Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Bah! Humbug!

I misplaced my bicycle bell: I clearly remember packing 2 bike bells (both freebies: one I got during the Nokia cycle-to-work week and one from  the London Freewheel) into some Woking Informer pages one Saturday at the end of October 2009. Now they're both desaparecidos.
I can't find them: I searched the whole flat, went through all the boxes I had sealed down in the basement. Checked again and again. I haven't had time to go and get a new one, but I think I'll have to very soon. A bike bell is as vital as good brakes, especially in a country (i.e. Italy) where morons (i.e. Italians) open the car door without bothering to check whether a ciclyst or biker is coming on the way. Only of today I risked crashing of this sort 3 times, and I just biked to the bank, less than 10 minutes away from my place!
Moreover, I fear and hope that buying the bell will have a "lit a cigarette at the bus stop" effect; not sure if this is just a mirror translation from Italian, but normally when you've frozen for 20 mins at the bus stop waiting for your bus to arrive, the bus will arrive in the very right moment you lit a cigarette. Classic, but I so hope that buying the beell will make the other 2 reappears: then I'll place all of them on the bike, so to be able to ring first (and after I'll keep insulting the moron, obviously).
However, going through my stuff a second time lead me to uncover some forgotten treasures, such as:
1. a compilation of Mongolian shepards traditional songs. What's gotten into me when I saw it in a shop and decided I had to buy it? I don't want to know it. In case the moment I do arrives, please let me know the name of a good analyst.
2. the book "Corso di Storia" volume V, an history high-school book, dating back to 1888. I don't know how it got into our basement: perhaps somebody in my family bought it on some used books stall. Impossible it belonged to my ancestors, as back in 1888, all of them were busy working in the fields and could barely sign with a cross.
3. a Mr. Humbug pin badge that immediately ended up on the camera bag.

Mr Humbug Sweets

Candy is not my favourite kind of sweets nowadays: I moved to heavier stuff, like biscuits, cakes, muffins, croissant...
But once in a while candies are really nice. And when I see a candy stall in a market or during a festival, it's very hard for me to resist the call of mermaids.  My favourite type is without doubt the traditional candy by Leone:

Violetta, anice o brutti ma buoni?

They traditionally comes into this yellow box and have different flavours: Liz likes the "Principe di Napoli", Beth is more for cinnamon, I personally love the violet and the light mint ones. I love them so much and since I found out that I can go to their store in Collegno and buy half kg package I can use to refill my tin box... well, let's just say I once asked my sis to bring the tin and the package home with her, so to resist the temptation! Needless to say, the tin is back, but I have no news about the half kg of orange candies I gave her...

As a kid, however, I loved candies: I could enter into the shop, spend some time evaluating what I wanted to have and, even more important, it was something I could afford with my savings, which made me feel a "grown-up"... I depend on me! Up until the beginning of high school I used to stop in a bakery on the way back home after class: it was a small shop that had a even smaller section dedicated to candies. 
The owner was a lovely old lady that didn't mind if we asked her a single candy. Most of our parents were unemployed at that time, as I used to live in an area where 95% of people were working in FIAT or factories related to it that were shutting down back in the '80s.
She knew that most of the time we didn't have a lot of money with us, so she wouldn't look at us as if we were beggars when we asked her 1 liquorice whirl or one fizzy cola. 30 lira a candy, 25 lira each if you bought more than one. 
When asking for a single candy, you had to put the money on the counter and then stretch the hand: the lady would pick your candy with a pair of tongs and place it carefully in your hand. Sometimes I would save my money for the whole week and splash the money for a proper bag on Saturday: liquorice whirl, heart throbs, cola bottle, one or two marshmellows (the strawberry and the banana, but once in a while she would also get the twisted shaped) and one or two of those liquorice with the so-artificial looking fruit cream in the center (my favourite). The lady then would take out a small white paper bag, take the tongs and wait for you to call name and number of candies. Then she would carefully close the bag and ask you if you want to save them for later, because if so she would seal the bag with some tape. She made the kids like me feel somehow important, as she would grant us as much time as to adults to take our decisions. She was kind and you could perceive it by the way she spoke and by the way she looked at you.

My family moved out of the area when I was in high school and I didn't go back there until I started working for Motorola, as the office wasn't very faraway. The bakery's still there but with a different owner and no candies. 
The memory of those candies and of the bakery lady has had such a deep impact on me that since then I always find those type of candies not as good as hers. Impossible, as they're all made in the same factories, but they lack in kindness, I guess. I still buy them, but they're just not at her candies level.

However, I can make a small exception when it comes to Mr. Humbug sweet shop in Greenwhich Market. Given that Greenwich was not exactly an easy commute from Surbiton and Woking, I can say I have been there quite often, sometimes taking the troubles of facing the ever-so-present engineering works on 2 different lines to just go and buy some candies (I would then cover it all up, with some excuses: museums, exhibitions, dinner with friends, photowalks, thai festivals...). Yes, the website has an online shop, but there is no point then: I like the atmosphere of Greenwich and really enjoy how the shop is run. Nobody is in an hurry, the shop assistants are kind and don't mind chatting, both with adults and kids.
Not to mention that once I dropped in at closing time and the guy behind the counter not only did not kick me out (as it happened in all the other shops when I set foot in at 17:30 or, even worse!, at 17:31), but waited for me to make up my mind and advised me on some kind of candies I never saw in Italy. That day I bought the pin. Quite glad I found it again, even only for the nice stroll down memory lane it granted me.

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