Marmite and Anchovies

Ask a hundred people, ‘Do you like Marmite, yes or no?’ and there’d be near enough fifty in each camp. Marmite is the old favourite – the one that comes to mind. Ask another hundred, ‘Which product do you most associate with loving or loathing?’ they’d all say Marmite. Clever marketing by Unilever, I’d say.

And it offers a spirited avenue for social exchange. In a room full of strained conversation, Marmitetry yelling:

‘Listen everyone! Hands up those who like Marmite.’

Half the people raise a hand and the mood lightens. The ‘Not been a bad day’ gambit is gone, and conversations move swiftly on.

But Marmite doesn’t have it all its own way. There are plenty of other contenders.

‘Do you like anchovies?’ would not be the greatest chat-up line on a blind date. Personally I love the salty little creatures, especially to spice up a pizza topping. Change the question to black pudding (or lard – same thing) and you might get a good slap. But I’d wager the outcome for both on a wider headcount would be 50-50.

And it’s not just food where opinion is polarised. Social media is a good candidate. From its original idea of connecting people socially, Facebook has developed into a must-have tool for commercial organisations and those espousing causes like ‘Save the Thin-Skinned Wombat’ or ‘Buy My Hand-Crafted Lemon Curd.’ I should know – I use it to promote my book, Utterly Undiscovered.

There – I’ve just done it again! But to use Facebook and Twitter effectively, you have to trawl through a mountain of other stuff, and I hate that. I’ll bet a joint survey of users and non-users would confirm split interest.

Staying with electronics, the Kindle is a contender. Yes, usage grows apace and book sales have shrunk, but pros and cons for each format surely leave equal numbers enjoying both.

Book ReaderThe same applies to predictive text (PT). I’ve had mobiles where PT works perfectly and others where the text comes out weird or rude. For everyone who swears by PT, I know as many people, some far techier than me, who loathe it – though qwerty keypads have to an extent sidelined its use.

Back to food, and how about kippers? Traditionally a breakfast dish, yet arguably one of the sharpest, most lingering tastes you could offer a palate dried up by eight hours of rushing air. In Utterly Undiscovered, My Basil loves telling guests about the bride-to-be who stayed the night before her wedding and chose kippers for breakfast. Definitely an acquired taste – you love ’em or hate ’em.

Olives evoke a similar response. Personally I like green olives, de-pipped and stuffed with pimento, anchovy or cream cheese. But I’m less keen on unpipped, unstuffed olives, especially black ones, where the sourness of the olive prevails. There are those who won’t touch them and those who demolish a whole bowl, waiting for the chicken to come off the barbecue.

On the move, I love public transport. Always have done – bus, train, boat, plane. It’s escapism and adventure – away from routine and responsibility. Must be the nerd in me – from train-spotting days on the Southern Region. And these days, as a writer, it offers a rich source of material, not just about places I go but people’s behaviour. But there are as many who use public transport only as a last resort, preferring the security and control of their own car.

The train may take me to a National Trust property, where I’m offered a guided tour. I loathe guided tours. The herding nature of tour guides means going at the pace of the slowest and in the direction you’re told. I remember once a guide calling ‘Come by!’ like One Man and his Dog. And does it really matter whether things happened in 1489 or 1490? I’ve paid my hundred pound entrance fee and want to poke around by myself. But for others, the tour is a godsend – safe, sociable and included in the two hundred pound entrance fee.

AnchoviesOr I might be on the way to a reunion, as long as it’s with a few close friends. Three or four hours in a room with forty others, usually same sex, many of whom weren’t friends fifty years earlier, haven’t been in touch since and likely won’t be again is hard work. But many people do thrive on such reunions. I suppose it’d be okay talking about Marmite. Or anchovies.

Other foods spring to mind. ‘Bits’ in orange juice seem equally loved or hated. Likewise mushy peas. I enjoy both – nothing like mushy peas with fish and chips occasionally.

And a major contender must be offal, particularly liver. A cheap and plentiful source of protein and iron, liver was, until the outbreak of BSE (Mad Cow Disease), a commonplace product, warranting eye-level space on supermarket shelves. But when cattle began turning in circles and being put down, politicians, who spend their entire working lives turning full circle and putting each other down, banged the final nails in the offal coffin. I love a rich liver and bacon casserole. I make a good one myself, and I’m always delighted when an enterprising cafe places it proudly at the head of the menu. Consigning these tasty innards to a small corner on the top shelf surely belies their popularity.

So those are my contenders for ‘Love or Loathe’. There must be more. If you think of any, ask a hundred people on the street, and let me know.

Paul Costello © September 2013


Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!


Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

A fabulous holiday read!



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