I was thinking about what my earliest memory is, and it occurred to me that it probably isn’t visual, and that, of all the senses, taste is probably the first one to have lodged itself in whatever bit of my brain it lodges in (found out again on the subject of my scientific inadequacy). So I guess it would be Farley Rusks, mashed up with milk. (I can remember the taste of NHS orange juice, which was thick, sweet, gloopy and wonderful, and I actually came across a vending machine the first year I worked in Falmouth which seemed to offering the same stuff, but it had gone by the second year.) I had a look to see if I could find an image of 1950s Farley Rusks, but no dice yet. But I did find this incredible site which lists the texts and more of hundreds of TV adverts: try it! – http://www.headington.org.uk/adverts/index.htm.
It is said (and when it is said now, it is said to the onlooking unbelievers) that I did not take kindly to food when I was an infant. Whatever was offered, I kept in the pouch of my cheek, and released again once the adults had stopped pestering me. As the blessed first-born, I gave concern not only to my mother, but also her mother-in-law, who also seems to have doted on me, probably as a son-substitute (my grandmother wept from start to finish during my parents’ wedding, at the thought of losing her only son. My mother was fed up with it – and you can see on the wedding photos that my grandmother looks forlorn and worn out by the hyper-action of her tear-ducts). My mother also had to content with my father’s nanny, who by that time, thirty years after joining the Greenwell family, had risen to a much higher status within it than, for instance, my mother herself.
So when I spat things out, I was causing trouble on several fronts. I liked the taste of Farley Rusks all right (I can still recall their soft, biscuity sweetness – it is hard to be descriptive of food, isn’t it? I know Proust had a go, but I can’t be arsed to wade through his work; there, I’ve said it) – but I didn’t digest them. So, whenever my mother’s back was turned, my grandmother – did she really turn up at all hours as my mother claimed? – would produce something she had smuggled on to the premises, presumably in her capacious handbag, and try it on when my mother wasn’t looking. My mother found this all very stressful. She liked my grandmother well enough (but not my grandfather – ‘a cold fish’), but she didn’t like to be made to look as if she was a ninny in the child-rearing department.
One day, however, my grandmother turned up (I was about one and a half) with some smoked sausage. It would seem on the face of it as if she had gone right off her trolley. It was no ordinary smoked sausage, either. It was a brand called ‘Palethorpe’s Royal Cambridge Smoked Sausage’. And I ate it. And I swallowed it. And, using whatever limited language then available to me, sign or otherwise, I indicated that I wanted more, more and more. My grandmother summoned all and sundry to witness her triumph, after many attempts, about as many as Barnes Wallis with his bouncing bomb, in finding what I liked. From then on, this expensive brand of cooked meat was a staple of the house, and later, when I had a sister and brother, it turned out that they too liked the stuff, and fights would break out, and a jolly time be had by all.
Alas, this brand, and possibly Palethorpe’s itself, has long since gone to the wall (or Wall’s, ha ha), so I have missed my Proustian pleasure (Asda, in the North-East, flogs some locally made saveloys with a similar hit, but the texture’s all wrong). And what happened to Farley Rusks, which I began with? I am afraid they have rather been thrust from today’s limelight. But they exist. Heinz bought them in 2003, to add to their Varieties (of which there were never 57: that was an ad-man’s myth), but agreed to keep the Farley brand on the packet. I have to go shopping today. I might do it, okay, Marcel? Don’t count on it.