It’s easy to write about toys and cartoons. Nostalgia works well on these things – they survive the passage of time and for the most part there are indelible records of them. But a large part of our childhood was consumable, literally. I know where my He-Man toy is, but I probably couldn’t tell you what happened to that Trio bar I ate in 1991. All we have is memories… and sometimes a curious stain on the floor. (It was chocolate Nesquik, I swear.)
So let’s take a walk down the supermarket aisle of yore, and rediscover those foodstuffs that may have shaped our childhoods as much as any toy we played with…
I have that particular kind of personality (or possibly disorder) that means I am very resistant to change. I push against the wind, like the mighty yet brittle oak. I’d have an easier time of it if I swayed with the breeze, but I don’t. So I had a bit of a hissy fit when Opal Fruits changed to “Starburst”. I sort of boycotted them for a while, hoping perhaps that sales would fall and the name would be reinstated in a grand ‘what were we thinking’ ceremony. They’d get the Queen to smash a champagne bottle on the side of the factory or something, and name a street “Opal Fruits Lane”.
Uh… Or not.
Anyway, I still think it’s a ridiculous name. But the silly part is, I never even liked the bloody things in the first place.
They had a very distinctive taste. Kind of oily, with a vague generic fruit flavour. You could pick from strawberry and, well….the shit ones. They were apparently lemon, lime and orange, but they all tasted the same to me.
When I was little, the family would go out on day trips to the beach or wherever in our little Mini Clubman. Mum would always buy a packet of Opal Fruits from the petrol station after filling up with Four Star. After taking all the strawberry ones like a lioness tearing the organs out of a gazelle, she’d hand the empty carcass to us kids in the back, and we’d squabble over the remaining flavours like a flock of vultures.
Shortly after the re-naming, Starburst consolidated the lemon and lime into a single flavour and added a blackcurrant. But I still think they all taste like toilet cleaner. And it’s still impossible to get through a packet without eating some of the paper wrappers.
The bastard offspring of Opal Fruits and Nerds, Fruitang were introduced around 1996. They were shocking and new, and I ate about a billion packets of them. Similar in texture and appearance to Opal Fruits, they actually tasted nice, of fruit even, and had sour bits of candy sequestered inside. They disappeared off the market pretty quickly, and I can’t imagine why.
They killed my teeth, though.
We were never a “butter” family. We were a “Stork” family, or a “Co-Op Vegetable Spread” family. So it’s pretty fucking sad that I looked at the tubs of Vitalite in the supermarket with envy. It looked like it tasted great. It was even yellow!
But what I remember most is the advert. It had a sort of reggae feel to it. You had a cool-ass Sun in the sky, wearing sunglasses, singing to a bunch of sunflowers in a field. Often the sun would be holding an actual tub of Vitalite, which begs all kinds of questions. Is he really “the” sun? If so, that tub of spread must be about five million miles wide. All the sunflowers in the universe couldn’t produce that much oil.
I conclude that he’s an imposter. A lesser star, using The Sun’s fame to gain popularity and fulfill a deep-seated yearning to be accepted and liked.
Keeping our eyes turned to the heavens, we gaze upon the mighty Milky Way. It seems that the Mars confectionery company like to give celestial names to their chocolates – Mars, Galaxy, Milky Way and… uh… Twix?
Anyway, Milky Ways were always advertised as the sweet you can eat without spoiling your dinner. It seems almost absurd, now. These days they’re not allowed to advertise sweets at all.
My favourite advert was the “satellite” one. It was basically the same as the “blue car, red car” one from the year before, but appropriately set in space. I was rather fond of the little blue satellite. He’s sort of cute, in that Johnny 5 / E.T way. It’s notable that his opponent, the red meteor, is said to have eaten lots of “Ursa Minors” during the race. It’s a pun, as he’s shown to eat a tin mine (within an actual tin can) named Ursa. Were he to eat the actual Ursa Minor (let alone more than one of them) then puny Earth numbers could not describe the magnitude of such an event, seeing as the constellation is home to several supergiant stars that make our sun look like the standby light on your VCR.
Yuck. I hate Wagon Wheels with a burning passion. They taste like mold. So naturally, I had one in my lunchbox every day for twelve years. Wagon Wheels used to be bigger, too. I’m sure of it.
It’s a bit like Monster Munch. For years, I thought I was going crazy. I used to say “No way should Monster Munch be this small” and people would tell me that I was wrong; I had simply grown bigger. But I was right! These days Monster Munch are as big as they used to be. Which was always a little too big, really. Sometimes I can’t fit one in my mouth whole, so I have to break off the fingers.
The struggle is real.
Anyway, back to the wheels.
They also made them with jam inside. I think that maybe the jammy ones were like 5p more expensive or something, because my mum never bought them. The rich kids up the road always had them, though. I think they didn’t want to be seen eating ‘normal’ Wagon Wheels like the commoners.
I remember well the advert from 1996. It was animated with plasticine figures, and had a really catchy song. People used to sing it at school. There was also a rather lewd version that some of the other kids liked to sing, that basically made it out to be about boobies and not biscuit treats. I sort of get it, but it falls apart with “fluffy mallow and biscuit to be found”.
If you’re ever fiddling around under a girl’s bra and come out with marshmallow and biscuits, you’ve probably made a big mistake.
“A curious stain”