These days I'm a regular in sweet shops, not the pub

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It seems like so long ago that I was able to walk into a pub and the bar staff would smile and automatically get me my 'usual'.

Those days passed shortly after the arrival of the children, when vodka was replaced with Diet Coke (I was a breastfeeder) and then pub-going disappeared altogether.

This was when the first child grew into a toddler and the whole situation of having a quiet drink disappeared into the rigmarole of stopping him investigating the ladies/cigarette machine/jukebox/cupboard with tomato sauce sachets in etc. If you're a parent you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

These days, I'm a regular in a different place – the sweet shop. It's sad but true.

There are a plethora of old-fashioned sweet shops springing up and I love them, though I fear for the sanity of those who serve behind the counter.

They have to deal with a succesion of young children, 37p clenched in sweaty palms, who want to try out every mixture under the sun, spending tuppence here, 17p there and then getting confused as to what they wanted to invest the remainder on.

If you ever want to help your child's mathematical abilities, financially and historically, give them some change and send them shopping at Four Ounces Of... in Stoke Road in Gosport.

Of course, the appeal of the sweet shop lies in the visuals. Rows and rows of bright colours, hinting at exotic and exciting flavours.

Part of it is the ritual, watching the reach for the tub, the weighing, the paper bags and the totting up of the money.

But a new fascination for my kids lies in the perils of trying out the not-so-lovely offerings.

Super Sour bon-bons for instance, which come with a warning that more than one at a time will make your mouth bleed and your head turn bright red.

And anchovy-flavoured boiled sweets. Minging but compelling for children who live in a society so cushioned in health and safety that when you can, you must grab any opportunity for living life on the edge.

And my opportunity?

Well, it's going to a different sweet shop and asking for my 'usual' just to see what that throws up.