Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Morning Warship Issue 1: No packet required

Morning Warship: Issue 1

One day, I’m determined that I’m going to write the history of the biscuit. It’s a fascinating subject and barely touched upon by the mass media. Magazine editors won’t touch articles on biscuits for fear of upsetting their fashion advertisers, which is strange, as we prefer eating biscuits to wearing suits. Let’s have more biscuit ads and less fashion ones! Before we start, I’m not intending for Morning Warship to become a biscuit bulletin, although we may come back to biscuits at frequent points.

We’re big biscuit aficionados in my office, and the UK is the only nation in the world that gets the biscuit recipe right. Most people in my office travel the length and breadth of the world and will often bring back a biscuit from whatever nation they’ve visited. France and the Low Countries have terrible tea-time fancies – all soft and ostensibly flavoured with almond. The American cookie is a better option, but even they can’t top the traditional working-class biscuit of the British. We’re talking bourbons, custard creams and fig rolls here. Yes, fig rolls are basically Bonios with a currant filling, but they deliver a fantastic sweet punch mid-morning.

I once had to write a large, bitty feature for a dolly bird-obsessed lads magazine about the more unusual aspects of British design, things like “trough lollies” – those fragrant cubes you find in men’s urinals, bookie’s pens and chip trays. It was right up my street, actually. The aim was to celebrate the uncelebrated, paying respect to the normal, which is a great idea in itself, and the magazine definitely had the right man for the job.

The Crawford’s Pink Wafer was one of the subjects I was asked to include. This, I found controversial. Those dry flamingo fingers were a mistake of mankind and should have been retired as soon as rationing ended in 1954. I think they sold on colour alone, pink equating to an extreme sweet experience. Even our dog would reject Pink Wafers in the Seventies, such were their universal, pan-mammal lack of appeal.

For the lads mag story, I rang up United Biscuits (who own the Crawford’s brand) press office to try and get a product history, but was told, “I don’t think we make them any more.” I looked at the packet in front of me, that I’d purchased earlier that morning, and wondered if I’d located a “warehouse find”, an errant batch that survived a Crawford’s cull and ended on the shelves of Sainsburys by some fluke of distribution. The press lady didn’t believe me when I told her I’d just bought a packet. She did her best to find a Pink Wafer timeline over the following week, but all details of that foul fancy had been lost, although she admitted they were often pushed into a Rover selection tin, seemingly to make up the numbers. I ended up having to unearth facts myself – and even then struggled.

When I wrote the piece for that s***-for-brains lads mag, which must have been around 2006, United Biscuits seemed to be running down operations of its traditional range, including the fig roll and garibaldi. However, these museum relics are bouncing back – probably fuelled by my office – and recently, United Biscuits re-packaged its 69p price-marked packs (trade: PMPs) to celebrate Crawford’s 200th anniversary. We’ve sometime to wait before fashion brand Hugo Boss marks its 200th year, and even then it will be keeping details of its far-right Nazi past under strict control. Formed in 1924, Hugo Boss used slave labour in the war, and Hugo himself was a driven fascist fanatic. Just think of that next time you’re shelling out £130 on your regular-fit, regular-kind-of-guy, SS stormtrooper Boss Orange jeans. Get a brown shirt while you’re at it!

Sadly, every single word of my lads mag story was changed by some dopey staffer – I mean every word. When I came across a copy of the six-page piece, I went into a rage, obviously. Such was my anger that I ran onto the street and deposited the publication in a municipal bin. I couldn’t have it in the house. My piece read like I was some sex-crazed, porn-obsessed monster who spent most of his waking hours watching pole-dancing. Obviously, I was straight on the phone, and should really have sued for damages, but didn’t, instead choosing to never work for Maxim ever again. I think it’s closed now.

I used to buy my biscuits at a newsagents on London’s Grosvenor Street, simply because it was the nearest biscuit emporium to my workplace. It’s nice to have a screen break around 3.15pm and no manager in their right mind is going to protest to your 15-minute absence if you return with a pack of McVitie’s Hobnobs – which are a fantastic creation. The newsagents was a dear option, unless you chose to buy biscuits that had the price as part of the package design. You could get Hobnobs for a time for 99p, and not the preposterous £1.75 that they’re now on sale for – I’m told: I don’t go in any more. On my final visit to that mixed-goods establishment in 2011, the proprietor, who sits on a highchair all day behind the till, ignored me when I held my hand out for 1p change from a quid. The longer I held out my hand, the more he ignored it.

The newsagent then did the unforgivable. He served the person behind me in the queue. I pulled my hand back and said, “Like that, is it?” I flew to my desk and said, with much fury, “He’s just lost my biscuit account.” For the sake of 1p, he must have lost somewhere in the region of £500 in biscuit sales. I now buy my haul from a Sainsbury’s Local first thing in the morning. And at 55p for a block of bourbons, it makes sound financial sense. Every penny counts; I hope my arrogant newsagent is starting to understand that fact.

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