Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Haymarket M & S as a Metaphor for the World

Simply food if you can see past the sugar
On Wednesday morning, I was still on a spiritual high from the Chartres Pilgrimage. My feet still ached, but I bounced out of bed, almost fell down, straightened up, and was at my local railway station in time for the 7:13 AM train and the 8 AM TLM.

Afterwards I retraced my steps to Haymarket station and popped into the  railway Marks and Spenser outlet so that I wouldn't have to go out again on my aching feet to buy groceries. I am, as regular readers know, on the Blood Sugar Diet, which means shopping carefully.

A railway M & S is small and naturally does not have the variety of foods of a big M & S food hall--which itself does not have the variety of a Tesco, Waitrose or Sainsbury's, come to think of it. It is a fast food joint of a supermarket, more of an upmarket convenience store. And although there are many more natural ingredients to be found than in your standard convenience store, and even healthy, calorie-controlled, 'superfood' salads for sale, it caters to the modern snacking habit. Suddenly I was struck by how many items for sale in Marks and Spenser are either composed of, or include, vast amounts of sugar--and if sugar isn't necessarily a poison, it certainly can be.

Row upon row, rack upon rack of delightfully packaged poison---so much poison and so ubiquitous that the shopper has to search carefully and read all labels so as to find a food that doesn't contain it. And suddenly I saw that the M & S was a microcosm of the world and all it has to offer--so much beautifully wrapped poison, so much work to screen it out and find the good stuff.


Once upon a time, there would not have been so much sugar on offer, or so visible, or so readily eaten. For one thing, before the 1980s, the British did not snack:  there was a strong cultural protocol around eating, which changed slightly from class to class, but always included a horror of spoiling your appetite for the next regularly scheduled  meal. There probably were no M & S's in railway stations, either.

High-fructose corn syrup became available only in the 1970s, and in the UK cane sugar was expensive and even, at times, unavailable. Thus, before the 1980s sugar-as-food was a rarity and a treat, generally confined to puddings, jams, and a lump in your tea, and it wasn't snuck into every prepared food, should you be eating prepared food. But today, of course, cake, chocolate and candy are staples of the British diet.

I don't care much for Emma Thompson's politics, but I was struck by her unpatriotic opinion that "Britain is a cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island."  What made this clichéd self-hating British whine new was the mention of cake. Personally, I think Britain is delightful. It is not more misery-laden than, certainly, Toronto, and it isn't grey, it is green and gold and pink and blue and beautiful, and if it is as old as Arthur's Seat, it is also as young as the wee lambs gambolling on the hills. However, it certainly is cake-filled.

Does Britain appear so misery-laden and grey to Emma T because of the too-frequent cake? Yes, it rains a lot, but it is thanks to the rain that Britain is green, not grey. Too much greyness, of course, like too much sugar--and a culture of sin--leads to depression. I wonder if E.T. would have made such a gloomy denunciation of her homeland after a long weekend of hiking through the British countryside, far away from media, modernity and cake.

My feelings after a long tramp through a relatively small part of France--which included the sight of excited and curious little baby goats--is that the world, especially the European part of it, is an absolutely beautiful place, once you get away from the harmful things and the uglier aspects of modernity. (I'll say this for modernity: clean little hotel bathrooms with hot water, big towels and packets of soap.) There is so much nourishment to be found in European landscapes and cultures, as long as one stays away from the deceptively packaged sugar.

The Great Gifts of Our Otherwise Wicked Age to Human Happiness and Flourishing

1. Superior women's undergarments--so much better than before Vatican 2, not that Vatican 2 had anything to do with this, of course.

2. Clean indoor bathrooms with toilets, hot water, white towels, soap.

3. Relatively inexpensive hotel rooms with beds featuring clean white sheets, comfortable mattresses, locks on the door and no bugs.

4. Establishment of English as contemporary secular lingua franca. Controversial, but convenient for anglophones and an easier language to use than French, especially as anglophones don't mind what foreigners do to our native tongue. Mangle away, we don't care. (Naturally some of the most uplifting moments of the Chartres Pilgrimage was when 10,000 voices lifted together in our shared Christian Latin.)

Please add your own personal favourites to the list.


  1. Great Gifts:
    - electronics, including specifically electronic media. Potentially used for great evil, but of itself, morally neutral, and capable of being used for enormous good. For example, far wider dissemination of church teaching via Vatican website, or your own blogs ;)
    - medical advances. So many people alive and functioning who wouldn't have lived until recently (ie post-penicillin discovery by Sir Alexander Fleming).

    P.S. have loved the Chartres posts, but been too busy to comment on them. The girl guides tale was adorably sweet :)

    1. Both true. The internet is really like the printing press, isn't it? Revolutionary and morally neutral--it's what you put in and read out that determines the outcome.

      And I love the democracy of it. Every man and woman has his or her printing press at his or her disposal and will have his or her readership based on how many people enjoy or profit from his or her writing.

      Naturally it is harder to make money by daily writing though (sigh).

  2. Better "feminine hygiene products." Air conditioning in hot, humid climates.

    1. Yes. Although they still need to invent something for hiking because hideous chafing. Or do they? Must google.

  3. Yes, sciencegirl, defintely that!

    I'll add:
    - Much better (waterproof, lightweight) hiking/outdoor gear
    - Central heating
    - Safety (I can go out and return alone, by train, at 3am)

    1. Yes, I am extremely pleased about the advances in hiking and outdoor gear since the 1980s, and how much cheaper they seem to be, too. It is a thrill to have my very own tent, even if it is a beast to put up alone.

      Goodness me! Nothing could induce me to come home alone by train at 3 am, if there was a train at 3 am. And when I took a tram back to my dorm in Frankfurt at 3 or 4 am, a very drunk teenage boy tried to mug me. He was quite easy to reprove, but still.

      Hmm. I wonder if I am too paranoid? I was a teenager when the "Scarborough Rapist" (who later became Canada's most notorious sex-killer) was active, so maybe my fears are exaggerated. (If so, I bet I share this with hundreds of thousands of other women who grew up in Toronto.) Still, I wouldn't want to risk it. Walking alone in remote woods in broad daylight is as much risk as I've been able to make myself take.

    2. Nope. You are not paranoid. I remember how vehemently a mate in grad school told me off one time when I objected to having cops on campus (we thankfully never got them - the cops aim was political snooping on activists). The cops were going to patrol our central city uni campus and adjacent park between campus and heart of the city business / entertainment district. The park is beautiful, but dark at night due to large trees.
      My friends sister had been attacked in that park just metres from campus, which is why he wanted cops round there. I didn't think twice of wandering back from pubs thru the park to campus because I'm a medium build male who could outrun whomever I couldn't fight. But it was a different story for girls, who are periodically attacked in that park at night.

      So, not paranoid at all. I now understand feminists running 'take back the night' and Thursdays in black' (for an end to r*pe and violence), the reasoning for which took a long time to sink into my male pysche (I assumed everyone wanted an end to violence and sexual assaults, so why march for it? oh, the naivete)

      And yes, the internet is sooo like the printing press. Break through technologically spurring social revolution. Fun times. :)


    3. Well, I don't know if I am not paranoid enough? Perhaps this is not so much a question of the decade but the place in the world we live in. I really do not like returning home at night alone. But what else can I do? I am single, nobody I know lives near my house, so I can either go out (and return home alone) or stay at home. A taxi costs at least 50 Euros (rather more). On weekends, we have special night trains that are always packed full of people. I prefer to get home with the last regular train, but there are always a lot of people at the train stations and in the trains, which makes me feel safer (perhaps that's wrong?), and there are usually at least one or two other women that are travelling home alone. I guess I really live in one of the safest cities in the world, which however still might contain a few dangerous people, of course…

  4. Antidepressants.

    1. That's true. However, I wonder if they aren't merely a response to the problems of the current age.