Woke up in the middle of the night recently and realised I’d been dreaming about a sweet shop that used to be located at the bottom of our road in the 1970s. Norgate’s was one of those truly basic sweetie emporiums swept away by the supermarkets and changing retail habits in the following decades. You walked into a sepia world of cracked lino on the floors and tobacco-stained walls. Mr Norgate sat behind a counter immediately in front of you showing zero interest in your presence with his nose stuck in the Racing Post. Almost completely non-communicative until it came to paying for a Curly Wurly or Sherbert Dab.
Then he’d grumble the price through his walrus moustache and glancing at your disapprovingly through his horn-rimmed specs. Given his age – which could have been anywhere between 50 and 70 – he was almost bound to have done service in World War Two. Which in those days meant viewing a long-haired 13-year-old like me as a potential lout who needed a good dose of National Service in the army and a severe haircut. His wife wore a pink plastic overcoat, dyed black hair and distinctly more friendly.
Like many sweet shops, they stuck to the business of selling chocolates, chewing gum and Dolly Mixtures. A nearby newsagent sold every magazine imaginable so Norgate just flogged the local papers, the Ilford Recorder and the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian piled high on the counter once a week. These local rags were quite substantial publications in the 70s where many future national journalists cut their teeth. I’d be sent down by my mother to pick them up so we could keep across the local scandal and skullduggery on the council.
The sweets were presented in wooden or plastic racks. The Cadbury’s chocolates came in their own wrappers but then you had the unwrapped pick’n’mix selections. This is where your 5p might extend to fill a small brown paper bag with tooth-rotting stuff like flying saucers, Black Jacks, Drumstick lollies, gobstoppers and you could even shovel something called space dust into your mouth. Should note that Black Jacks – like Robertson’s jam – had a logo of a somewhat racist nature that wouldn’t pass muster today.
Behind the sweets and out of range of children’s grasping hands were the cigarettes. This being a time when the whole world seemed to smoke. My father in particular who relied on Norgate for his fix of Marlboro. And on the other side of the shop was a small cardboard box cut in half at an angle stuffed with second-hand pop singles. A selection of 45s that had been in the charts but now fallen to number 100 or less. These slightly tatty singles were the mainstay of my early pop music collection and cost 10p each. Occasionally, Norgate would get his hands on some copies of Disco 45 magazine which was sold next to the box. This small mag was packed with the lyrics from the latest Slade, Sweet or Osmonds hits.
Norgate was at one end of a parade of shops that included two butchers, a greengrocer and a coach company for day excursions to Whipsnade Zoo and such places. Though the 70s is much maligned as a gas guzzling decade, many people didn’t have cars and a family trip meant a shared coach with complete strangers. Anyway, at the other end of the parade was Norgate’s nemesis – Basil’s. This sweet shop was run by a guy, most likely in his 40s, called Basil. It seemed like a slicker operation to us kids at the time. Big plastic containers of bon-bons, a Lyons Maid ice cream fridge and a novelty toy dispenser outside. For 2pm, you’d twist a metal handle and some useless little toy would drop out that for some reason gave us a momentary thrill. A day later we’d forgotten about it.
Both shops have long disappeared and to my knowledge, their proprietors have gone to the celestial confectioners up above. Like all kids of that generation, the back end of my mouth is awash with fillings and crowns. And as I’m subjected to another root canal, my thoughts drift back to Norgate and the special little world he created.