« Rich Dreams | Main | The Unexpected Valentine’s Day Gift »

The Scrivener: Cereal Stories

…One of childhood's pleasures in England during the 1940s was the wall of colourful cardboard boxes on the breakfast table. Not just a pleasure to look at but also a means of defence. My idiosyncratic father would sometimes cut his toenails at the table…

Who would ever think that cereal boxes could be used as a defensive shield? Brian Barratt delivers another hugely entertaining “box’’ of words.

For more of Brian’s must-read columns clicj onhttp://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his inspiring Web site

One of childhood's pleasures in England during the 1940s was the wall of colourful cardboard boxes on the breakfast table. Not just a pleasure to look at but also a means of defence. My idiosyncratic father would sometimes cut his toenails at the table, resulting in nail clippings flying around. You had to protect your plate from aerial invasion by surrounding it with those boxes, while silently mouthing rude words.

My mother was dedicated to keeping us healthy during the war years (1939 to 1945). Apart from administering necessities such as cod liver oil and malt, which tasted nice, and halibut oil, which tasted disgusting, she kept an eye on our vitamin intake. Vitamins were progressively identified during her lifetime and first marketed as manufactured supplements just a few years before I was born. For the real thing we had vegetables from Dad's allotment, fresh fruit from the many trees in the garden, berries from our own bushes and brambles, and, of course, eggs from our own hens. These all helped during the period when food was in short supply and rationed. We could buy strawberries for a couple of weeks once a year. Oranges were occasionally on sale. Luxuries such as bananas were available only for children.

The hens also blessed us with plenty of manure which Dad could dig into the soil. It was sometimes my task to creep into the dark chicken house and scoop it out. A very smelly and unpleasant task it was, too. Perhaps I had to do it as punishment for being mardy, impertinent or argumentative, I don't know. When a horse-drawn dray, cart, trap, or Gypsy caravan passed by on the road, Dad would send me out with a spade to collect what the horses had left behind. That was very good for his rhubarb, evidently. I was never too excited about rhubarb.

Meanwhile, the cereal boxes on the breakfast table bore memorable names — Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and All-Bran, Welgar Shredded Wheat, Quaker Puffed Wheat, Post's Grape Nuts, and Weetabix. Thanks to Ma's attention to variety in our diet, there were usually three different kinds on the table (and that was enough to defend one's plate from Dad's toenail clippings, too).

We didn't know at the time that Weetabix was an Australian invention. In Britain, it is still made by the Weetabix company, as far as I know. In Australia, however, it was sold to the Sanitarium Health Food Company and is sold as Weet-Bix.

I used to think that Welgar Shredded Wheat was a British invention, because the box had a picture of the grain silos near Welwyn Garden City. You can see where the name Welgar came from. However, it was invented in the USA in 1893. It was taken over by Nabisco, sold to Kraft, and is now on the market in the USA as a Post product. In our family, we called it "straw mattresses".

Meanwhile in the USA, Mr Post invented Grape-Nuts in 1897. One of the mysteries of my boyhood years was how grapes and nuts were involved in this extremely crunchy and very tasty cereal. Well, the truth is that neither of them are used in its manufacture. The good Mr Post apparently coined the name on the basis of their flavour and texture.

The artwork on the Quaker Puffed Wheat box was impressive — a large vertical cannon barrel ejecting a shower of puffed wheat, and a drawing of a happy Quaker gentleman up in the corner. As far as I can ascertain, a Mr Alexander Anderson invented puffed wheat in the 1930s and it was taken over by The Quaker Oats Company, which in past years seems to have been involved in some rather unusual enterprises.

Of course, the dominant name on our breakfast table was Kellogg. This American gentleman was a doctor at a Seventh Day Adventist sanitarium. He was evangelical about good nutrition, vegetarianism, enemas, abstinence from alcohol, and abstinence from sexual activity, including masturbation. Although he did not invent or create the first factory-made breakfast cereal, his Corn Flakes played a significant role in their rise in popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I'm sure my mother would have agreed with him about good nutrition but would have frowned at the mention of sexual activity and masturbation. Such words were not spoken aloud in our family, especially at the breakfast table.
© Copyright Brian Barratt 2010


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.