This was brought home to me yesterday when I popped into M&S, not something I’m accustomed to doing on a regular basis – I find it’s too full of the crumbly and annoying type of old people that I’m determined not to grow into – to pick up some decent tea and a packet of biscuits, on account of the fact that hotels always fail to provide enough of those essential supplies, and what you do get is usually made from sawdust.
Whilst perusing the Rich Teas and choccy digestives, my eyes were drawn to that great British treat – teacakes. I don’t know whether you have them in the rest of the world, but they are a fabulously misnamed morsel of loveliness: A soft biscuity base, squidgy sticky marshmallow innards, all covered in a domed shell of chocolate. They are one of those things that you grow up with – granny always brings them out on a little china plate for afternoon tea – they are, in fact, practically a British institution.
So you just don’t mess with teacakes!
However, that other great British institution – Marks & Sparks – has done just that… There, nestling up to the custard creams, trying to look innocuous and not at all out of place: Salted caramel tea cakes!
It’s indicative to me of a culture that feels compelled to gentrify anything and everything… No longer can we order that standard fare of the roadside transport cafe, a milky coffee, now we all have to bring out the Italian in us and request a latte. It’s the same damn thing, but posher; a social climber of the coffee world. The same is true though of so many things in this day and age: Craft beers, designer phones, gifts that can’t be found on the high street, bespoke furniture… And the overwhelming majority of these wonderful things are no better than the less posh alternative, and some may well be far worse. However, thanks to clever marketing, the average person has convinced themselves that a latte is a far superior product to a milky coffee, even if they are exactly the same thing.
It’s a fundamental part of modern day living that we think we deserve the best – nothing wrong with that, except the people selling us these needful things are hell bent on convincing us that not only do we deserve the best, but the defining qualities of ‘best’ are those ethereal add-ons and superlatives that have no intrinsic value in themselves, but in some way can be construed as adding something desirable. Gone, it seems are the days when we were happy with our lot, made do with what we had, and appreciated the simple things in life – now everything has to be enhanced, gilded and primped and sold for twice the price, even when it’s not worth the extra. Which brings me right back to bloody salted caramel! Back in the day, we were more than happy with our plain old caramel, the simple, homely treat beloved of kids everywhere – but now, that’s just not good enough unless it’s been turned into a posh, ‘grown-up indulgence’ with an obligatory (but totally unnecessary) sprinkle of salt, and most of us couldn’t tell the difference between the two if we tried!
Personally, I quite like the old-fashioned, rough and ready, take it as it comes variety of life. It may not be all new and shiny, and those who live in a more rarefied atmosphere may sneer at us over their skinny soy frappuchinos – (totally oblivious of the irony of the fact it’s a made-up, meaningless name – the ultimate in designer branding!) – but at least you know what you’re getting, it’s going to be familiar and comfortable like an old pair of slippers, and you’re never going to have to pretend you like it – even if you don’t – just to appear cool and froody.
In many ways, SL is like the old-fashioned version of the tea cake. It’s not pretentious, clever, quirky or posh; it doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t; it’s not out to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, and you know exactly what you’re getting, warts and all. Moreover, even though it’s not cutting edge, special, or particularly upmarket, it’s enjoyable, fun, and – like an old car that you’ve had for years – you’re not that bothered about getting it dirty and a bit scratched. It does what it’s supposed to do in a no-nonsense, straightforward way, and if you are looking for something that’s all-singing and dancing, then I’m afraid that you are going to be somewhat disappointed.
However, if you want something with no surprises that does mostly what it says on the tin, and does so fairly consistently, without too much real drama, then SL is as good as any old-fashioned treat that your granny might serve up for afternoon tea…
And I can’t think of a much better endorsement than that. Can you?
I’m just an old fashioned girl with an old fashioned mind
Not sophisticated, I’m the sweet and simple kind.
I want an old fashioned house, with an old fashioned fence
And an old fashioned millionaire.
Eartha Kitt – Just An Old Fashioned Girl