Monday, 25 November 2013


I've been thinking a lot about biscuits recently. Partly this is the result of some idle meanderings for another book I'm writing about my childhood growing up in Yorkshire. But when you think about it, the link is obvious. It's the Garibaldi. You remember -- dead fly biscuits? I can still remember my little sister's look of lip curling disgust as I invited her to entertain the possibility that I might just have crushed a real fly on the biscuit she had just eaten with her milk. She stood up suddenly and, fearing retribution of the kind only a sister can mete out, I made a dash for the door.

She made a dash to the bathroom.

Even my nonchalant whistling as I passed my mother on the landing could not mask the sound of retching from the bathroom.

"What's wrong with your sister?"

"Something she ate?" I ventured.

It can have been no more than two minutes before I heard my mother bellow "Jonathan" down the stairs.

That was the problem with the Garibaldi -- not a trustworthy biscuit. Well, in the wrong hands anyway.

But I digress. My childhood is the subject of another book and now, nearly 50 years on, I wouldn't dream of adding flies to biscuits. I have matured, moved on if you will, in my biscuit appreciation. No longer do I see the biscuit as little more than a vehicle for sibling discomfort. In any case, my sister has never eaten a Garibaldi since.

Nowadays I wouldn't even contemplate such a biscuit -- and why should I, faced with the cornucopia of different biscuit experiences available to me now. Having what doctors euphemistically call a life limiting condition, I don't plan to spend it looking balefully at rich tea fingers or the humble digestive. Even my mother called them 'suggestive' biscuits to make them seem more interesting. She never tired of the joke, chuckling anew each time. Her ability to find laughter in such barren ground only confirms once more to me that there was nothing on television throughout the entire 1960s. Entire sitcoms were based on little more.

Suggestive or otherwise, they're not a biscuit that really comes above the radar. Not even when chocolate coated. And that's saying something since it has been my long considered opinion that pieces of linoleum tile, if dipped in chocolate, would make a perfectly serviceable between-meals snack. But even chocolate, the great Redeemer, cannot breathe life into the digestive biscuit. A biscuit for the mentally congestive.

The rich tea finger is little better. Even the name suggests stolid worthiness. It's a biscuit that makes you think of high tea in the chilly front parlour with nothing but Aunt Primrose, the living prune, and the slow tick of the mantelpiece clock for company. A biscuit that spoke of a wartime of deprivation and grim self-denial. An apology for a biscuit. Even now I can remember Aunt Primrose's look of arched irritation when I asked her if she had any other biscuits.

No, these were good enough for her father and his father before him. I held myself back from enquiring whether these were the actual biscuits so popular with her ancestors. In any case, it was clear enough that, to want any other biscuits was tantamount to putting on airs and graces, a character flaw comparable in 1960s Yorkshire to being a homosexual. Or a Tory.

I made some feeble excuse and it was never mentioned again.

When the glorious Revolution comes and I shall have chance to settle old scores, the rich tea biscuit will be the first to face the firing squad. Quickly followed by the suggestive digestive.

But the Yorkshire of my childhood was a drab monochrome place and the monochrome Aunt Primrose was no more than an embodiment of that. It is against that grey, colliery-scarred landscape that I remember my first jammy dodger. And if ever there was a biscuit to excite a 10-year-old boy, this was it. Firstly, it was red. Or at least the middle was. Unnaturally red. The kind of red achieved as a by product of the petrochemical industry rather than lush fields of ripening summer strawberries. It was brash and bold. A biscuit that spoke of youth and exuberance. If the rich tea biscuit was an Austin 1100, the jammy dodger was a Cadillac Eldorado. Here was a biscuit that spoke of horizons beyond Cantley or Armthorpe. Here was a biscuit that whispered Worksop or Rotherham.

It was the kind of biscuit you would even kiss your sister for.

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