Haven't we bean here before?

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Just as Gauloise cigarettes always seemed to smell nicer than they tasted, and just as smelling coffee is usually better than drinking it, so there are certain foods which are better in the memory than in reality.

Cornflakes are one. I can remember in the dim, out-of-focus past having enjoyed eating the things, but whenever I now try to eat cornflakes I find the experience quite revolting. Those crispy little flakes of sunshine turn into soggy bits of recrimination as soon as they touch milk, and a plate of cornflakes with milk and sugar is about as cheerful to me as a wreckage-filled canal lock just after a horrific boating disaster.

Another food which seems to find it hard to live up to the golden glow of memory is the ordinary potato crisp. Every time we reach for a crisp we remember crisp-eating as it used to be - the delightful shock of the salt, the slight oily glow which spreads over your mouth like the sheen of the open sea, and the deafening crunch of the crisps being massacred inside your mouth, as if you have a small bunch of Cuban drummers tucked away inside there. And for a moment that is true, even now, with the first crashing together of the jaws.

But what we forget is that very soon - very, very soon - the potato crisp becomes the potato soggy, just like the cornflake disintegrating, and that to restore the feeling you have to stuff some more untouched crisps in your mouth until you suddenly find you have gone through the whole packet and you are desperately searching for untouched bits in the two bottom corners of the empty crisp bag, sticking your moist fingertips right into the angle and feeling them come away sticky with salt and oil and a fine sawdust made out of ground potato crisp ...

And then, when you have dismissed the experience as another failure, you realise the experience is not over yet, as your teeth are still full of tiny unfinished bits of potato crisp, all now sodden and sullen, and that the inside of your mouth is like the lawn after a wedding, just after the marquee has come down, full of damp bits of confetti, abandoned bunting and paper napkins which have gone too far for recycling, and you spend the next two or three hours sending your tongue out like a park attendant, spiking stray bits of potato crisp and disposing of them in the litter bin called your throat.

This melancholy train of thought was set in motion by the news that Heinz, to celebrate the 100th birthday of its baked beans, has decided not to stand aloof from the own-brand market but to allow supermarkets to sell Heinz beans as their own beans, although - Heinz adds quickly - the own- brand beans will not be as good as Heinz's own beans sold under the name of Heinz.

An announcement like this is always given space in the news bulletins (remember how the Coca-Cola change of recipe was whipped up into a news item?) but it's not the sort of thing you hear talked about in the pub much.

Nor do you tend to overhear businessmen in first-class railway compartments saying to each other: "What do you reckon to Heinz's decision to branch out into the own-brand world after all these years, then, Neville, and do you think it's sending out the right messages?"

I think this is for two reasons (quite apart from the fact that we don't often haunt first-class railway coaches). I think it's partly because, if we ever thought about it, we had assumed all along that supermarket own-brand baked beans were always made by Heinz anyway, and partly because baked beans fall into the same category of foods which are much better in memory than they are in real life.

Be honest. If you were out in a restaurant, and you were paying for your meal, would you voluntarily include anywhere in your choice a selection of anonymous white beans covered in machine-made tomato sauce?

Put it another way. The last time you had baked beans, was it not as a bit player in a large-cast production? Were the main parts not played by things like sausage, bacon, tomato, egg, fried bread and mushrooms? And did not baked beans come on as an afterthought? As unnoticed as the housemaid in an Agatha Christie play?

All right. All right. You have recently had baked beans on toast, all by itself. But did you actually enjoy it?

(The answer to this comes tomorrow, after the libel lawyers have had a close look at it.)

Comments