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Chocolate Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan Author Guest Post

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Chris Callaghan is the author of The Great Chocoplot. If you liked the sweets in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory you’ll love this. You’ll crave a Blocka Chokka bar as you follow Jelly on her quest to stop the Chocopocalypse. Part adventure, part hilarious satire on modern life, The Great Chocoplot is a fantastic read for Middle Grade readers and big kids alike. Read my review here. 

Chris has written about his memories of childhood selection boxes, and I am so pleased to welcome him for the 14th Day of Blogmas. Huge thanks for the wonderful post. bird

Selection Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan. 

The 1970s are where my childhood Christmas memories flutter around my head like the snow falling in Bedford Falls. But it isn’t all memories of Morecambe and Wise, fights over the double edition of the Radio Times, or Boney M having a ‘New Entry’ into the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops – some of my memories are of the classic selection box.

Gchriscchocolateboxeso into any supermarket in the run up to Christmas and you’ll find all manner of chocolate and sweetie delights, packaged in alluring festive trimmings. There will be the occasional box containing a few assorted treats but these, in my opinion, are not quite the same as the traditional selection box of my childhood.

 

I remember that they were a fairly standard present. Usually there to bulk-up a pile of other wrapped presents to enhance the ‘wow factor’ of that 5am entrance into the living room. Also, often handed out by next door neighbours or Auntie’s you hadn’t seen since last Christmas. Even before it was unwrapped you knew exactly what is was, with its distinctive flat, rectangular shape and gentle weight – but of course you had to pretend!

“Ooo, I wonder what it is?” we lied. Still maybe clinging to the hope that it was a Scalextric Set or an Airfix Millennium Falcon. But no, it was a few bars of chocolate and some sweets.

“Thanks, Auntie. That’s brilliant!” we lied again. (I sound a bit ungrateful, don’t I! But let’s be honest, there’s a lot of greed in Christmas – just embrace it!)

 

But once we’d got bored with our proper toys (I’m sounding like a brat again), it was the pile of selection boxes that drew our attention. The first game upon opening would be refitting the treat, which had fallen out due to the tradition gentle shake of the unopened present, into the corresponding compartment in the crinkly and surprisingly noisy plastic tray. Once this was achieved, the decision-making process began.

Do you keep your favourite bar until last or chomp it down right now? That is maybe a decision that a grown up would ponder for a while, but for a child on Christmas morning – it’s easy!! (Greed again)

 

texan_bar__16585I’d always choose the Texan Bar first. An impossibly chewy delight that would not only take forever to eat, but would also easily remove any stubbornly remaining baby teeth. The Texan Bar has since ceased production, probably on Health & Safety grounds!

Then there’s the obvious ones to go for: Galaxy, Mars Bar and a Flake (which would have to eaten while singing the song and pretending to be in the bath).

 

The selection boxes would always come with a game on the back, where you would have to cut out tiny counters from the box itself. Using paper scissors for this task was a nightmare, as they could barely cut paper, so had a hell of a job cutting card (often leaving sore red ring marks around our fingers and mangled bits of card as counters). The game itself could be completed in a few minutes, with minimal enjoyment and rarely got a repeat run.

 

The day after Boxing Day, which is a pretty dull enough day already, would mean our selection boxes had the stuff we really weren’t keen on. For me, this meant Marathon (yes, Marathon kids, not Snickers!) and Topic. Nuts in chocolate still sends shivers down my spine. Although, there was a certain fun in eating around the nasty crunchy bits and spitting them out into the convenient plastic tray area provided with the box. But then as New Year approached, the only sweets left were the ones that you would never buy and were only ever eaten because your own greed insisted that they had to be eaten. This was always the fruit version of Polos, for me. I’ve never been a fan of boiled sweets and even though the proper mint Polos were a regular favourite, these rock-hard luminous rings of sticky doom were not what I’d call a treat!

They were always stuck together by the world’s strongest super glue. It would take the rusty chisel in Dad’s tool box from the cupboard under the stairs to break them apart. Or, if you couldn’t wait, just treat it like one complete lolly stick. Being an impatient/greedy child, it was a huge effort to try and crunch on this multi coloured Polo lolly. The effort didn’t match the pleasure!

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I suppose a selection box could be something you might share. But as kids (and as grown-ups) do we really, really want to share? There might have been the odd thing that was swapped with my little sister, but only if I’d gain an advantage, like swapping a Twix for Curly Wurly. A Twix is, let’s face it, a glorified biscuit, while a Curly Wurly is a … well, it’s a Curly Wurly, isn’t it!!

But as it’s Christmas, I should end by saying that we should all share what we have, because that’s what the festive season is all about. (There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean it, but I’ve said it.)

So, enjoy yourselves, and if you have to share something, make sure it’s something you don’t really like. A tube of fruit Polos, for example.

 

Happy (Greedy) Christmas!

 

Do you have a favourite selection box? Which chocolate would you eat, and which would you trade? Let me know in the comments below.

Middle Grade Reviews

Raining Chocolate – The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan

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Extract:

 Gari was standing on a little box at the doorway of the shop, talking. That was why he had a crowd. What was he sating? Jelly stopped and listened, curious.

‘I look around this town, and do you know what I see?’ the shop owner cried.

There was a pause.

I see people seeking the truth of chocolate,’ Gari said, ignoring this. ‘Real chocolate! Not Blocka Chocas, or Wacko Chocs, or Whopper bars –

People began muttering and shuffling away.

‘And, as a true descendant of the Ancient Easter Egg Islanders, the Chocolati tribe -’ Gari went on.

Now this caught everyone’s attention.

 

(The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan. P62 – 63.)

breakbirdSynopsis:

In five days, chocolate will end. At first Jelly thinks it is another silly article on The Seven Show. Something about an ancient prophecy on a place called Easter Egg Island. Jelly’s got more important things to worry about, like whether her Dad will find another job, and where the next meal is coming from. In fact, Jelly does quite a lot of worrying. So many things in life could go wrong.

She decides to prove the Chocopocalypse is a myth, and film the results of her experiment for her class science project.

When the first part of the chocolate prophecy comes true, and chocolate rains down on Easter Egg Island, the world descends into chaos. The shops sell-out, and people turn to rioting and theft to get their hands on chocolate.

As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, Dodgy Dave wants Jelly’s Dad to get involved with a probably-not-legal job, and upmarket chocolatier Garibaldi Chocolati takes offense when Jelly says she would rather buy a Blocka-Chocka. Is the Chocopocalypse going to happen, or is somebody playing tricks?

breakbirdReview:

A laugh-a-minute Middle Grade read which was the perfect treat for a Saturday morning readathon.

The theme of anxiety is brilliantly handled. A light, bubbly approach to mental-wellbeing is well needed when children are experiencing mental health issues at higher rates than ever. I love Jelly (great name for someone who often feels a bit wobbly), and how she adjusts the way she views things to allow herself to appreciate the moment.

Publishing has started to realise that not every childhood is set in middle-class suburbia, and it is great to see warm-hearted books like The Great Chocoplot which captures not only the concerns of working class children, but also their lives. There is also some commentary on social inequality, which, although handled with a sense of humour, is a hugely important comment on the world we live in. (The Prime Minister’s nickname? Toffee-Nosed Posh Boy. Spot on.) 

Callaghan underpins his comedy with a recognisable world. As well as a healthy dose of toilet humour, his world his funny because we relate to it. As an adult reader, I was in stitches at his sending up of The One Show. ‘I wasn’t watching it!’ objects one character, ‘it was just on in the background? You know?’ Oh, I know. Like everybody I have spoken to about the BBC’s inane offering, I don’t ‘watch’ The One Show, but often mysteriously know what has been featured. The Seven Show captures the inanity of the programme to perfection. Callaghan captures the ridiculousness in the mundane, from tweeting silly hashtags, to countdown apps and entering postcodes on the sat-nav for local journeys.

There is lots of great word play. Jelly lives in Chompton on de-Lyte, for instance, and Garibaldi Chocolati? We know he takes his chocolate seriously, and we know he’s going to be send up for it. Genius. There are also lots of foodie names, from Jelly to Mrs Bunstable to Waffle Way.

** amendment: This is a standalone novel. Initially, I fibbed, and promised a sequel. No pressure to the author, but I’ll read anything else set in the same world. 😉