A World without Dad’s Army & Macaroni Cheese


Posted by in October's Magazine

When you start a new relationship, one of the exciting parts/death knells is finding out about your prospective other-half’s likes and dislikes. A sneaky study of their music collection while they’re at the toilet is always good, as is rifling through their handbag and diary if they’re away for a long time. If you can, it’s useful to hire a private detective to produce a dossier on them too, with phone hacking essential. It is sometimes the only way to find out if that new partner ever bought a Toploader record.

Nothing, though, is fullproof. Recently, Mrs Portraits went wildly berserk when I mentioned that I’d never had macaroni cheese. “What?! WHAT?! But…but you’ve never told me this. I didn’t know. This is…Oh my God. No. No, that’s just impossible. It’s…it’s mental.” A detailed and expensive poll showed that this was, in fact, a matter of geography: we Englanders knew nothing of the dish other than its name, and sometimes not even that, while you Caledonian culinaires loved the stuff. You, incidentally, were right – it is rather tremendous, subsequent tests have shown.

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How, though, do you account for Mrs Portraits’ recent revelation [drum roll]: she’s never seen Dad’s Army. I’m out.

We have ways of making you see
I’ve lost my glasses. I know because I can’t wee shat I’m typing. I left them on a train and hope the man who pushes the buffet trolley offers them a brew from time to time. The trauma necessitated a trip to the opticians for an eye test. Yet again, I think I failed it. It’s the pressure I can’t stand.

The optician batters away at me, question after question. “Lens one, or two?” “The red, or the green?” “With, or without?” Ten minutes in and I am ready to confess to anything. Outside the interrogation suite, I try on various frames and can’t quite believe how nonchalant I’m being about moving on to a new pair of spectacles. I’ve hardly grieved for the old pair. I run out of the shop. Out of the shop and straight into a lamppost.

Food Review Extra
In my youth, there were a number of gastric certainties. Fish and chips came on a Friday, curry was something that happened to other people and lots of us climbed mountains for a packet of Tudor. And then there were Midget Gems. Proper Midget Gems. Not the limp-wristed softies supermarkets produced, but Lion’s Midget Gems. Only that badge made them official. All others were imposters that tasted, variously, of mouldy flannels, neglected turf, rotten beeswax, sour gravel, septic cats, decayed gnomes, fetid whelk, putrid traffic cone and parsley. Proper Midget Gems were edible only from paper bags, preferably twirled over with a flourish by the shopkeeper. Then one day, the Brobdingnags of Maynards colonised little Lion, and nothing has been the same since. Gone are the liquorice black sweets, and in are mass-produced Gems that are a distant cousin of their former selves.

Thankfully the original Lion factory in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, does still churn out bespoke originals. Finding them, though, is a very difficult and serious matter indeed. I’d heard whispers of a purveyor in Portobello, so I had my driver, who chargers a flat fare of £1.30, transport me there. So it was that I ended up in Hamilton’s Sweets on Bath Street, I found a little jar of euphoria.

First, a note on the shop. What a place. There was barely turning space for an averagely sized motorised scooter, so packed were its inches with confectionery delights. Sweets young and old, English and Scottish, hard and soft, fizzy and chewy, big and small, black and white, red and yellow, green and brown, blue and orange, Torvil and Dean mingled and sparkled. From behind the counter, an older gentleman served with precision and vim.

Reluctantly leaving this toothsome Valhalla behind, I strolled to the beach and opened my paper bag. What unbridled joy. Midget Gems as perfectly flavoursome as tangible rainbows, each colour original and uninhibited by modernity. The texture, too, was straight from the manual: neither too soft nor hard, they perched wonderfully on the consistency fence. Eating a quarter was as close as one can come to time travel without having to sit in a car with the irksome Christopher Lloyd. Heaven is…a small paper bag.

Score: 10/10
Damage: 87p

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