Shaken and Stirred (The Pygmy Giant, August 2011)

“So what you do,” said my cousin, tossing her enviably long blonde hair over her shoulder, “is break each stick into pieces about an inch long, like so.”

I watched as she flexed her slender wrists several times before dropping the broken pieces of hard liquorice into the glass bottle.

“How do you know how much to put in?” I asked.

She paused momentarily, in that way she had when she was making it up as she went along

“Easy, I’ve seen Tom make it.  Now, what we need is some fairly hot water.”

I followed her into the kitchen where, after checking that no adults were about, she ran the hot water tap and filled the bottle to the neck. Then carefully inserting the cork stopper she began to shake it vigorously.

The clear water began to turn muddy brown, and I regarded it doubtfully.

“Are you sure it’s all right to drink it?” I said.

She stared at me scornfully.  “Of course it’s okay, idiot.  Me and Tom have drunk it loads of times.  It’s just like dandelion and burdock.”

She continued shaking for a while, before hiding the bottle in a cupboard.

“We need to let it ferment now”, she said confidently, “so let’s go and have a look at your bridesmaid’s dress again.”

The candy-pink organza concoction hung from the back my bedroom door, complete with frills, bows and silver ribbons.  An alice-band, heavy with silk flowers lay on the bed. Everything was ready for the great day tomorrow.

Susie seized the alice band and threaded it through her hair.  I felt a stab of envy as I saw how much nicer it looked on her silky blonde locks than on my frizzy red curls, and I snatched it from her jealously.

This was the first time that I’d ever had anything that Susie wanted, and I was uneasy.  As she began to stroke the folds of the shimmering pink dress I resisted an overpowering urge to smack her hands away from it.  It was mine!  I was to be the princess this time.  My godmother had chosen me, though I suspected this was probably because she hadn’t seen my cousin.  Anyone in their right mind would have chosen Susie.

“Come on,” I said urgently, “let’s go and see how the drink is doing.  What did you say it’s called?”

Casting a lingering look at my dress, Susie followed me downstairs.

“Tom says it’s called ‘spo’” she said, “but I just call it liquorice juice.  You’ll love, you’ll see.”

I wasn’t so sure, but at least now it did resemble dandelion and burdock, with a thick creamy head on it.

Susie tasted it briefly, smacked her lips.


She handed me the bottle, and I tasted it.  Once you got used to it, it had quite an appealing flavour, I thought.  I’d only ever used these ‘ha’penny spanishes’ for licking and dipping into sherbet, but they did make quite an appetising drink.  It wasn’t hard to imagine it was dandelion and burdock.

Our games that afternoon were punctuated by generous swigs on the ‘spo’ bottle, and Susie was uncommonly generous in letting me have the lion’s share of the concoction.

Susie made a lovely bridesmaid the following day I was told, and my godmother was delighted to have such a pretty emergency stand-in.

By the time everybody got back from the wedding reception I’d emerged from the bathroom where I’d been closeted since the early hours of the morning.  I was so drained, I didn’t even care when Susie danced in, a pink and silver cloud of magnificence.

“Because Susie suggested it,” I said in response to my mother’s terse enquiry as to why I’d ingested so much liquorice.

“Really?” she responded acidly, “and if Susie suggested you jump off the roof, would you?”

Probably, I thought, before bolting for the safety of the bathroom once again.

About Sandra

I used to cruise the French waterways with my husband four or five months a year, and wrote fiction and poetry. Now I live on the beautiful Dorset coast, enjoying the luxury of being able to have a cat, cultivating an extensive garden and getting involved in the community. I still write fiction, but only when the spirit moves me - which isn't as often as before. I love animals, F1 motor racing, French bread and my husband, though not necessarily in that order.
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6 Responses to Shaken and Stirred (The Pygmy Giant, August 2011)

  1. sue Cottrill says:

    Blimey Sandra are you sure you don’t know my friend Anne!!


  2. When I was a kid in Rochdale we made Spo all the time. This was an amazing step back in time for me. We also had The Black Pea man come around the streets on a Friday selling black peas in vinegar from his oven on a motorbike. Oh yeah and if we turned our ankles playing we said we had “cruckled”. Never heard of this outside Rochdale.
    It was a unique place I grew up in but I am glad I now live in Cheshire.


    • Sandra says:

      How did you know I was from Rochdale? 🙂 The black pea man was called Arthur White, and we cruckled regularly. It certainly was a unique place, and I’m equally pleased that I now live in Cambridgeshire. 🙂 Thanks for reading, Neil.


  3. Patrigh Aughey says:

    I was born in Rochdale in 1937 and lived there for over 60 years, it was sad the way it went down hill,it was a lovely town through the 40, 50 and 60’s, I’m glad I moved to Hereford in 2 thousand


  4. Sandra says:

    Hi Patrigh, I expect you remember ‘the cattle fields’ where the annual fair used to go, opposite the old Theatre Royal before it burned down. I’m not sure whether the cenotaph gardens are still there but we used to go there after school, making a nuisance of ourselves, I guess. I can still remember where certain buses left from, No 1 Deeplish from outside the GPO, No 14 Greave from outside what was the District Bank, No 12 (Spotland) from outside another bank. We hardly ever go back, but when we do we’re in and out as quickly as possible. It’s sad to see what became of it.


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