This is a Scots term that translates as sour plums, but in its original language imitates exactly the contortions of your mouth as soon as you pop one in.
More of an endurance exercise than a treat, this is a hard candy of exquisite, roof-of-the-mouth-stripping bitter intensity; the occasional rush of sweetness comes as a blessed relief. Near-impossible to bite and still maintain an entire set of teeth, they are therefore the ideal purchase for the pocket-money-strapped child as, number one, they last for ever, and number two they are something of a rarefied taste and therefore require less sharing than other sweets.
Downsides include being a choking hazard; their bright green colour which renders them very visible to teachers, and their density – a correctly projected soor ploom can knock out a dog from forty feet.
Rosie put the very peculiar book down. She was in any case sitting near the front of the bus, hopping up every now and again, anxiously; trying to peer through the grimy windows. The little single-decker green-painted bus with ripped, ancient leather seats looked like it should have been retired years ago. Why was the countryside so dark? Every time they left a tiny village with a few streetlights, it felt like they hit a great sea of blackness, a vast wall of nothingness surrounding a few scattered remnants of civilisation.
Rosie, a city girl born and bred, wasn’t used to it at all. It was sinister up there. How could anyone live amid so much dark? The few people who had joined the bus in Derby, old ladies mostly, and a couple of foreign-speaking young men whom Rosie took to be farm workers, had all got off ages ago. She’d asked the driver, who had an enormous beard, to tell her when they got to Lipton, but he’d grunted at her in a noncommittal way, which meant that now she was hopping up and down nervously every time they entered a village, trying to figure out from his head movements whether it was this one or not.
Rosie stared at her reflection in the dark window of the bus. Her dark curly bob was held back with hair clips above a button nose full of freckles. Her large soft-grey eyes were probably her best feature, but now they looked worried, lost and anxious. A sturdy suitcase sat above her in the ancient luggage rack, feeling irrevocably heavy; reminding her that there was no easy route back. People’s lives, she thought to herself, were meant to be full of excitement, lightness and freedom. Hers was just baggage. She checked her phone to ring Gerard, but there was no signal.
The bus chuffed and coughed up another endless hill into nothingness. Rosie had thought England was a small country, but she had never ever felt so far away from everything she had known. She glanced anxiously at the driver, hoping he had remembered she was still there.
That last day at work, though. Really, when you thought about it, her mother couldn’t have chosen to ring at a better time.
‘Where the hell is that sodding bedpan? What the hell is going on here? What do you think you’re doing?’
The young doctor didn’t look more than twenty years old, and absolutely terrified to boot. He was covering his terror by being aggressive; Rosie had seen it a million times before. She rushed to his side; every other nurse had disappeared from view and he was trying to help an old lady who appeared to be reacting to the lancing of a particularly unpleasant boil by peeing the bed at the same time. Which would have been fine, but Rosie had only been on the ward ten minutes, and no one had bothered to give her even the most cursory tour – she didn’t blame the staff nurses, they were up to their eyeballs, and there were different agency nurses in every day.
So she had tried unobtrusively to change sheets, bring water to those who needed it and take lunch orders, and do the tea round and empty the bedpans and the sharps boxes and generally help as much as she could without getting in anyone’s way, even though she’d worked a twelve-hour day in a different hospital across town the day before and was still absolutely exhausted, but was terrified that the agency would take her off their roster if she ever turned a job down.
Meanwhile the very young, rather posh-looking doc was getting positively hosed with pee and pus, which might, Rosie tried not to think, have been funny under different circumstances. As it was, she managed to dart to another elderly patient and grab a large cardboard bedpan, pushing it in front of the doc to catch the remainder like a doubles tennis player.
‘God,’ said the doctor, rudely.
The old woman, in pain and upset, started to cry. Rosie knew the young doctor’s type. Straight out of medical school, he’d have barely met a real patient before. Had spent years in nice lecture theatres, being treated like the crème de la crème by his friends and family for being a student doctor, and now getting his first unpleasant wake-up call in the real world; discovering that much medicine was looking after the old, and the poor, and very little was performing dramatic life-saving operations on fashion models.
‘There, there,’ said Rosie, sitting on the bed and comforting the old lady, who was a shapeless bulk beneath her humiliatingly open hospital robe. It was a mixed ward, and the young doc hadn’t even pulled the curtains properly. Rosie did so now. As she did, she heard the shrill tones of someone she could identify even at this distance as the Grade 2.
‘Where’s that bloody agency G grade? They turn up, hide out drinking coffee all day and make twice the wage of everyone else.’
‘I’m here,’ said Rosie, poking her head out. ‘I’ll be right with you.’
‘Now, please,’ said the Grade 2. ‘There’s a mess in the men’s loos you’ll need to sort out. I’d plastic up if I were you.’
It had been a long, long day, not helped by getting home three hours after Gerard to find that the breakfast dishes were still on the table, next to the huge pile of post, and he barely turned round from grunting with a mouthful of pepperoni pizza and Grand Theft Auto. Their little flat needed a window open. And, Rosie thought with a sigh, probably the sheets changed. The chances of her changing another pair of sheets today were, frankly, very small indeed.
So dark, Rosie thought, trying to make out shapes behind the streaky glass of the bus window. It never really got that dark in East London, where she’d grown up. The streetlights, and the cars, and the hum of the traffic and the people and the police helicopter … Then, when Mum had left for Australia, she’d moved to St Mary’s, the hospital in Paddington, where you were never far away from sirens and people shouting, and thronged streets. She thrived on living in the city, had always adored London; its shiny side, and the dark side she stitched up on a regular basis when it came in through Accident and Emergency, or post-surgery. She’d even liked the grotty nurses’ lodgings she’d lived in, although buying her own place with Gerard had been …