There is an impure magic about candy floss. The smell, warm, cosseting, familiar, sweet, pink, marshmallow tells you this is wicked, a forbidden substance, bad for your teeth, a delicious delight. And then there’s the alchemy of transformation, so much more impressive that changing base metals into gold. A spoonful of sugar is tossed into a whirling worn, aluminium bowl. In front of your very eyes, the sugar gradually turns into a few strands, and then, little by little, into a rooks nest of pink spun sugar, a cloud of sugar, a ball of fine spun threads, like the thinning hair of Aunt Freda. When I was very young, I wondered if her hair was edible, it bore such an uncanny resemblance to candy floss, back lit, as it were, by her pink scalp.
Candy floss, oh candy floss, an enduring relic of an ancient past, some antique tribal ritual only to be undergone at the seaside. It is the madeleine of seaside summer summer. Its pashmina perfume of warm sweetness is up there with rock, marine rot, stale chip fat and donkey reek.
These days candy floss comes in plastic bags, as if broken off some exotic, Day-Glo cumulus, and trapped.This, apparently, is the result of some health & safety diktat. In the good old days, it was handed to the expectant child on a thin wooden stick, which allowed you to nibble a little bit here and a little bit, spinning out the sickly treasure for as long as possible, tearing off a small wodge in your teeth, marvelling at how this evanescent fluff melted to dense sugar in seconds, glueing your teeth together and leaving a pink tide mark around your mouth.
As it happens, I have some sympathy for the health & safety ruling, but not for the reason that some luckless child might fall over and spear themselves in the gob with the stick. No, there is a far, far worse fate that awaits the unwary, as I discovered many years ago in Brighton, when candy floss was still served on sticks.
I stepped into a kiosk of sugary delights on the seafront. Just one, last valedictory candy floss, I thought, bidding farewell to carefree summer and holidays. Just the one, and then I’d head back to London, duty and dullness.
I watched, as I always watched, as the sugar was tossed nonchalantly into that whirling worn bowl, and wondered at the mechanics of transformation. The proprietor whirled the the strands onto the stick with a casual flick of the wrist and handed it to me. I paid, and stepped out of the door onto the sea front, already nibbling the sweet indulgence.
At the precise moment I did so, there was a terrific gust of wind. The whole body of candy floss lifted off its stick and settled over my face, where it proceeded to melt at a prodigious rate, on my cheeks, in my eyebrows, in my hair – I had some in those days. In fact there wasn’t a part of my face that did not carry its adornment of pink stickiness.
Far, far greater than the disappointment of the loss of my last, sentimental candy floss of the summer, was the humiliation. Have you ever seen a chap trying to pick out melted sugar from his hair, eyebrows, off his nose and cheeks? It’s not an easy matter. The more you pick, the further it melts. The further it melts, the more you simply transfer blobs of sugary glue from one facial feature to another. After a few minutes of desperate action, I abandoned the pointless job, got into my car, and shook drove back to London, a helpless victim of the Curse of Candy Floss.
Have I eaten it since? Of course I have. What reasonable hedonist can resist it? But I always check the direction of the wind carefully before I start.