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Bonzer Words!: Langues-de-chat

...Just over the bridge, we passed the open doorway of a little shop—at least, we never did pass it, because from inside the most delicious smells wafted forth...

Wendy Ogbourne recalls the tempting delights of a chocolate shop.

I’ve just been reading a lovely book by Joanne Harris called ‘Chocolat’. It’s about a French woman who beguiles everyone she meets with the wonderful chocolates she makes and sells in her shop. As I read it, suddenly I was 10 years old, surrounded by the sights and smells of chocolate, buying langues-de-chat in a little shop in Canterbury in England.

My family came from Kent, but had moved away after the War and I grew up in Wiltshire. Every summer, my parents loaded up the Ford Prefect with everything but the kitchen sink, and we embarked on the seemingly endless trip across the country for a pilgrimage back to our native county. We hired a cabin on the beach, which became our home for the next month and the hub of a whirl of visitors. And from there, we revisited all the familiar and loved sites that we knew so well.

At that young age, I’m afraid the venerable age and historic significance of Canterbury was lost on me. But when we entered the front door of the cathedral and wandered up and down the isles, staring at the stained glass windows and the tombs of long-dead saints and dignitaries, and I watched the flickering candles and smelled the musty scent of old hassocks and hymn books and wooden pews, I couldn’t help a feeling of awe and humility, though I was unable to put a name or understanding to the feeling. When we went outside again and down to the crypt, we were told by the guide yet again the story of Thomas a Becket, how he was murdered by Henry’s knights, and how his ghost has been seen wandering among the stone pillars and walkways. I never saw the ghost, but I left with a shiver up my spine and an icy chill, which defied even the warmth of a summer’s day.

Then we would drive through the Westgate Towers, one of the still remaining parts of the old city wall. The main street of the town still passes between them, though I’m told that cars are now banned. If you look up, you can see the portcullis which would be lowered to prevent all but the favoured from entering the world inside. We loved to climb up inside the two towers, one on each side of the gate. The staircases were narrow and wound up in a corkscrew to the top of the towers, where they opened out into a larger room. The walls were lined with tapestries and there were suits of armour and other exhibits in glass cases. I guess the guards would sit there, waiting to challenge anyone who asked for admittance, either to raise the heavy gates, or pour boiling oil or some such on their heads as a deterrent. Peering over the battlements round the edge, we imagined doing just that as we watched the cars pass below.

Walking up the main street was really a trip into the past, if you ignored the tooting car horns and puffs of exhaust fumes. The narrow street was lined on both sides with what looked like the original stone houses, though no doubt they had retained the facades while modernising the insides. Some had been converted into small boutique shops. About half way along, a small stream ran under the road and we stopped to peer through the railings at the weedy water below. I think it’s the River Stour. We could see the Ducking Stool, used in the trials of witches. It had a horrible fascination for us.

But here we come to the chocolate part. Just over the bridge, we passed the open doorway of a little shop—at least, we never did pass it, because from inside the most delicious smells wafted forth. The doorway was narrow and low and the adults had to bend their heads to get inside. The interior was filled with tables and shelves, racks and cabinets, all filled with every sort of chocolate you could imagine. Dark and light, truffles, fudges, caramels, fruit creams, liqueurs, rum balls, nut swirls—my eyes goggled and my mouth watered. But my favourite of all was the langues-de-chat, cats’ tongues—little flat slivers of chocolate, with cats’ faces at each end. I loved them, and was always allowed a special bag of my own.

Chocolate, just the smell—isn’t it amazing how these remembered scents have such a power to send you back in time?


© Wendy Ogbourne

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Wendy writes for Bonzer magazine. Please visit www.bonzer.org.au

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