Mr Jim Keary, manager of a 24-hour garage in Kingsthorpe, Northamptonshire has stopped selling Marmite after his entire stock was repeatedly pinched. "What's the point of selling something if every time you stock it, it gets stolen?" he asked. On one occasion, the thief left two jars behind but came back for them the next night. In all, he has cleared out Mr Keary's entire stock of Marmite four times in a month. The thief appears on CCTV images. He is a thin, bald man who presumably now suffers from whatever is the opposite of a vitamin B deficiency.
I think he might also be intelligent, since in my experience it is intelligent people who develop food addictions. The cleverest boy in my son's class at school apparently eats little else but Cheestrings. As a young man, I was fascinated and appalled to discover that the editor of the magazine I worked for (now a leading columnist) ate a Toffee Crisp after lunch every day. Indeed she was eating a Toffee Crisp when she called me in and warned me that unless I bucked my ideas up she would be forced to fire me – an occasion so traumatic that I myself have avoided Toffee Crisps ever since. Rather – and I can't resist mentioning in this context that I am the holder of an upper second class degree in history – I eat about three Daim bars a week. Daim bars are flat bits of chocolate-coated butterscotch, usually broken. Would I go so far as to steal a shop's entire stock four times in a month? Probably not, especially now that I've revealed in print my partiality for them, but I do judge the quality of a newsagents on whether or not they stock them. I once mentioned this to a publisher of my acquaintance who admitted that he constantly eats a certain kind of tinned cherry pie filling. "There's just something about it..." he said.
I think the word he was looking for was "sugar". Food addictions are associated with sugar and salt tastes and Marmite is the most famously more-ish of the foods in the latter category. As we are all now becoming rather tired of hearing "You either love it or you hate it"... which makes me some sort of freak because I quite like Marmite.
My own salty preference is for crisps, and my favourite type is the northern brand, Seabrook, especially the tomato flavour. As a boy, I would regularly walk from the housing estate on which I lived to the one shop – an off licence in Tanner's Row in central York – that I knew sold them. There I would buy two packets: one to be eaten on the way home, the other while reading a Sherlock Holmes story. On entering the shop, the owner would always give me a complicit smile, which I resented. I was embarrassed about my addiction, and would try to finesse it by first purchasing, say, two ounces of sherbert strawberries (to which I was also addicted, but not to the same extent), and then musing aloud: "And I may as well have a bag of crisps as well... The, er, tomato flavour, I think."
My fascination with these crisps was morbid. They were bright red, and looked radioactive – there was something wrong with them. The pastry of a Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie (which I would request as my last meal were I ever to be executed) is similarly mesmerising, in that it has the precise texture of cardboard in the rain. I tell my wife that her liking for peanut butter and jam is also a perversion, and she replies that she is Canadian by birth and that everyone in Canada has that for breakfast. It's not the conclusive refutation that she seems to think.
Ghoul Britannia by Andrew Martin is published by Short Books