Thursday 19 December 2013

Ted Hughes: Half Man, Half Biscuit

Not for the first time (for the second, actually, in a worryingly short period of time), the sound has gone on the television, so we are reduced to watching it with subtitles - very amusing during the news, when the subtitling is largely gibberish. But last night there was a rather wonderful (and well subtitled) programme on BBC4 devoted to what the title called The Great British Biscuit (though somehow the Oreo snuck in there). It was one of Nigel Slater's journeys back to the foodstuffs of his childhood and he was just the man for the job (he did the same thing with sweets last year, and his book Toast is just full of the delights and comforts of the things we first eat and drink in childhood). Slater remembers and understands the impact and deep meanings of food (especially sweet things) to the growing child, and the intense emotional involvement with particular kinds of sweets and biscuits. My own idea of the very pinnacle of biscuit perfection was Huntley and Palmer's Milk and Honey biscuit - a decorated oval cream sandwich with an oval cutout filled with some kind of ultra-delicious honey mixture. It's been described as a 'custard cream on steroids', but that does no justice to its formal elegance and sheer effortless class. It's no longer available, of course - and anyway I rarely eat biscuits now. They've gone from being an essential staple, a comfort and a delight to having virtually no place in my life.
  Among many other brands (I never met a biscuit I didn't like - unless it was those little pink wafers, about which Slater was, I thought, over-generous), I was partial to the Tunnock's Caramel Wafer (though the Tunnock's Tea Cake was no competition for the magnificent Munchmallow). Tunnock's is a Scottish firm, and at the University of St Andrews some bright sparks set up, in 1981, a Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society - a typical piece of laboured undergraduate wackiness. Amazingly, it is still going strong, and duly featured in Slater's programme. In its early days, the society used to send out Caramel Wafers to the great and good, inviting them to autograph and return the wrappers. Among those who did - three times, on three wrappers - was the craggy Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes, who not only signed his name but scrawled a few lines of verse. Here they are - the Ted Hughes Tunnock's Trilogy:

1. To have swallowed a Crocodile
    Would make anybody smile.
    But to swallow a Caramel Wafer
    Is safer.

2. St Columbus [?Columba] ate a heifer
    then wrote a psalm on the hide
    Good News!
    So I ate a Caramel Wafer
    and rhymed on the wrapper's inside.

3.Where the Devil can't get
   He sends the Old Woman.

Perhaps that last couplet strayed from somewhere else...


  1. Chocolate digestives straight from the fridge. I can't eat them now of course, I need to control my sugar intake, but if I get anything terminal it'll be a huge consolation to know I can stuff my face with biscuits again (and resume smoking too).

  2. The Tunnocks factory sounds fun:

    Check out the glorious Jack Vettriano-inspired tableau made of Tunnock people (second photo).

  3. Oh yes, I'd forgotten that - the wonderful world of Tunnocks...

  4. In defence of the Malt Biscuit.

    Compact and highly dunkable this little gem from the West Midlands is the end result of the subtle blending of bovine waste products and biscuity stuff, smells like new born babies and melts in the mouth when consumed sans dunk. Additionally it is ideal for sealing leaking car radiators, tempting mice into the trap and the production of crumbs.

  5. Is that the Malted Milk, Malty? Always had a soft spot for those - picture of a cow on them, v charming... I've never been a dunker, but FYI Slater established beyond peradventure that the very worst dunker is a Hobnob and the best, by miles, a Rich Tea.

    1. It is indeed Nige, with, as you say, hand crafted cows and rich tea are one of the very best English dunking biscuits, I wonder if Nigella.........