I’ve had one hell of a week.
The details are for another blog somewhere down the line where I can wrap my head around the enormity of it. I want to talk, instead, about something very small which, today, has weighed equally upon my mind. Something small, invariably plastic, brightly coloured and… free.
Today is my first day off in a couple of weeks. I say day off, I still have marking to do today and teaching to do tonight but in terms of staying in the house for a bit, I can. I have no food in the house. I’ve been dieting. But what I really really wanted to start my day off was… a bowl of cereal. I haven’t had a bowl of cereal in about four years. I’m not counting Fruit ‘N’ Fibre. I’ve had that a few times. When I say cereal, I mean the sweet, crunchy flakes, lattices or puffs of stuff that claim to be good for you but are just receptacles for sugar storage and transport. Your Frosties, Crunchy Nuts, Coco Pops, Shreddies and any number of other wheat-based goods that sound like slang for distressing medical conditions.
Until 4 years ago, I had a lifelong love affair with cereal. I could have – and frequently did – eat it for every meal. It was the perfect foodstuff. Tasty, crunchy-then-soggy, and it came in exciting packaging. I had no favourite – different moods dictated different cereals. A Saturday off warranted a box of Cinnamon Grahams (why did they change the name from Cinnamon Toast Crunch? I loved imagining each one was a little bit of toast!), a winter morning started well on 2 weetabix with warm milk. A team-time bowl of cornflakes with milk and sugar was a treat, a late night bowl of Sugar Puffs was light and tasty and made your wee smell of them as an early morning reminder to have another bowl.
I was a little obsessed. I bought a book about cereal. That lead me to Flake magazine – a 90’s cereal fanzine by a guy called Scott Bruce – a worldwide authority on the stuff. I started to collect items that combined my love of cereal and my first love – film. To this day, amongst my proudest possessions are original vintage boxes of Gremlins cereal, ET cereal and, my personal favourite, C3PO’s. Thankfully the cereal itself is long gone, but the empty boxes are ebay gold. I’m still searching for the elusive Mr T and Ghostbusters boxes. I’m not doing myself any favours here, I’m aware of that.
Anyway, I loved cereal. About four years and a few months ago, I was living with a now-ex and discovered cereal dispensers. These big plastic things that can hold a whole boxload quantity of cereal in a clear plastic bulb and then you place your bowl beneath it, twist the handle, and it dispenses an appropriate amount. This blew my tiny mind and I dreamed – aloud – of a row of these on the kitchen counter, with every variety of cereal given it’s own. Essentially cereal optics. Like a bar! But with cereal! A breakfast bar! She told me in no uncertain terms that that was not going to happen and it was pathetically nerdy. I could see my obsession had gone too far. The day she moved out, she left me a gift – nicely giftwrapped in a big box. She told me not to open it until she was gone.
It was a cereal dispenser. We’ve barely spoken since she left and, to this day, I’m unsure whether it was a ‘I know this is what you always wanted, you should have one’ gift or a ‘Well, I’m not going to be around anymore so you might as well descend into the nerdy hell you seem so destined for’ one. I assume the former but acted upon the latter. I was single and thirty, I would not have a coco pop dispenser. Dammit, I would not even have coco pops! That’ll show her! So, since that day, no cereal has passed my lips. I use the dispenser for cat food (the dry stuff, I’m not a total idiot.. and, yes, I have a cat) and generally skip breakfast now.
Until today. I wanted cereal. So I went to the supermarket, picked up some milk – I never ever buy milk now – and headed to the cereal aisle. Now, I should say that I consider myself a reformed cerealholic, so generally avoid walking down the cereal aisle. But not today. I wanted cereal.
And, you know what dictates what cereal I want? FREE GIFTS! Little plastic figurines, stickers, devices, holograms, accessories… anything small and crappy and somehow linked to a film that’s currently in the cinemas. So, you know which cereal I bought?
None. I bought no cereal. You know why not? No free gifts. IN ANY OF THEM. What happened to the free gifts? I came home and tried to google it – I found only a few people limply asking the same question but no official response. So, does anyone know?
My childhood was sweetened with free gifts! The E.T. and Jaws 3-D transfer sheets in Shreddies – oh and their He-Man stickers and Ghostbusters water-slide transfers! The Corn Flakes Black Cauldron and Willow figures (the willow figures were made of polystyrene and were crap but I collected them all). Weetabix did Flash Gordon cards, Superman cards, really graphically scary stickers (I got my letter published in the Daily Mail defending them at 9 years old) and loads of different things themed around their bizarre and intimidating gang of skinhead Weetabix characters. I have so many good memories associated with the breakfast box-ripping, sticking your hand in and pulling out some piece of plastic ritual.
I suppose it was done to discourage kids from eating unfeasibly sugary crap at the beginning of the day. It’ll never work. I made a point of not buying any. That’ll learn them.