Thursday, May 26, 2011

Denmark bans Marmite - this means war

By the time you read this, there will more than likely be a war on.

A war between countries traditionally seen as allies. A war between two former close friends, linked by common threads of history and heritage, proud bastions of democracy, freedom and justice.

Yes, dear reader (or readers, if there’s more than one of you left by now), before these words reach the public domain, it can confidently be predicted that Britain will be at war with Denmark.

You’ll probably know why. As reported widely in the media earlier this week, Denmark has banned Marmite.
Say it again slowly for full effect: Denmark. Has. Banned. Marmite.

There’s little more to say, but a lot more space to say it in, so let’s expand for a while on that ghastly thought.

It’s one of life’s great constants that you either love Marmite or you hate it. And if you hate it, you’re wrong. Fact. No arguments, please.

Marmite is the spread that made Britain great.

Marmite is to us Britons what the druid Getafix’s magic potion was to the Gaulish warrior Asterix.

Marmite takes mewling toddlers and moulds them into 16-stone second-row rugby forwards.

Marmite braces you at breakfast, lifts you at lunch and succours you at suppertime. A world without Marmite would be pale, insipid and downright unsavoury.

Yeasty, salty Marmite is packed with vitamin B12, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, celery extract and lots of other good stuff.

And that’s what those dastardly Danes don’t like. Back in 2004 they passed a law banning the addition of vitamins to foodstuffs. Now, seven years later, they’ve started to enforce it, and Marmite is vanishing fast from the supermarket shelves of Copenhagen, Aarhus and Esbjerg.

Not that it was ever much of a hot product in the land of Hamlet, little mermaids and Sandi Toksvig. If you ever visit a real Danish supermarket, you’d be hard-pushed to find anything that doesn’t taste of smoke. Or caraway seeds. Or both.

Let’s lighten up a bit. Time for a Danish joke. Q: Where do you hide a slice of Danish bacon? A: Behind a glass of water.

No, this won’t do. There are some things in life you have to take seriously. And the Danish Marmite ban is one of them.

Maybe it won’t actually lead to war, but it will certainly lead to a roaring trade in food parcels to our beleagured ex-pat friends and relations.

And it won’t just be Marmite in the parcels. Horlicks, Ovaltine and Farley’s Rusks have all fallen under the wrath of the Dane. As has the Vegemite, the antipodean version of our national spread. Never tried it, personally, but some folk swear by it. ("Bloody Vegemite," they say.)

It’s easy to see the roots of the ban in a massive and hitherto well-hidden international conspiracy. Prince Philip, of course, is closely related to the Danish royal family, and it’s a well-known fact that he doesn’t like Marmite (subs please check). Plus Iceland used to be part of Denmark, and they’re chucking another shedload of volcanic ash in our general direction. So it must be true. The Danes are out to get us.

 But as with all good conspiracies, and to quote one well-known Dane: “The rest is silence.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Biometric scan, you chaps? What a wizard wheeze!

Extraordinary news from a Bath secondary school, which has announced that it intends to do away with lunch money and instead identify and charge young diners by means of a biometric scan.

From early June, students at Beechen Cliff School will have their fingerprints digitised and converted into alpha-numeric data (it says here). The aforesaid data will be held in a database (because that’s what you do with data, innit?) and will be used to determine who gets to eat how much of what.

As the lads queue up for lunch they’ll pass their fingertips over a detector which will work out who they are, calculate how much their ever-willing parents have coughed up this week, and - all being well - begrudgingly let them into the dining hall to enjoy a hearty luncheon.

Gone at last will be the traditional method of paying for your lunch by dragging a Year Seven round behind the bike sheds, holding them up by their ankles and shaking them until the money falls out.

The idea of this new technological advance is, of course, to reduce fraud and cut down on cash handling. An excellent plan: the less cash schoolkids have the better. After all, they only spend it – what do they think money’s for, anyway?

And you’d have to be pretty inventive if you wanted to cheat the system. Rather than shaking down a Year Seven (literally or metaphorically), you’d have to transfer a precise copy of the whorls, loops and arches of his fingerprints on to the tips of your own, no doubt inky, digits. Quite a project for the budding biochemist.

Of course, in the good old days of Greyfriars School things would have turned out rather differently. Let’s put our collective ear to the door of The Remove.

“I say, chaps,” said Billy Bunter. “Old Quelchy’s come up with a wizard wheeze. The whole Remove has been told to queue up in the San to have our dabs taken. Then he’ll find out who ate all the pies!”

“Cheese it, Bunter, you burbling chump,” piped up Harry Wharton. “Everyone knows who ate all the pies: it was you!”

“You bally rotter, Wharton,” groaned the Fat Owl. “That’s a jolly unsporting thing to say about a fellow! But what do you think Quelchy will do if he catches me?”

“Six of the best at the very least, I should say,” chimed in Bob Cherry.

“Yarooh!” yelped Billy.

(Which is "Hooray!" backwards, fact fans. Never let it be said this stuff isn't educational.)

To cut a long story short, Billy and chums escape with a jaw from the head, Coker the bully is dunked in the fountain and Mossoo the French master lays on a banquet of buns.

Weekly for many years, The Magnet comic ran a Bunter story, usually penned by the inimitable Frank Richards. The characters really did say things like “Cheese it!” and “Yarooh”, and graphic descriptions of corporal punishment featured heavily.

Real life wasn’t a great deal better: along with the public school antics in an edition of 1929 are printed adverts for free passages to Ontario for “approved boy farm learners aged 15 to 19”. Licensed slavery, by the sound of it.

Not, of course, that anything like that would ever happen at Beechen Cliff. But digital prevention is certainly better than cure.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Funky monkeys take the biscuit

If ever you should feel in need of a damn good frightening, then the best place to start is very definitely in front of the TV in your own sitting room.

Of course there’s the news, in which you can confirm your suspicions that the world is a very nasty place.

There’s the new series of The Apprentice, in which you can similarly confirm your suspicions that this year’s crop of would-be entrepreneurs are twice as mercenary, and twice as unaware of their own failings, as last year’s.

And if you’re in the market for liberal quantities of blood, guts, violence and swearing, then switch to the right channel at the right time and you might just happen to catch Gordon Ramsay’s Adventures With Offal. All right, that last one isn’t a real programme. But it could be, easily.

Still, there’s no doubt that one of the scariest sights on TV at the moment is that advert for Jammy (and other flavour) Dodgers.

For those of you who haven’t yet been scared out of your skins by it, here’s a synopsis.

Young lady stands in supermarket biscuit aisle. Amid the innocent-looking digestives are the Dodgers – not just Jammy but Toffee too.

And scampering above the Dodgers are two of the most evil-looking creatures you’ll ever see this side of a re-run of King Kong Meets Godzilla.

They’re both monkeys, but not the cute and cuddly kind. They’re CGI monkeys with cold, hard, staring eyes, and they’re trying to tempt the young lady into buying their wares.

“Jammy, jammy, jammy,” says the jammy-coloured one. “Toffee, toffee, toffee,” says its toffee-coloured counterpart.

(In another version of the ad there’s a choccie-coloured simian too. Guess what he says?)

All the monkeys have frills around their necks that resemble distorted Elizabethan ruffs, but are obviously intended to look like the biscuity bit of the biscuit.

But there’s something about their eyes that completely freaks you out. Dark pools of evil they are, where malevolence swims as purposefully as – well, a very purposeful malevolent swimming thing.

“Buy MY dodgers,” they seem to say, “or you will float with me down to the nether depths of Hell.”

If the makers of all these different Dodgers – that’s you, Burton Foods of Cwmbran – had wanted to frighten us off their Jammy, Toffee or Choccie varieties for life, they couldn’t have tried harder.

Or perhaps they could. Because now there’s a new contender for the title of Scariest Thing on TV. Another animal: a stuffed bear. It interrupts a Mediterranean tête-à-tête supper to tell the lurve interest – whose name is Janice – that her holiday need never end if she opens a packet of Birds Eye Emperor Prawns.

Visions like this give children nightmares, and should only be shown after the watershed.

No, if we have to have odd creatures on TV, then bring back The Goodies’ Funky Gibbon. At least you could dance to that.