Tuesday 1 May 2012

Striking a blow for liberty with a bar of chocolate

Got a bee in your bonnet? The obvious solution is to write a polite and well-argued letter to “Views of the North” over the page.

That would be an altogether more civilised reaction than hiding behind a risible nickname and posting a lot of hurtful and venomous abuse on the internet, where an inclination to rant and an inability to spell seem to be equally de rigueur.

But if you really feel strongly about something, how about transforming yourself into a pressure group? You could adopt an eye-catching and mildly offensive name like “Pinkstinks”, which opposes “the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood”. A movement that has gained much publicity and already seems to have achieved some success, judging by the famous Hamleys toy store’s decision last year to axe its traditional boys’ and girls’ departments in favour of “gender neutrality”.

Pink: gone

Or you could try making yourself sound frightfully official, like The Food Commission. An organisation any casual observer might well take for an arm of government rather than a pressure group. I always thought the Council for the Preservation of Rural England was barking up the wrong tree when it watered its name down to the current Campaign to Protect Rural England, apparently because they were worried that some halfwits might take “Council” for a local authority and start bothering them about bin collections.

Rural England: gone

You could call yourself something like “The Children’s Food Campaign” and start banging out press releases condemning supermarkets for having the temerity to sell confectionery near their checkouts, instead of lentils and tofu. You will get acres of sympathetic coverage.

An image "chocolate confectionery - going?" has been removed to avoid potential charges (financial, not criminal) from the money-grubbing image copyright police.

This strikes me as ironic, because I could not care less about the rows of sweets lurking passively by food stores’ checkouts. The only thing that really annoys me is the impossibility of buying a newspaper from our best-known national newsagent without fending off their active efforts to sell me a gigantic bar of chocolate at a bargain price.

For clarity, this claims to be a bookshop and newsagent

I am thinking of setting up some pressure groups of my own to promote a few home truths, such as Children Like Sweets and Boys Prefer Cars to Dolls. These are not attitudes that my wife or I have ever encouraged. We were delighted when our elder boy’s reaction to his first taste of chocolate was “Ugh!”

When his kind great aunt presented him with his first tube of Smarties, we happily let him labour under the delusion that it was a rattle for several weeks. But after a while he worked it out and decided all by himself that he liked sweets.

Nor have we ever had any desire or incentive to point him in the direction of traditional boys’ toys. On the whole, we would rather not have every square foot of carpet in our house cluttered with model cars, tractors and farm animals. But that is what nature, not nurture, has determined that he likes.

We regard saying “No, you can’t have those sweets” in the checkout queue as a good lesson for us in the exercise of parental responsibility, and an even better lesson for him that life is chiefly going to consist of a series of setbacks and disappointments.

Maybe Sainsbury’s in Alnwick might like to consider equipping one checkout with a display of miniature farm machinery to help us reinforce this message, though if they do they would be wise to equip the ones on either side with a generous supply of earplugs.

There may not be too many compensations in being a grown-up, but having the freedom to decide what to buy and what to eat, for our children as well as ourselves, is definitely one of them. The last thing we need is more obsessive pressure groups feverishly encouraging the nanny state to tighten its grip on the minutiae of our daily lives.

In fact, just this once I may strike a blow for liberty by saying “yes” to having that massive bar of chocolate with today’s Journal.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.


CC said...

Just realized that Charlie had
a giant chocolate Easter egg.
First glance it looked like an
American football.
What would you expect from some one
who spent thousands of years in the doll, dollhouse and arts and crafts depts. at the toy store.

Otherwise, enjoyed the column. ;~)

pauleaston1 said...

Ah yes. The unnamed newsagent in Newcastle Central Station. "Would you like a double Snickers bar for 20p with your copy of the Guardian?" "No thanks. Do you have an Audi A5?"