Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Chocolate Bars


Twix bars employ a brilliant yet simple brand of psychological manipulation. Within a single Twix wrapper is contained just as much chocolate-y goodness as you'll find in any other leading bar, but thanks to the genius two-finger device, it FEELS like there's more. Simply by dividing it into two individual sections, the mad scientist behind Twix has managed to create an impression of great value, and the deal is closed with a tantalising gold-effect wrapper. It all SCREAMS "this is some fine fuckin` chocolate, my friend", and you just can't resist the over-and-under chocolate/toffee/biscuit/chocolate configuration. I used to eat my own bodyweight in these every week when I was about 10, so it's a mystery why I am not now an utterly fat bastard. Oh well, I'm not complaining.Top Twix Tip: Try biting out the biscuit from underneath the toffee, working your way down the bar, until you are left with a long thin strip of toffee which can then be rolled into a ball of unequalled confectionery bliss. Then do the same with the other one. Excellent!


Galaxy is marketed as a high-class society girl of a chocolate bar, promising exquisite taste and smoothness of texture, the kind of chocolate a 1980s Yuppie Power Couple would enjoy with vintage wine and candles.However, once you have committed to your Galaxy tryst, cracks start to appear - chiefly, its stale aftertaste. Galaxy's sophisticated exterior has served a dual purpose - to dupe you, luring you in for the kill, and to cover up the fact that it has been around the block a few times - a fact you only realise when the bar is eaten and it's all too late. The experience of eating in itself was not unpleasent, but once the wrapper is binned you come to the realisation that you have taken part in a tawdry liason with a tarted-up chocolate trollop. There is a bad taste in your mouth, and you realise that while Mars or Snickers may be aesthetically unappealing, working class chocolate bars, they are dependable, earthy and have great substance. Galaxy is merely an aloof tart which has just ticked your name off on a list of many, many prior conquests. Eat one and you may well enjoy it for the duration, but as soon as that bad aftertaste sets in, you realise you have compromised your tastebuds, yourself, perhaps your very soul. In spite of that aftertaste, in spite of yourself, you can't say you didn't enjoy the experience - but once was enough.


Aha, Yorkie, the bar that's "NOT FOR GIRLS". It's the world's very first gender-specific chocolate bar! Everything about Yorkie is masculine. Brick-like chunks of solid chocolate, probably WELDED together in a big factory by hairy men with beer guts, with the "YORKIE" legend stamped down the length of the bar in enormous block capitals. You could only make it more manly if it was molded in the shape of a big erect penis.Unfortunately for all its bravado, the standard Yorkie doesn't quite satisfy. It may be chunky in extremis, but it is about two chunks too short to really be worth it. The King Size model overcomes this inadequacy, but at such an inflated price the average-income family may work hard to justify such an expenditure on chocolate, however chunky it may be.


I'll not bore you with the old "WHY DID THEY CHANGE THE NAME TO SNICKERS FROM MARATHON" routine, because it's been done so many times already that even Ben Elton doesn't use it anymore. The chunksome toffee/peanut bar Snickers is a lot like the Yorkie in its masculine nature, but unlike Yorkie it walks the walk as well as talks the talk. It has the substance to back up the boasts. Eat one of these fuckers and you feel like you've just demolished a large bag of monstrously fat chips. Whether this is a purely psychological effect bought on by its thick consistency or if they put appetite suppressant drugs in it I don't know, but it works. Boost sells itself as an energy bar, but personally I'd need to ingest about four of those lightweights in order to keep myself going during a long walk - but on one Snickers, you could run a marathon - which is why its original name made a lot more sense than bloody Snickers. Oh crap, I said it afterall...


Cadbury's Dairy Milk is the lord of all chocolate. It has no gimmicks and no clever packaging, for it needs none. You know what Cadbury's is. Everyone does. It's just one of those things you know, like how to walk or who the first man on the moon was. It's part of The Culture. One of those things you take for granted, something you just can't comprehend might one day stop being made. Cadbury's is such an old, well-established brand that it scarecely needs to advertise itself - its mere existence is enough. This lack of widespread marketing made the recent emergence of the King Size version all the more surprising, because it was just there one day. Intrigued and delighted, you bought it, you ate it, and you loved it, because it was Dairy Milk except there was more. More than the standard Dairy Milk, yet sufficiently less than the REALLY big version that you don't feel disgusted at yourself for wolfing down the whole thing in one go. And now, just like its slimmer ancestor, you have absorbed the King Size into your confectionery landscape, and it feels like it was always there.


I have not eaten a Mars Bar for a long time, for one reason - THEY DRIVE ME INSANE. During a family holiday to Devon in 1993, I was in the middle of a terrible Mars addiction which was turning me into an obnoxious, foul mouthed VIOLENT little sod, posessed with a kind of goblin-like manic energy, single-handedly pissing everyone off and being the sole nuisance in an otherwise wonderful fortnight in idyllic pastoral surroundings. Although I was only 8 at the time, I still look back at that summer and feel ashamed of myself for not having greater self control, and thank God that I had the willpower to break the Mars habit before it consumed me fully, and move on to the mellower waters of the Twix. Mars is sold as "pleasure you can't measure". But for me, Mars was PAIN, maaaaaaaaaaaaaan!


In these days of chocolate plenty where the average newsagent carries more confectionery than a whole sweet shop would have in the 1950s, your chocolate bar needs a cunning conceit to set it apart from its innumerable peers, lest it simply be lost in a sea of identical competitors. Aero's gimmick, which has kept it going for years, is that it has bubbles in it. Lots of bubbles. For some reason this is a tremendously appealing concept, which is bizzarre seeing as effectively it means that a good percentage of the bar actually consists of... nothingness. Empty space. The ether. So Aero is probably highly popular among Goths, who find great delight in the world's only nihilist chocolate bar. If you want to terraform Mars (the planet, not the chocolate, fool), just ship a few billion Aeros to the planet then crack `em open - the sudden influx of free air contained in all the tiny little bubbles will quickly generate a breathable atmosphere. We can then weave teepees out of all the leftover wrappers and raise the first generation of extraterrestrial children under a blue, delightfully cocoa-scented sky.

NEXT: Crisps.

© Ben Rainbird, and all that jazz.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Aspects of the Gents' Toilets - or The Unbearable Lightness of Peeing

Toilet paper
As most gents' toilets are only tended to once every five years, toilet paper is a rare sight. Typically you only notice its absence directly after frantically running into the toilets to evacuate your bowels, then have to wait until nobody else is around and quickly dash to the next stall, a process you may have to repeat once or twice to find one with any bog roll left in it. Try keeping your morale up by whistling the theme from The Great Escape whilst furtively flitting from bog to bog, you'll feel like you're dodging Nazi guards whilst searching for secret weapon schematics or something. If your quest proves fruitless, you must shuffle home in shame, getting odd looks from people who are wondering why there's a swarm of flies following you. If they ask questions, tell them that the flies made you their God Emperor. That'll throw them off the scent, so to speak.

A technological marvel restricted exclusively to public toilets, nowhere in the world will you find one of these machines apart from the humble public convenience. This is because they are as effective at drying your hands as a rubber band is at downing an attack helicopter. The standard push-button model is fairly straightforward to use, but are a dying breed - most shopping centre lavvies now use futuristic Minority Report laser-activated dryers which you activate by gesticulating vaguely in their direction, causing them to blow hot air for approximately two seconds before they turn off again. Regardless of how long you hold your hands under the dryer, you'll still be leaving the gents drying your still-clammy hands against the back of your jeans, which to the casual observer makes it appear that you never got to the toilet in time at all.

Naturally unique to the gents', the urinals should only be used when all of the enclosed stalls are occupied or if you don't mind exposing your genitalia in front of the large tattooed psychopath who is inevitably also using it. When making use of the urinal it is imperative you look directly forwards and don't let your gaze wander onto one of your neighbours' "Esteemed Members". Doing this will either get you a kicking or an undesired boyfriend. The trough-style urinals contain inexplicable bars of horrible-looking yellow soap called "urinal cakes". Their true purpose eludes me, as all they ever seem to be used for is a target in whimsical games of urinary marksmanship between football supporters. Also known as urinal "pucks", for some damn reason. Maybe the toilet attendants play a disgusting version of ice hockey with them or something.

Prostitutes' phone numbers
Not content with filling every phonebooth in the world with calling cards and thus drawing suspicious glances upon any innocent gentleman who has to use it for a legitimate call, hookers also advertise in gents' toilets, with phone numbers hastily scrawled on the wall tiles in felt tip. Some are for males, but the great majority are for ladies of negotiable virtue, leading one to wonder if they themselves stealthily dash into the men's toilets to write them down. If so, do they claim they're transvestites when they inevitably get caught by the male patrons? And more importantly, why the hell am I devoting serious thought to this?

Modern public toilet sinks appear to be designed by the same person who thought up the laser-guided hand dryers, as they share their hot-breathed cousins' gleeful impracticality of use. To use one, you are required to hold down the tap with one hand to make it release a pathetic trickle of water, so you have to juggle between hands, washing one at a time, because taking pressure off the tap for a microsecond immediately cuts the modest flow of water. This mechanism is probably one of the many employed to make public toilets "retard proof", the idea being that you can't just turn the tap on and absent-mindedly leave it running until the entire washroom becomes flooded. Be forewarned that the water itself will either be uselessly cold, or hot enough to melt a hole through RoboCop. A perfunctory soap-dispenser thing is usually included, which is for display only. Don't attempt to use it, as it's either permanently empty or has been filled up with caustic lime by some anarchists.

Helpfully placed above the sinks, gents' toilet mirrors provide the clearest, most unflattering image of oneself since the Portrait of Dorian Gray. Looking into them will reveal and accentuate every single pock-mark, zit, solitary inch-long unshaved facial hair and acne scar that your horrific zombie face has to offer the world. As a result your ego will go on holiday and you'll spend several weeks lurching around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, scowling with bitter envy at the walking examples of physical perfection which accost your vision at every step.

The gents' toilets would of course be incomplete without the "gents" themselves. The term "gentlemen's toilets" originated in the Victorian period, when toilets were wonders of steam-powered Imperial enterprise probably only used by eccentric members of dignitary, the working classes being too ignorant to make use of them, instead humbly relieving themselves into tin pails or out of open windows onto someone's top hat. But since that time the toilets became an equal-opportunity environment, accessible to anyone with a central nervous system. As such most are now the seedy domain of rentboys, muggers, psychopaths, and advertising executives. Thus, the term "gentlemen" no longer really applies. However, there is hope for the future of the public convenience, in the guise of the railway station pay toilets. Which are glorious.
By the simple method of charging people 20p if they want to spend a penny, most undesirables are filtered out of the toilet equation by the principle that they'll be put off the lavvies by having to pay, instead taking their business elsewhere. Unlike almost everything else relating to the rail system, this appears to work perfectly, and thus station toilets are again exclusively the realm of the dedicated urinator.