Friday, July 12, 2019

Food Memory betrayed: Jacob's Club, ruined by the French, reclaimed by the Irish



Food memory. It’s a funny thing, our ability to recall the shape, texture and taste of  particular foods. Childhood taste experiences not only resonate down the years, but influence our adult food choices. We seek out the morsels which recreate past, innocent pleasures.

And sometimes, food memory deceives. Of late I’ve been eating Jacob’s Club Orange biscuits reasonably often, for one simple reason: my wife hates them, and so does my daughter, who was home for the summer. Therefore I could guarantee a secure supply of sweetmeats was lurking in the fridge when I came in from my daily grind of mild dogwalking, in need of a snacky sugar rush.
Memory played its part, of course. Club biscuits were as near a chocolate bar, a proper sweet, as you could get when I was a child in the 1960s, and cheaper than a Mars or a Crunchie.

But I’ve gradually become aware that the Club Biscuit is different these days. I always recall it as squat, brick-like, very chocolatey, very crunchy. It still has a hint of that that, but it has definitely slimmed down. It’s thinner,  there’s less chocolate. I didn’t realise the reasons for that, or that the Club is mired in fear, loathing, hatred, anti-French sentiment, anti- (and pro-) Irish sentiment. 
It all starts in Ireland, where, just prior to World War One, WR Jacob started producing the ‘Club Milk’ biscuit from a tiny bakery in Waterford. They quickly moved to Dublin and grew. It was a classic format: two biscuits, sandwiching cocoa cream, surrounded by thick layer of milk chocolate, wrapped in foil and then a slip wrap of paper. Within a year it was being made and marketed in the UK, from the company’s Liverpool factory. By the 1920s, the UK and Irish branches were operating separately.


The range expanded (orange, fruit, mint, plain, even a honeycomb version ) and became hugely popular in the UK, until in 1970 the Irish and British divisions of Jacobs were separated. If you’re old enough you may still remember the ‘playing card’ packaging used for the original biscuit, which provided the name ‘Club’ in the first place.

‘If you want a lot of chocolate on your biscuit, join our club.” The jingle was everywhere and there WAS a lot of chocolate on a Club. You could nibble it off leaving the biscuit layers shorn and naked. Oh, and despite many west of Scotland jokes, Orange Clubs had and have no sectarian connotations.
Disaster struck in the mid 1990s when French firm Danone bought both the Irish and British branches of Jacobs. They changed everything: The packaging (no foil, no paper, just cellophane) and the recipe. One biscuit, less cocoa cream, a different, thinner layer of ‘chocolate-based coating’. There was outrage. Sacre Bleu!

In 2004 things got complicated. Danone sold the UK arm of Jacobs to United Biscuits who reinstated the packaging but left the skinflint French single-biscuit recipe intact. The Irish arm was sold to the Fruitfield Group, and Jacob Fruitfield Foods was formed, who are now marketing the original Jacob’s Milk Club, made exactly according to its full-thickness, double-biscuit, real chocolate recipe. There are stories of legal action in Ireland to stop cheaper (and inferior) biscuits being imported. And Jacobs in the UK are apparently in frequent legal ‘communication’ with Jacob Fruitfield over the use of the name on a number of other lines (like Cream Crackers, for instance; you can see how confusion could arise). Then in 2014 United Biscuits was acquired by Turkish group Yildiz for a reported  £2bn and is run by a division of the business called Pladis, whose other brands include McVitie’s. Last year (2018) there were reports that the Jacobs biscuit factory was for sale.

As for availability of the ‘Original Milk Club’ in the UK, I know nothing, though I am hoping to source some next month during a trip ‘across the water’. No double wrapping, though, if the pictures are anything to go by.

In 2008, the massive old Jacob’s factory in Tallaght, Ireland, closed, although biscuits are still being made elsewhere. As for Jacobs in the UK, I have my Orange Club, and I quite like them. The thing is, before researching this piece, I had no yearning for the old, higher, double-sandwich, real chocolate pre-Danone version. My food memory had been traduced.

Now I want them back. Now I remember. 

A wee political domestic...




It seems nobody loves me
But you and the SNP
I know you’re quite particular
But I’m not sure about Nicola
Our relationship was full of promise
But in her e-mails she calls me ‘Thomas’
She never uses ‘Tom’ or ‘Tommy’
She's always wanting money from me
Her or that Peter Murrell
I'm not inclined to quarrel
But they don’t seem to remember
It’s six months since I was a member

At least you know how to say my name
And married life is pretty much the same
I cook your breakfast, lunch and tea
Although politically we disagree
About the basics of independence
We both hate the binary nature of referendums
(Although some say the plural’s ‘referenda’)
I detest everything about Eastenders
You never miss a single show
But there’s one thing we both know
One unifying truth we’ve been absorbed in
Neither of us can abide Jeremy Corbyn

That romantic, 1970s pseudo-Marxist
That deluded, arrogant  narcissist 
Who’ll destroy the Labour Party, given time
I don’t know why you’ve not resigned
But where would you go then?
You ask how I can defend
The posturing hypocrisy
Of the governing SNP
Navigating a road to ruin
When there’s so much they could be doing?

Truth is, I'm no starry-eyed student
And I wouldn't.
As for  the Greens and the Lib Dems
No-one gives two Tweets about them
And their fantasies of power and glory
Don’t even mention the Tories
Who - some of my best friends fear -
Could be in power for the next 15 years
In thrall to the far right
Led by a suppurating bucket of Etonian shite

Oh, it’s a crisis, all right; but let’s not make it a domestic drama
We both like Homes under the Hammer
And though, largely, I favour secession
We need to wait for a proper recession 
When London house prices start falling
And the Trotskyist Hampsteaders start calling
Estate agents in Wick
Saying: 'Buy me a shooting lodge, quick'
And Dion Dublin's advice
Is that Thurso is nice

I know, I know. It's a fantasy
Fuelled by daytime TV
So let's not argue, please
Have some more toast and cheese
Crowdie for me, and  Cheddar for you
Camembert or Rauchkässe would do
Cambozolo, Weisslager, 
Queso Cabrales or Limburger
Manchego, Roquefort, or Mimolette

At least Brexit hasn't happened
Yet.











Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trowie tragedy. Wind farm proposals blamed



(With thanks to Rev Couth Rivvens (retd) for this contribution)


As can be seen from the photographs which accompany this instalment of North Notes, disaster has struck the burgeoning community of trowies just off the main A970 near the Heights of Olnesfirth. It is understood a combination of the recent northerly breezes and marauding sheep have caused some of the trow offspring to come to grief, either through being wedged in crevasses, or simply falling over and being unable to rise from their prone positions. One trow has complete lost his (or her – it is difficult to ascertain gender among trows) hair.

The invisible presence of trows in the empty hill land between the Flossy Loch and the Burn of Eela Water has been an accepted fact for many generations, but their more public advent in recent times is thought to be connected with the prophecies of the 18th century hermit known as the Shunn of Sheenabrek. He it was who warned, in a statement made while he was being forcibly removed from a Christmas service at the old Hillswick Kirk, of ‘a great advent of whirling wheels in the sky over Hamargrind Scord’, which is now thought to be reference to the impending Contracts for Difference auction  regarding the Viking Energy windfarm at the Lang Kames. 

The Shunn also said, as he was submerged in the sea off the West Ayre by Kirk minister Rev Humpff Bailliwick in an effort to shut him up, that ‘the Trows of Flossy will stand guard against wind farm developments anywhere in Eshaness’, a  statement little understood at the time by  those watching. However, the appearance of, initially, a mother and father trow and what is clearly a flourishing offspring, followed by perhaps a dozen much smaller creatures (known as ‘micro-peerie trowies’, and once extremely common in North Roe) has caused much conjecture locally as to the relationship between windpower developments and the trowie population, so long well-nigh dormant, except in Bressay.

Suggestions that electric fencing and windbreaks be erected to prevent sheep causing further alarm, despondency and injury to the trow population have been vetoed by locals, concerned at the possible effect on the many tourists who stop to photograph and occasionally bend the knee in trowie-worship. 

A proposal for grant funding to carry out a consultation on possible trow-protection measures is understood to be on its way to the SIC, and meanwhile, anyone passing is urged to stop and rescue any fallen or wedged trows. An application for retrospective planning permission to site what is called ‘suitable trow accommodation’ nearby has been with the SIC Planning Department for, it is said, over 20 years.

There are no plans for any major windfarm developments in Eshaness. Yet. Though it is understood some steps have been taken.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Seven Waves - the finished installation


From now until September, the 'Seven Waves' installation by Erlend Brown and Dave Jackson is open to the public at St Clement's Church, Rodel on the Isle of Harris. See posts below for details.

Based on the the cycle of poems by George Mackay Brown called Tryst in Egilsay, which have been specially translated into Gaelic for this project, the spectacular sails painted by Dave and Erlend meditate on the tragic - and inspiring - events on Egilsay, which saw the martyrdom of  the Earl who would become Saint Magnus.

Seven Waves was opened on 1 June by Jane Ryder, chair of Historic Environment Scotland, the organisation which manages St Clement's.

All photographs by Lea Schuetz-Cohen






Friday, May 31, 2019

First pictures of 'Seven Waves' installation at St Clement's, Rodel, Harris



'Seven Waves' opens at St Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris, on Saturday 1 June, and will be there until September. The huge 'sails' painted by Dave Jackson and Erlend Brown to interpret George Mackay Brown's poem-cycle 'Tryst on Egilsay', about St Magnus, Earl Haakon and the murder of Magnus offer a breathtaking counterpoint to the stunning medieval architecture of this ancient Hebridean kirk.  All photographs by Lea Schuetz-Cohen.

A write-up on the project is in the latest Orkney News.