Sunday, 4 April 2010

I should cocoa...

Easter is here and, predictably, the shops are busy. The busiest seem to be those selling chocolate because, as everybody knows, Easter and chocolate are synonymous. Whatever synonymous means. Although I’m not one to follow the crowd generally, I thought it proper that an impending visit to my mother in London should, perhaps, be accompanied by some chocolates. This being decided upon, I trundled into Thornton’s on Thursday to see what item might take my fancy. I eventually hit upon a milk chocolate assortment, and joined the end of a queue to make my purchase.

The queue was moving very slowly; much slower than usual. Not that I’d know how fast a queue in Thornton’s generally moves, of course. I hardly ever frequent such places. But it eventually became apparent that the slowness of the queue was due to each Easter egg purchaser (or should it be ‘egg donor’?) availing themselves of the opportunity to have the name of the recipient piped onto the egg in what appeared to be white icing. Each donor had more than one egg, and the shop had not thought it appropriate to designate a single egg-calligrapher for the day. So each transaction was brought to a halt as the relevant chocolatier laboriously wrote ‘Sid’ or ‘Penelope’ or some such on the convex surface of the egg with all the deliberation of a Benedictine monk in a medieval scriptorium. By now I was bored. I looked at the box of chocolates; it contained around twenty separate morsels, and for a moment I toyed with the idea of getting my calligrapher of confection to pipe the word ‘Mum’ onto every single chocolate. I said as much to Mrs. H, but she didn’t think much of the idea, explaining that it might make me and, more importantly, her, look foolish. The idea was quietly dropped. As I handed over my money, I idly wondered how long it would take to reproduce a page from the Book of Kells, using a slab of Dairy Milk and different coloured icings. Quite a while, I thought.

Today saw me shopping yet again, this time for the everyday necessaries of life; chicken, cheese, chives, and, of course, chocolate. I shop alliteratively, you see. Rather like the QI programme that designates every series with a different letter of the alphabet, I purchase foods that start with the same letter and advance through the alphabet as the weeks progress. (Next week it’ll be duck, doughnuts and Danish pastries). As I was scanning the wine aisle for chianti, I saw a curious sign. It advised that, if I looked as if I were under 25 years of age, I’d be asked to prove I was old enough to buy alcohol. I found this a bit confusing, since I’d always understood that the minimum age for the purchase of alcohol was 18. I guessed there must be a very good reason for this, and determined to look it up on the internet when I arrived home, which I duly did. The result made rather less sense than I had hoped. The scheme is called ‘Challenge 25’. Its posters say, ‘If you are lucky enough to look under 21, you will be asked to prove that you are over 18 when you buy alcohol or tobacco.’ But the scheme is actually aimed at the under 25 age group (hence the ‘Challenge 25’ name). So the reality is that, if you’re under 25, and look as if you’re under 21, you’ll be asked to prove you’re 18. Call me stupid, but isn’t the whole thing far too complex? How about ‘if you appear to be under 18 when purchasing alcohol or tobacco, we will require proof of age’? Or, even simpler, ‘ID to be produced if requested’.

As we unloaded the shopping at home and consigned the chocolate to its designated place, I started to wonder why the resurrection of Christ should lead to children consuming an average of two and a half kilograms of this particular confection over the holiday period, so, having exhausted the whole ’Challenge 25’ thing, I spent a bit of time looking for answers. The consensus seems to be that chocolate, being a luxury, is given as a gift to celebrate the end of Lent, a period of fasting and austerity in the Christian calendar. I’m afraid I found this to be a very lazy explanation. Since when was chocolate a luxury? One dictionary defines luxury as ‘something inessential but conducive to pleasure and comfort’. Ask around and I’m fairly sure most people will tell you that they regard chocolate as essential - in a similar category to water and oxygen. The Concise Oxford speaks of ‘choice or costly surroundings, possessions, food, etc.’ Choice? Costly? Isn’t Aldi selling chocolate bunnies for 99 pence each? The Roman Emperor Augustus railed against excessive luxuria in the Empire, but I’m sure even he wouldn’t have stuck a senator’s head on a pole for buying a 99p bunny. No. the time has come to supplant chocolate as the alleged ‘luxury’ Easter gift. But what to replace it with? Some kind of food would seem to be appropriate. Almas caviar springs to mind; weight for weight, it’s more expensive than gold. And it fulfils the whole ‘egg thing’ surrounding Easter. There are even cheaper alternatives around - lumpfish caviar, available from most good supermarkets, is a fraction of the price. Or we could go for truffles. The chocolate shops seem to shift a lot of Belgian truffles, so people might go for an Italian white truffle (tuber magnatum). One drawback is that it doesn’t smell (or taste) like a Belgian chocolate truffle, but on the other hand, it is reassuringly expensive at around £3125 per ounce. But if you wanted to move away from the whole chocolate substitute idea, precious metal is always an acceptable gift. And just about the most precious metal you can get is Plutonium. At around £6,600 per ounce, a pendant made from weapons-grade plutonium is sure to give your loved one a warm glow.

Happy Easter.

10 comments:

Derrick said...

Hi Chris,

And Happy Easter to you. I happen to have one of those lovingly calligraphed Thornton eggs, so mind what you say! I'm not sure you'd get many takers for the chocolate alternatives. It's an indulgence we can permit ourselves because it is usually gifted and not purchased for oneself. I never eat chocolate any other time! Enjoy your chives.

chris hale said...

Derrick - You speak with a wisdom that belies your youth, as always! Curious how guilty we feel when purchasing such sweetmeats for ourselves, in contrast to the pleasure of eating chocolate bought for us. And, as you know, chocolate received as a gift has zero calories.

Ivy Black said...

Happy Easter , Chris.
I once had an out of body experience in a Thorntons Easter Egg Decoration queue. I was so bored of waiting for the kid ahead of me to decide whether to have Charlotte or Charlie piped on her egg, I swear I actually left my own body. I was floating above everyone lobbing chocolate covered marzipan around the shop.
I might have a go at QI shopping...truffles, Toilet Duck, treacle..oh yes, it's looking good.
x
x

Anonymous said...

I only ever fancy chocolate once a month. And that once is not right now...

Anonymous said...

I only ever fancy chocolate once a month. And that once is not right now...

chris hale said...

Ivy - Hi. I've never had an out of body experience. However, I have had an Out of Chocolate Experience. That was pretty scary, I can tell you.

Anonymous - Is there an echo in here?

Ivy Black said...

Morning. I have an award for you over at Black Chat. If you can't collect it in person, you can always send Johnny Depp. PLEASE!!
x

Everyday Goddess said...

Someone was not thinking clearly about the demand of personalized Easter Eggs.

Sounds like I have found a new money making hobby.

I hear Unobtainium is all the rage in the future if Avatar ends up to be prophetic.

rallentanda said...

We have a gourmet icecream here which is hard to get because it is not massed produced and is called
'Death by Chocolate'
If you were about to be executed and were allowed one request you would choose this.
It is sold in a deli right next door to me.I think it will be the cause of my death sooner rather than later but it's a good way to go!

chris hale said...

Ivy - Thank you! I shall post the pic just as soon as I've worked out how to do it.

CG - Apparently, costapacketum is now even more expensive than unobtainium.

Rall - Chocolate ice cream! I only wish it was warm enough here to eat some...it's been bloomin' freezing!