Would you trust this man with your crisps?
A bloke writes
Journalist and novelist Andrew Martin is the author of the 'Jim Stringer' series of novels based around railways. He has written for the Independent on Sunday, the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times and the New Statesman among others.
Sunday 02 August 1998
Certainly it would be very hypocritical of me to kick anybody out of bed for eating crisps, because I spent a good deal of my childhood doing just that. And drinking beer in bed too. (We only had one beer glass in the house, which came free with some petrol but nonetheless meant a lot to my father. So it was very touching that, once a week at bedtime, he would entrust it to me, the light ale within being laced with lemonade).
The crisps were the main thing, though. The crisps and the books. The connection between crisps and literacy will one day make a very good Sunday newspaper story, and I will be quoted at length, for just as Tom Stoppard wrote his early plays by lining cigarettes up on the arm of a chair, and working until he'd smoked the last one, so I measured out my early books in crisp packets eaten in bed: one bag per Sherlock Holmes adventure; maybe three of four per William. The crisps complemented the stories perfectly: the leisurely openings being accompanied by my meditative crunching of the big crisps at the top of the packet; the exciting conclusions being mirrored by my scrabbling after the crumbs in the bottom.
I've always eaten a hell of a lot of crisps. David Bellamy, the esteemed botanist, once said that there are three things in the world that everyone loves: stalagmites and stalagtites (he counted those as one), dinosaurs, and crisps. I suppose the Briton who fell thirty feet onto a stalagmite in New Zealand this week might like to edit that list slightly, but I'm with Dr Bellamy all the way.
And yet the health/dietary fuhrers have done their best to make us think of eating crisps as akin to taking smack. Females have been got at especially badly. If I meet a woman who's in a bad mood, I always think: I bet she had a bag of crisps before she came out, and now the guilt's getting to her, which is such a shame because we British do crisps superbly well.
To appreciate this point, consider the foreign equivalents. You'd have thought that, for a crisp to qualify as a crisp, it had to be crisp - that, surely, is the bottom line. But European crisps are damp even when they're fresh, and they're only available in plain. They're usually called things like "Chippy-Chippititoes!" and there's always a joke face on the packet, as if the manufacturers are saying okay, we know these are crap but at least we don't take them too seriously. I appreciate most makes, but my real love is for the brand of my Yorkshire childhood: Seabrook. There was indeed something of the sea about these - salt, I guess, and a lot of it, or maybe it was just the nautical stylings on the packet. Your Seabrook was - or is - a very pungent crisp and, after a pack of their smoky bacon, your right hand was orange. The only crisps I can resist are these new, purportedly health-giving, yuppie crisps made out of organic potatoes and with flavours like parmesan and shallot instead of cheese and onion. The problem may be that they correspond, however vaguely, to the flavour of the titular ingredients, whereas the whole point of, say, chicken crisps is not that they should taste of chicken, but that they should taste of chicken crisps.
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