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Sweeter than a nut

Jude Simpson


My latest dilemma of modern morals is this: what to do about the man who runs the vegetable shop giving sweets to my children?

He gives sweets to my children! Doesn't he realise he's a stranger?! Hasn't he had the mantra drilled into him from two years old - don't take sweets from strangers!

He's a foreigner, of course. A kind, twinkle- eyed, jovial foreigner. Honestly, coming over here, disrupting our social conventions with their generosity and unembarrassed friendliness towards children! Who do these foreigners think they are?! I'm too English, of course, to stop my children taking his sweets - that would be embarrassing.

Let me reassure you, the avoidance of embarrassment is not actually more important to me than the safety of my offspring. But somehow the two have become confused in my parenting. So I drill my children that they only take sweets when Mummy is with them, that they never eat while walking, and that they must - whatever else happens - always say thank you.

I don't believe the grocer is trying to poison my children. But I wish he wouldn't do it. It destroys my sense of what is and is not acceptable behaviour. And when you're dealing with small children all day every day, you need as many certainties as possible.

Truth be told, the other thing that hacks me off is that sweets never get offered to the Mums. I mean here we all are - two happy toddlers tearing around the shop like firecrackers, smooth-skinned, glossy-haired and pumping with more energy than the National Grid when it's half time at the Cup Final- and me, moping about like a dribbled- on bib, losing count of bananas and having to cut my children off at the ends of aisles because I've insufficient sprint power to run after them. They're not the ones needing a sugar boost. Chuck the odd penny chew my way, please!

I don't remember as a child ever wondering why you couldn't take sweets from strangers. In fact, I never remember being offered any. But I knew what to do if I ever did.

So many things we do religiously (I use the word advisedly) without understanding or remembering why. But it's foolish to stop doing something purely because you've forgotten why you started. Rediscover the reason - then make a judgement.

Perhaps I'm mistaken in interpreting his motivation as pure friendliness, anyway. It may well be a business strategy. 'Mummy, let's go to the vegetable shop' is now a request as frequent as it is transparent. And it's definitely not the marrows they're craving.

But the more predictable his confectionery- bestowing is, the more likely I am to avoid the poor man's shop. Getting a bargain basket of fruit and veg only to argue for two hours with over-sugared, soon-to-be-toothless toddlers is a wholly unattractive transaction.

But every way you look at it, it's sad to think I might walk on to a different shop in order to avoid the generosity of a stranger.