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Sweet Skies - Robin Scott-Elliott

Berlin, 1948. A city besieged. A boy reaches for the sky.Otto Hartmann would do anything to be a pilot. With Berlin blockaded by the Soviets, the Americans fly to the rescue and Otto's captivated by the matinee-idol pilots dropping chocolate for the city's hungry kids. But never mind the Hershey bars - he wants to be up there with them.Now Otto has to choose between those he loves or flying from a ruined city where danger lurks around every corner. And nobody is who they seem, but children are battling to survive in a desperate war-torn city.

Blogtour guest post by author, Robin Scott-Elliot:

My life in sweets…

“Ilse slipped her finger beneath the wrapper and worked it along the length of the bar. Otto held his breath. She opened it up and laid it on the ground, six squares of light brown chocolate.”

I’ve a sweet tooth – doesn’t everyone? Many children in Berlin wouldn’t have known whether they had or hadn’t – most would never have tasted real chocolate before the Candy Bombers began dropping it from the skies in 1948. Little wonder then in Sweet Skies, Otto, Karl and Ilse unwrap their Hershey Bar with such reverence.

I felt the same when I was young, a boarding schoolboy at the age of seven. Each Sunday we were given £1 to spend on sweets, a taste escape from round-the-clock school; home sickness forgotten for a few sweet moments. Jars and boxes were spread on a large table in the library; Highland Toffee, Wham bars, Black Jacks, Curly Wurleys (they were bigger and chewier back then – or was I just smaller?), Dib Dabs, Sherbert Fountains, White Mice, Flying Saucers… why did I have to mention Flying Saucers, the con of the sweet world… but… but that little hit of sparkle in the middle, there a second, then gone leaving damp rice paper sticking to the top of your mouth.

How to spend your £1? The answer always seemed to be ‘not how you just had’… next week I’ll get it right. There was one boy who liked to buy 100 Penny Chews, just to wind-up the teacher who had to count them.

Everyone has a favourite sweet – Mint Aero? – or perhaps everyone likes to ponder what their favourite sweet is – Wispa? – because a list lasts longer, a selection box of thoughts to be sucked and chewed and savoured like a Gobstopper. What’s yours? Go on, list them. Sweets are lodged in the middle of memories, mostly childhood memories and mostly fond memories.

Can you remember opening a bar of chocolate to share with your best pal, the snapping and sharing of the pieces, the feel of the chocolate beginning to melt ever so slightly in your hand, and then the taste? Do you, like Otto, hold it in your mouth, savouring the gradual flooding of your taste buds with that rich, perfect flavour?

I’m no longer able to eat chocolate, which made researching Sweet Skies absolute torture – looking at all those pictures… Three Hershey bars sit on my desk as I write (part of my book-launch giveaways)… oh my, they look good. Although is American chocolate as good as British chocolate?

Chocolate was a staple of US army life in the Second World War and afterwards too. During the war, the armed services consumed so much it ran short back home. The US military had Hersheys develop a special, energy-boosting bar for the troops’ K Ration pack, a mixture of chocolate, sugar, powdered milk, oat flour and vitamins combined to offer 600 calories per bar. It had a bitter taste, adored by some, detested by others.

The image of US soldiers handing out chocolate to children as they advanced from the Normandy beaches across Europe became a universal one. Some of those children would have been the first to taste M&Ms, which had been invented and made only for soldiers – they were sugar coated so didn’t melt in your hand to make handling weapons trickier.

In Britain too, children clamoured for American chocolate. When it came to sweet shortages, British children had it rough – sugar rationing began in 1942 and was not lifted until 1953, five years after Otto, Ilse and Karl snatched chocolate out of the Berlin sky.

Incidentally, when rationing was lifted in the UK, far more men were seen in the shops than usual. Sweet tooths are taboo busting. Toffee apples and nougat were the most popular items with British children when rationing was lifted. A choice, in my opinion, almost as bad as Fruit Polos, the worst sweet ever made. After Turkish Delight. Or perhaps Liquorice Allsorts, a selection so urgh that as soon as you’d finished one you needed another to take the taste away, then another, and another and, oh look, the packet’s empty. Now I feel sick.

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