revealing this, my brother once spent a good 10 minutes in the school canteen trying to move his cup fo juice solely with the power of The Force).
Our weekends were spent putting on shows, creating dance routines (not so much for my brother, I must say) and making up songs. We were probably convinced we were Creggan’s answer to the Family Vontrapp even though it is a truth universally acknowledged that I don’t have a note in my head. (I was once told I had “a lovely voice for a choir” after bravely standing up and auditioning to the school music teacher for a place in the Feis).
It was all very innocent.
In some ways it is a shame that so much of that innocence is now gone. Sweetie Cigarettes aren’t PC. Building dens in old fields is rarely encouraged and galloping up Broadway on a make believe horse will probably end in you being referred to the community mental health team.
Still it’s nice to look back and one of these days I might just buy some sweetie cigarettes on a cold day, and if no one’s watching you might see the odd wee gallop from me.

*(For the record, the teacher wasn’t always scary. She helped us make really fabulous crib scenes out of old shoe boxes and tinfoil covered stars and once when I fell and hurt my knee she held a cold cloth to it until it stopped throbbing. She was just scary most of the time.)

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