So long to the breakfast browser

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The Independent Online
In the old days, husbands read newspapers at breakfast and wives paid them no attention at all - except now and then when the husband called for a refill and she poured him more coffee.

We know this from old Punch cartoons. All cartoons set at breakfast between 1920 and 1965 showed the same scene. The husband sat with his newspaper propped up on the table in front of him, so that he was hidden from his wife, and she got on with breakfast without him. Telephoning her butcher, perhaps, or maybe even her lover.

I remember one cartoon in which the husband, a beaky sort of bloke, is immersed in his breakfast newspaper that is folded in such a way that the wife can see the headlines on the back. There, facing her, is a photograph of her husband with the headline "Missing Politician Found!" and the wife is saying something like: "How long were you away for, dear?" - which says something about people's ideas about the marriage unit, not to mention about breakfast.

All that has changed now. Punch has died, breakfast is popularly supposed to be dying, marriage is going through a rough period and there are not as many newspapers as there used to be. We still have breakfast in our house, but I never get a chance to read my paper at breakfast. Our table is not quite big enough for all that and, as we are always slightly late for school, there is never time to read the paper, either.

What there is always time for is for my son to read the front of his cereal packet. He now sits every morning eating from his cereal bowl with his cereal packet in front of him, with me reading the back of it, hiding him as effectively from my view as the newspaper in the old days. I suppose I could make it a double barrier with my own cereal packet, but unfortunately I do not like any cereals (except Grape Nuts), so I do not have a packet to put up on my side of no man's land.

So anyway, yesterday I was reading the back of my son's packet of cereals, which I happened to notice were Rice Pops ...

(He does not call them Rice Pops. He calls them Rice Krispies. He once asked me to explain why Rice Krispies were sometimes called Rice Pops. "Well," I said, "Mr Sainsbury thinks it is a good idea to sell own-brand cereals, that is, their version of best-selling cereals, but he can't call his version Rice Krispies, as otherwise the people who make Rice Krispies would be very angry, and he can't use the words `Snap, Crackle and Pop' either, as that is all tied up in copyright, but he can choose a name a bit like Rice Krispies and a packet a bit like the Rice Krispies packet and charge less for it in the shop ..." I suddenly noticed that he had stopped listening some time before, and so I then gave up ...)

It started with this thought: "People often use the expression `it's as easy as riding a bicycle'. If they thought about what it meant they would realise they were wrong. Riding a bike on the road, where there are fast powerful cars and absent-minded drivers, can be difficult and dangerous. Here's how to play smart and be safe ..."

I am sorry, Mr Sainsbury, but you print rubbish on the back of your Rice Pops packet. I have never heard anyone say that anything is as easy as riding a bicycle. Falling off a bicycle, maybe. Falling off a log, certainly. But riding a bicycle, easy? Has anyone ever said that? If so, what were they thinking of?

Have you ever learnt to ride a bike, Mr Sainsbury? Was it easy? I think not.

It is, in fact, harder to learn to ride a bike than drive a car. For a start, a car has four wheels and cannot tip over. You cannot fall off a car. That is a great advantage.

Also, a car has an engine, and so the driver does not have to provide the motive power in the same way as a cyclist does - one less thing to think about. Nor does a motorist's seat get wet if the car is left out in the rain. Nor do a motorist's shoe-laces get chewed up in a car. Nor does a car go in the ditch if you momentarily take both hands off the steering wheel ...

Enough. Suffice it to say that I have ordered my son to give up cereals and go over to newspapers. There is a lot printed in newspapers that is wilfully wrong, but it is not nearly as bad as what you get on the back of Rice Pops.