There is plenty about modern life to cause celebration and aggravation in equal measure... but it is never safe to make an assumption about how the different generations feel about anything, from vegans to scented candles.
This week, old hand Christopher Howse and young gun Guy Kelly are clutching at straws
The pain of celebrity for John Ruskin, when he suddenly became famous with the publication of Modern Painters in 1843, was being jammed into the company of ‘big people whom I didn’t care about’. Victorian celebrity was hot and personal and rubbed shoulders.
Ruskin conceded there were consolatory moments of amusement, such as witnessing the Bishop of Oxford being taught ‘to drink sherry-cobbler through a straw’.
In the same year, Dickens sent his new fictional hero Martin Chuzzlewit to New York, and what should he run into but ‘a very large tumbler, piled up to the brim with little blocks of clear transparent ice, through which one or two thin slices of lemon, and a golden liquid of delicious appearance appealed from the still depths below’ – a sherry-cobbler. Martin drank this unfamiliar mixture ‘in ecstasy’ through an unfamiliar ‘reed’, or straw as we’d call it.
In the 180 years since, we’ve turned cobbler ecstasy into guilty misery at destroying the planet with straws of plastic. And now we’re told that paper straws are bad for our health.
I’d welcome a revival of straw straws, though to me as a small child they were loathsome. At school we were given a third of a pint of milk in a little bottle that had been left in the sun till it curdled (or in winter allowed to freeze, so that the cream at the top was pushed up into a protruding plug of ice with an aluminium hat on). The rank and fatty curds had to be dragged by suction up the tawny cereal stalk.It didn’t help that in a natural history class we were told of a fascinating incidence of bubonic plague among children who had chewed straw infected by rats – perhaps in Suffolk before the First World War. That was too close for comfort.
If we can’t have straw straws for fear of plague, I see that online you can buy for £4.25 a stainless-steel bombilla (or straw for mate tea). A good christening present would be a silver one to clip to the infant’s mobile, or whatever essential chattel the future will demand that everyone carries.
I had a hangover the other day. It was the kind that makes you question your very existence. On such occasions, I tend to be overcome by a powerful urge to consume some foodstuff of my childhood. A desperate reminder, maybe, of happier times, before I thought six pints of Guinness on an empty stomach represented good sense.
So it was that I washed up in a London corner shop, pawing for a Capri-Sun for the first time since 1998. The German juice brand is not particularly delicious – too sweet, too watery – but to a seven-year-old in the 1990s it was crack cocaine, and faced down rivals like Tropicana (too healthy-seeming, which it wasn’t) and Sunny Delight (too unhealthy-seeming, which it was, to the extent that the rumour it turned a girl orange became playground canon) thanks to its secret weapon: the straw.
Capri-Sun, as you may know, comes not in a bottle but a pouch, which the consumer joyfully stabs using a sharpened, orange plastic straw, before draining in three sucks until all that’s left is an empty foil scrotum you can inflate and deflate like an aeroplane oxygen mask. (Always remember to fit your child’s Capri-Sun before your own.) It is a pointless design gimmick, right up there with San Pellegrino cans’ foil hat for ingenious futility, but it sets Capri-Suns apart.
Hungover, I was after that thrill: the stab of ecstasy, the pierce of nostalgia. 79p later I had a Capri-Sun in my hand, only to discover the straw is now made of paper. Fair enough, I thought, the turtles need our help. A minute later, I was fumbling, sweating. The first prod with the cardboard dagger saw it buckle in on itself and fold. The second was worse. Gazing at the heavens with thirsty rage, I briefly considered crying, then deliberated whether turtles were even that good. In any case, are they better than Capri-Suns? It was a question.
I got there in the end, but the damage was done. The drink tasted weaker and more saccharine than ever. We have cleaned the oceans (a bit), but somehow killed my childhood. Then again, maybe I needed to grow up? Oh woe, more existentialism. It was a bad, bad day.