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And Another Thing...: Do You Like Sugar?

No one could accuse Arthur Loosley of being a sugar addict. "I rarely eat cake or puddings except on those occasions when it would be impolite to refuse, and the last time I had a spoonful of sugar in my tea was at approximately 8.30 am on September 3, 1939...''

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It cannot be denied that the taste of sugar has a certain something that most people find irresistible. It certainly works, whether in its pure form or in various drinks or confectionery, to pacify a screaming child (who may, however in later years be screaming with tooth-ache as a result) and the taste once acquired is carried into adult life.

I am not a sugar addict though. I rarely eat cake or puddings except on those occasions when it would be impolite to refuse, and the last time I had a spoonful of sugar in my tea was at approximately 8.30 am on September 3, 1939.

I can be certain about the time and date because a few hours later, after listening in doleful silence to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announcing on the 'wireless' that we were at war with Germany, my grandmother issued the solemn ukase, 'No sugar in our tea from now on.'

'Why not, Grandma?' I whined.

'Because it comes from over the seas and Hitler is going to send a submarine to sink all the ships, and you don't want them sailors getting drownded just so you can have sugar in your tea, do you?'

Put that way, it seemed reasonable enough, but her next statement was somewhat puzzling: 'There's always plenty of fruit on our trees and we can't afford to waste anything so we'll use our sugar ration to make jam instead.'

Visions formed my eight-year-old mind, of gallant seamen going to their watery graves thinking, 'Oh, that's all right then!'.

Whether my subsequent lack of appreciation of sugar was formed because of or in spite of that conversation I shall never know, but I have memories of Grandma's jam-making marathon every summer during the war, when she would collect empty jars from neighbours and members of the family and produce masses of plum jam which gained a reputation in the neighbourhood as the best anyone had ever tasted.

It had a very special texture, with nice chewy bits, and it was not until the closing year of the war that we discovered the secret when Granddad carefully examined one of these little additives. It was a wasp! Further investigation revealed many more of the creatures, who had presumably climbed in for a sugar rush while the jam was cooling, and drowned. Nobody would eat the stuff after that except Granddad, who used it up over the next few months for the sandwiches he took to work every day for his lunch. 'Doodle-Bug jam,' as he called it, spread thickly on unbuttered bread, because butter was rationed too.

Why 'Doodle-Bug'? Because that was the period when the V-1 flying bombs were raining down on London and were popularly called 'Doodle-Bugs' by the natives - not that the bombs themselves were at all popular though.

I remember the chilling feeling whenever I heard the throb-throb-throb of their pulse-jet engines approaching and we all sat in stunned silence, holding our breath and hoping that the sound would not stop before the weapon passed overhead and continued on its way to find some other wretched victims. Whenever we did hear one splutter into silence, we knew that the evil contraption with its high-explosive warhead was plummeting down to earth. One fell close enough for us to hear the rush of air as it fell. Our house suffered minor damage from the ensuing explosion; some neighbours unfortunate enough to be a little closer did not live to tell the tale. It was not a happy time for anybody.

Oh, and about that plum jam: I was drafted in to help pick the fruit, with the stark warning, 'Don't eat too many of them or you will be very ill'. I did, and I was - and in a house without indoor sanitation, that was not a very happy time for the rest of the family, either!

Memories can be so sweet . . . sometimes.

2007 Arthur Loosley

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