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Newsletter July 2005 Issue No7
In this issue:
* - A haunting visit
* - Garibaldi it's all true probably
* - Mini Irish Tea Tour
* - Animalreviews duck experiment
* - Biscuit news
Good grief we've actually managed to get it together to write another newsletter. Well we've seen a great deal of strife in the world of biscuits in the last few months, mainly down to the flooding of the United Biscuits plant in Carlisle back in early January. Still, we have kept our spirits up, mounting a number of special tea tours, and generally pottering about doing this and that.
Also in this newsletter Theo from the extremely useful www.animalreviews.com has undertaken a special guest mission to access some of inner London's duck population reactions to some well known biscuits. Since doing so Theo has found out that biscuits especially chocolate ones are very bad for ducks, and isn't planning to repeat the experiment and feels slightly guilty. Also chucking bread and stuff into ponds leads to water pollution and is nowadays a bit frowned upon. Mind you I still remember when I was ten and was ambushed by some ducks in the pretty Essex village of Finchingfield who ate the bottom of my ice cream cone, so maybe its payback time.
Nicey and Wifey
A haunting visit
At the start of April The whole NCOTAASD team headed off to Southwell in Nottinghamshire for a lovely evening of talking about biscuits. The literary evening organised by the Bookshop in Southwell's Kings Street and took place in the great hall just next to Southwell minster. Due to technical limitations my usual multimedia biscuit presentation, was shelved in favour of a white board with large pictures of biscuits Blu-tacked to it as I went along. This was not without its own charm it must be said.
We stayed at the old coaching Inn just opposite the Cathedral called the Saracens Head, which dates back to the . We stayed in Room 3 which is where Charles I spent his last few days of freedom in 1646 before giving himself up to the Scottish Commissioners. Predictably it is said to haunted by him, and as such is called the King Charles Room. We stayed in the Travel Inn in Guildford last summer, perhaps the whole NCOTAASD team will come back when deceased and haunt room 27, specifically the bit next to the kettle.
Anyhow one of the younger members of staff claims to have seen King Charles foot during the night as they peered out from underneath their duvet. Fair enough, but it transpires that it was also accompanied by a fairy. I enquired as to how they were certain it was a fairy and received the answer 'Because it was wearing a tutu and had wings'. We let the lady on reception know in the morning in case she wanted to get the paranormal investigators in, or type something up recording the event and bung it in a clip frame. We took our minds off the strange events of the night before by drinking tea for most of the morning in the hotel lounge.
Garibaldi it's all true
Who can be sure why Garibaldi biscuits are called that, but as we point out in our book it's probably got something to do with Giuseppe Garibaldi, the brilliant 19th century military tactician and unifier of the city states form the modern Italy, rather than the bald policeman in Babylon 5. In some ways that's a shame as I used to work with a chap who looked just like him, the bloke in Babylon 5 that is. Anyhow its still a bit unclear the exact reasons for Garibaldi being called that, although two main theories persist. One supposes that the biscuits were created by Garibaldi's field cooks and the other that they were first baked in London to commemorate a visit by Garibaldi.
We were thrilled when the other week one of Garibaldi's direct decedents Francis Garibaldi-Hibbert, got in touch to let us know that her family believe that the biscuit was named after her forebarer. Francis is putting together a number of web sites in various languages to mark the Bicentenary of Garibaldis birth. Of course this almost definitely rules out the chap in Babylon 5 now. She also added that her research on the subject shows that Garibaldi biscuits are mostly unknown in Europe outside of the UK and certainly not in Italy. As such the evidence points at a visit to London ass being the nascence of the the biscuit. Our belief that Peek Freans had something to do with it however looks shaky as Francis pointed out the company was founded two years after the death of Garibaldi.
After such an in depth look at the continuing mystery of the Garibaldi biscuit and its naming, and once again failing to reach a conclusion I feel I should give an Arthur C Clarke summing up. We were told that from his island retreat in Sri Lanka, after a busy career inventing the geo stationary parking orbit, and writing 2001 A Space Oddesey he was pondering the mysteries of the universe. Well we all ponder the mysteries of the universe don't we, island paradise or not, travelling by bus usually sets me off.
At the end of his Mysterious World programs after half an hour of detailed documentary footage he basically would say that UFOs, The Bermuda Triangle, Dragons or whatever was a load of old tosh, before going for a nice walk on the beach. Did you notice in the second series they had obviously taken him to one side given him a bit of a talking to suggesting that he make it a tad more 'mysterious'. From then on he used to grudgingly add that there 'might be something in it', even though it was obvious from his expression he still thought it was all weak minded rubbish.
Mini Irish Tea Tour
You may know we need little excuse to take ourselves to Ireland and sample the heady delights of a way of life that has tea as one of its central tenets. Plus we get to do lots of poking around in rock pools frightening the local aquatic fauna, a big favourite with the younger members of staff. This trip we confined our tea drinking and crab molesting to the Ards peninsula which separates the Irish sea from the tidal Strangford lough just south east of Belfast. Wifey's mum had secured a greeting pack of Kimberleys, not the lovely chocolate covered ones but the more challenging classic ones. I must be getting my eye in because I managed to see off about eight of them over the course of a couple of cuppas, all of which gives hope that the non-Irish bred natural aversion to them might be conquerable.
Wifey repaid the kindness by giving her Dad an large electronic greeting frog, which gives three hearty croaks upon being approached. It also seemed to greet lights being turned on and off the sun going behind clouds and passing cats. Its batteries which were good for six months worth of amphibious salutations were no doubt removed by the time our hire car had got to the end of the road.
For some serious rock-pooling we explored the coast road near to the small town of Portaferry at the end of the peninsula we came upon the Knocknilder bay whose sandy white beach was revealing rock formations as the tide went out. These were stocked with countless invertebrates in need of temporary incarceration in the NCOTAASD travelling collection of plastic buckets.
On our last day we headed to the Ulster folk museum a little way outside of Belfast on the Bangor Road. Here various buildings both rural and urban have been transported from all over Northern Ireland and painstakingly reconstructed in farmland overlooking Belfast Lough. There is even the recreation of a small Irish village complete with houses, school, bank, churches and chapels, and corner shop. The shop which was on 'Tea Lane' had original wooden biscuit boxes with designs on from MacFarlane Lang (Scottish) and Jacobs and Co (Ireland) both of which are now part of the same company. We then nipped across the road and had a nice pot of tea and a sit down, plus some home baked fruited scones, and custard tarts.
On the plane home we flew over the peninsula at a height of 23,000 thousand feet and saw all the beaches and places that we had visited laid out below us. Resisting the urge to purchase dodgy airline tea, and aided by the fact that I had just had a pot before getting on the plane, I gazed at this lovely little bit of the world. Two things occurred to me, as I struggled in my head to convert feet to meters then to kilometres then back again to miles, why do airplanes fly at imperial and not metric heights? Even if it flew at heights measured in miles it would be way more handy. I sit there comfortable in the knowledge that I was as high up as a trip to the shops or something. Actually why do we need to know it at all? The pilot could just say "Although we are going to flying really high up today it's not going to be as high up as we normally go, but don't worry its plenty high enough to get the job done". "Oh.. and at the end we will have to come down quite low in order to land so watch out for that bit". The pilot himself then interrupted my train of thought by telling us all what the visibility and wind direction was at our destination airport, and the height of of the cloud base, again in feet. This just made the situation worse.
Look I know he's (or sometimes she) is very busy up there but surely they must realise that unless it's actually foggy we don't really have issues with how visible stuff is down there. If we did the normal weather men on the telly would have added it to their repertoire long ago and made some exciting little eye symbols to go on their maps. Perhaps pilots don't watch TV and are unaware of this? Or perhaps they are just unavoidably out of touch, locked away in their little cockpit. They never see all the disinterested faces back there, not visualising, views of the airport and its surroundings in 'fair' visibility. I considered telling one of the cabin crew that the pilot didn't have to bother with all of that, because unless I'm planning on flying a kite on a really really long string the height of the cloud base isn't a big concern. Perhaps they should just limit it to such snappy summaries as "It's lovely", "It's a bit parky" or "It's tipping it down".
Animalreviews duck experiment
A special report by Theo of www.animalreviews.com
As we all know, ducks are the greatest birds ever to swim, fly, or walk (somewhat clumsily) the earth. Not only are they delicious, but they quack and bob in a delightful manner thoroughly befitting of a relaxing tea, biscuit, and hoisin wrap based summer escapade down at the park.
But what do they think about biscuits? Armed with portable biscuit tin and thick gloves, I wandered down to my local park to find out. I should perhaps first explain that I live fairly close to water, and as a result spend plenty of time feeding ducks. This is important, because I can tell you that in my experience ducks are greedy but not prone to eat any old rubbish that you throw at them. They are surprisingly selective. Indeed if they weren't, then the entire experiment would be pointless.
I found out about this selective nature the hard way after wasting the best part of an entire Wagon Wheel on some Moorhens last summer - an act of folly on my part that I'm in no hurry to repeat.
What I'm trying to get across is that if ducks appear to be greedy, it's only because we always throw them their favourite foods (bread for example, or surplus McDonald's fries). In human terms, it's the equivalent of a benevolent deity handing out gold ingots. No, ducks are surprisingly choosy - and only a fool would suggest that their opinion does not count in the wider world of biscuit appreciation.
A selection of biscuits was broken up by hand and dispersed generously to the ducks inhabiting the pond in St James' park, London. No attempt was made to court the attention of geese or swans.
Test 1: Hobnobs
Well, the first biscuit tested was an instant success with our aquatic friends, who not only swam straight over in large numbers to sample the delights of McVities finest, but actually seemed to prefer the oatey goodness to the large and expensive looking wholemeal loaf that was on offer by another of the park's visitors. Within 5 minutes I had a loyal cluster of followers, which I felt was an impressive feat given that the high density of these biscuits made them highly susceptible to sinking, thus requiring more effort on the behalf of the focus group to eat them.
Test 2: Jaffa Cakes
Although the debate rages on in the human world, ducks have no interest in the semantics of the McVities' Jaffa cake. After the overwhelmingly positive reception afforded to the hobnobs, I was worried that the introduction of this lurid orange half-breed might upset the perfect pond harmony for good. And I was right - after brief flirtations with the cakey bit, the ducks soon lost all interest in me. My flock of followers decimated, I was forced to relocate to the other side of the pond to re-recruit.
Test 3: Tesco's Value Milk Chocolate Digestives
I could tell that these biccies were stale from the moment I opened them - the chocolate that adorned the south face of each biscuit was practically white in colour and powdery to the touch. Clearly, expectations were low, but much to my surprise it turned out to be something of a hit with the ladies. The boy ducks seemed far less interested, possibly because they had already had their fingers burnt with the Jaffa cakes, or perhaps because like many men, they were loathe to get in the way of the mythical female appetite for chocolate.
Although the crowd that these biscuits drew was smaller than that of the hobnob, I believe that this can be attributed to the fact that the biscuits were a) stale, and b) dispersed in a less duck friendly area of the pond.
Final Test: Iced gems
Nobody seemed to like the iced gems, possibly because the size, shape, and dare I say taste is reminiscent of gravel.
The most interesting conclusion that we can draw from this experiment relates to the indisputable fact that girl ducks seem to vastly prefer chocolate to boy ducks. Why this is I have no idea, but it proves that a) the difference between male and female ducks is more complicated than initially appears, and b) ducks have fairly advanced taste buds (further backed up by the duck's general immunity to biscuit based gimmickry such as orange gel and icing).
Irrespective of these findings, I had a very rewarding afternoon and would recommend all nicecupoftea readers seek out their local duck community and give them all a bit of attention next time the weather turns out nice.
Lots and lots of biscuit news for you this time a great deal of it to do with Untied Biscuits (McVites, Crawfords), and some 'World's first' claims from the normally shy and retiring Marks and Spencer.
The biscuit eating community has been getting to grips with the continuing fall out from the flooding of United Biscuits historic manufacturing site in Carlisle in January of this year. Since 1831 Carlisle has been the home to Carr's biscuits famous for their crackers and water biscuits. Carr's were at the forefront of biscuit technology in the 19th century developing some of the first industrial machinery for the production of biscuits and credited with the development of the first continuous belt based ovens.
In January the whole ground floor of the factory was flooded to a depth of two meters, which obviously played havoc with the whole business of biscuit manufacturing. There was even alarming talk of the whole factory being closed for good and production moved away from Carlisle which would have been a tragic outcome. The government offered a million pounds to help get the factory back on its feet and safeguard local jobs for the 1,000 staff.
The first biscuits to suffer were Bourbons but despite terrible shortages as a nation we somehow managed to pull through. The widely anticipated Bourbon riots (well I thought it might come to that), and the declaration of martial law didn't come to pass. This was followed by short supplies of Rich Tea, Ginger Nut and Morning Coffee. By April four of the fourteen production lines were back but almost six months later we are still feeling the effects, with Rich Tea fingers still in short supply, and the complete disappearance of Morning Coffees. Keep an eye on the news section of the site for news on the situation as it develops.
M&S are triumphant about their new dunking cookies which they are claiming to be first purpose built cookies for dunking. Obviously they aren't the first biscuits, as some people still recall Northumbrian Fine Foods 'Dunkers' from the early 1990s. It also turns out that American store Trader Joes has had a range of very similar dunking cookies for quite some time. So first dunking cookie in the UK perhaps, unless you know different. Anyhow as one would expect from M&S they were very nice but a little pricey.
We also hear that Tesco are about to rationalise their biscuit aisles, a move which will see the dropping of the McVities Lincoln biscuit. This is the exactly the way in which the Abbey Crunch started its slide to discontinuation, so get your hands on a pack before its too late.
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This NewsLetter was prepared by Nicey with some fiddling by Wifey. Nicey apologises for the lousy spelling and grammar.
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