Speakers Corner

I come from a generation that consumed a festive selection box before breakfast on Christmas Day.  For those of a younger persuasion or overseas readers, this was a collection of sweeties (candy for our North American friends) that contained up to six packets or bars of our favourites.  For me, that meant sweets like Mars Bars, Twirls, Kit Kat, Topic, Marathons (now Snickers) and Smarties.  This was a period of many sweet manufacturers in the UK, such as, Mars, Cadbury’s, Macintosh, Duncan’s, and Rowntree.  Perhaps I’m imagining it but there seemed to be a new sweetie launched every month. 

Of course, there are consequence of such excesses; I’m now a diabetic, paying for these binges in later life.  Now, I struggle with what I can eat, which differs greatly from what I want to eat, particularly when it comes to anything to do  with sugar.  It’s a battle of free will versus fate, much like Achilles in Homer’s Iliad.  Unfortunately, there are times when I relent, often related to stress, or feeling down, or when all the family are home at Christmas.  I convince myself that just one cake, or a Milky Way won’t be too bad.  Of course, my blood sugars rise, and I don’t feel well.  The guilt seems so deafening, that is, until the next time.

My favourite sweeties in order were, Golden Cups, Mars Bars, Fudges and Smarties (for our North American readers, like M&Ms).  But they don’t make Mackintosh’s Golden Cups anymore, the Mars Bars and the Fudges have been so reduced in size, that a couple of bites and the rush of indulgence is over in a flash.  This Christmas I decided on Smarties.  They have new natty environmentally friendly cardboard packaging, which encourages the consumer to hoard them, eating them as if rations.  Perhaps some might consider this, but not me, I’m a guzzler.  Sure, I like playing with the new packet, mind you, not as much as the old container, which could be used as a weapon by squeezing the tube hard and the plastic container would ricochet round the room, usually hitting my older sister Fiona.   

I chose Smarties because I could try and eat them slowly, making the experience last longer.  Also, I opted for them because they had a familiar and comforting taste, as if it allowed me to drift off into my warm childhood memories.  However, that’s the problem, they’ve changed the recipe.  They taste awful.  I struggled to eat them.  I can hear you all smirking and thinking that is just desserts, but for me it was an emotional trauma.  Increasingly, I sound like an old curmudgeon, but even sweeties seem to have changed for the worse.  I resorted to eating a Fudge instead, even reminiscing by singing:

A finger of fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat.

A finger of fudge is just enough until it’s time to eat.

It’s full of Cadbury’s goodness, very small and neat.

A finger of fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat.

Yet, it too had changed.  I checked on the internet, ‘do your taste buds go funny with old age?’  The answer was ‘only if you contracted a horrible disease, so I stopped reading. 

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Sue.

‘It’s this Fudge, it doesn’t taste the same,’ I replied.

‘So, you finished the Smarties and now you’re on to the Fudge,’ she sneered. 

I tried to offer my puppy dog eyes, ‘I didn’t like the Smarties,’ showing her the half full container.

‘That’s funny,’ she said, ’I’ve just read in the Guardian that food companies have changed their recipes, due to cost, legislation and manufacturing.’

‘See, I knew I wasn’t ill!’

‘What?’

I read the article, and it confirmed in black and white my suspicions.  Juliette Totterdell was lactose intolerant but loved eating Cadbury’s milk chocolate bars, but they made her ill.  She discovered eating Bournville’s dark chocolate sorted the problem.  That is until Bournville decided to add dried milk powder to the recipe.  This recipe change happened in 2019 and now she scoured sweetie shops for old stock, to hoard them, but her stash has now gone.

            It’s not just the recipes that have changed, it’s the nature of these companies.  No longer family businesses dating back to the 1900s, with quality and uniqueness brand values.  Duncan’s of Edinburgh, or Rowntree’s of York, even Cadbury’s have been subsumed into large international conglomerates.  Efficiency, volume, standardisation and brand extension are their watch words, not product development. In fact, the latest product from Cadbury, is a chocolate bar that tastes of hot cross buns?!!

I can’t help thinking we’ve lost something, and this grumpy old man’s taste buds are protesting, which my doctor might think is a good thing.