The Crisp List 2011.

I want to talk about crisps. Posh crisps, not so posh crisps, weird crisps, cheese crisps, crinkle crisps, plain crisps, cheap crisps. All types of crisp. Because the crisp is easily one of the greatest foodstuffs ever invented, and, despite the general atmosphere of obesity and heart disease, I think the crisp needs to be celebrated. Just because it’s made of potato and fried in oil doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. In moderation, everything’s fine.

Oh where to begin! I suppose, many years ago. When I was in primary school. We were allowed a packet of crisps once a week, usually on Tuesdays. The lunchbox set-up used to be – sandwiches, a variable, a Petit Filous yoghurt and a drink. The variable was always the best on Tuesdays as Tuesday was usually crisp day. Other days we get cherry tomatoes or slices of cucumber or carrot sticks. My mother is a massive health advocate. On the plus side, this selection that was to be found in the lunchbox immediately meant that everything in it was also pretty undesirable to one’s classmates. Nearly nothing in there was contraband, and I don’t ever remember having chocolate in there. No one wanted to trade, but that also meant it was difficult to obtain the tastier snacks from other lunchboxes. Never mind. I remember one day my best friend at the time had Pickled Onion Walkers, and it gave her lips a white lacerated look. This was oddly appealing to me, so ever since then, I have developed a habit of coating my lips in exceptionally well-flavoured crisps. It makes them burn. Why I love this I do not know, but it’s pretty good. I also like licking the flavour off of crisps, though I hear this is a pretty unsociable habit. It works best on salt and vinegar Pringles because you can usually SEE the layer of flavour on it. They seem to put it mainly on one half too. It’s disappointing if you get the wrong half.

So given that crisps were allowed but once a week, I believe this is the start of my love of them. This was then later developed by my parents rather honest way of consuming crisps in front of the television in the evening. Instead of politely putting them in a few bowls and people eating the odd one every now and again, everyone has their own bowl and fills it with whatever they want. Obviously this does not happen every night. But it’s very special when it does occur. Also, the move to University meant a much wider experimentation with crisps, especially considering the fact that there weren’t shops like Asda near home. The range is just fantastic. And, as one acquires more money in life, one can begin to afford the finer crisps in life. Of course, after school, one could just about spare the ten pence required for a packet of Space Raiders or Transform-A-Snacks. Space Raiders are immense because of the intensity of the pickled onion flavouring. I am the world’s biggest fan of vinegar. That is, however, a whole other subject to tackle. Transform-A-Snacks were never quite as good as the Raiders but one had to go with whatever was available. Then, progressing onwards, you get to the multipack bags of shop-brand crisps. I never go for these though, they just seem so weak compared to Walkers. Walkers are the best multipacks on offer. They have just recently brought out the Crinkles range, which seemed like a poor marketing choice to me as they already had the giants of crinkle-cut crisps Max on offer. Paprika seem to be the most popular choice, but does anyone remember the Salt and Vinegar variety in the Max range? They were so strong they nearly burnt the skin off of the roof of your mouth. Amazing. Walkers’ other highlights include their Smokey Bacon, Prawn Cocktail and Worcester Sauce flavours, though these are usually harder to find. They also have a habit of bringing out completely bizarre flavours every season, but these never seem to take off. The Football World Cup ones were pretty grim, but their more recent charity flavours were semi-ok. My favourite was the Stephen Fry-Up, and to this day it amazes me they can nearly simulate the flavours of a cooked breakfast into a crisps. The things they can do with artificial flavours.

Of course we can’t forget the smaller companies, still trying to eke their way in the savoury snack world. Frazzles and Chip Sticks deserve a mention, as do Squares. Although I think they may be Walkers too. Also in that category falls French Fries and Quavers, both of which are brilliant but the packet never lasts long enough. Salt and Shake are, amazingly, still around (I knew a friend who used to pour the salt straight into his mouth and eat the crisps plain afterwards). I am a huge fan of Monster Munch, though only really the pickled onion flavour. I think they do a “red hot” one and a “roast beef” flavour, both of which ruin the Monster. Also, they do a big Munch and a small, and the small are not big enough but with the big you never get enough in the packet. These are rare in consumption for me. Wotsits are the best in the cheesy puff area too, as, although shop-brand can be good, you never get the softness of Wotsits in anything other than them. They leave a residual sticky orange mess on your teeth for hours after. Hula Hoops are just fantastic, though I’d pass off the cheese and onion variety as “pretty naff”. It’s hard to tell which is better, the salt and vinegar or barbecue beef, but either way the Hula Hoop is better than any other hooped potato snack simply because it’s thicker. There’s more crunch there. I remember eating them off of my fingers like you used to when you were small, and biting too hard and getting added finger instead of just snack. Oh McCoys! We haven’t even begun to discuss McCoys. The salt and vinegar are, of course, pretty good, but their key player is their cheese and onion. So strong you won’t taste anything else all evening. Wheat Crunchies are among my favourite independent snacks, the bacon variety winning every time. Salt and vinegar Discos are also great as they texture is pretty different to all other crisps on the market. Plus you can pretend they’re monocles, like my dad used to do. Special mention here also to Skips as they seem so divisive, and because I know a lot of people who seem to be adverse to them being consumed in the car. They way they melt on the tongue, stick to your lips in a scary way, and then dissolve into a prawny mushy mesh is quite a creation I think. The Pom-Bear crisp, I think you will all agree, is something pretty different altogether. I don’t know what kind of flavouring they use, but their salted version tastes so unique compared to other plain-based crisps. You don’t need to go further than the red packet with Pom-Bears (they always used to be called Pom-Bärs when we were smaller, I think they’re German), it’s all you need. Perfect picnic accompaniment.

And the next time you’re in a pub, although it seems typical to buy four packets of Walkers and open them from the side like my mum always used to do, so the packet’s more like a silver plate and everyone can join in, try this instead. Scampi Fries (obviously one of the best creations known to man), with their bite-sized pieces yet intense flavour, and Bacon Fries. Combine the two packets and you have there Pub Surf and Turf. Although I disagree with serving up both fish and cow on the same plate, there is no crime in obtaining two types of crisp and sharing them with a friend for optimum flavour range. On this subject, DO NOT TRY THE CHEESE MOMENTS, THEY ARE NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.

I should also like to point out here the shop-brand crisps that you can find in all big-name supermarkets. There’s salt and vinegar twirls, cheesy puffs, potato chips, potato hoops (your standard Hula Hoop replacement), onion rings (I begrudgingly mention these as they are a bit of a travesty in the crisp world – not only are they not made of potato, they are also cold. Onion rings should be piping hot, fresh from the fryer), prawn cocktail shells (a Skip replacement) and, my current love, the “snack variety” pack that you can get in Sainsbury’s and a few other stores. Completely bizarre and pretty incongruous but so good. They have circular lattices, square shells, tubular sticks and more – usually one flavour, but all in the same bag. Confusing but tasty.

I feel this is a good point to mention Mini Cheddars. I not sure as to whether there are really a crisp, a biscuit or just a savoury snack. They would fall into the crisp category if supplied in a lunch box though, I feel, so they do deserve a place on this list. I seem to remember being able to get ham flavoured ones when we were small, or maybe it was cheese and ham – but they were excellent. I disagree with the salt and vinegar flavour of nowadays, and while the Crinkle range are good, they don’t have the incredibly dry, stodge-tastic element that the normal flat ones do. The normal sized Cheddars also make good essay food, if you are interested.

And now we move onto the big guns. I’m talking Doritos, Pringles, Tyrells, Burts, Kettle Chips. Kettle Chips are so good, yet they phased out the New York Cheddar variety so long ago I can’t remember what it tastes like any more. They were easily the best flavour on the market, although their new cheese variety and the sour cream and onion are pretty good. Their new ridge range is possible better than the original, the salt and vinegar is so intense. Now Pringles. You can’t possibly eat a whole tube on your own. It’s not achievable. At least, it’s not a good idea. This is a range where the plain variety really comes into its own. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it might be the best in the selection. I really think the tiny tubes of them are ridiculous too, overpriced and a waste of packaging. When it comes to Doritos, obviously it’s between two flavours – tangy cheese or cool original. This really is a mood-based thing, when it comes to deciding which one you want, I honestly don’t think I could pick one flavour over the other. I can, however, rule out the salted nacho type, because why not just buy Sainsbury’s Basics tortilla chips for 50p? When these went from 25 pence to 50 literally overnight, it was a sad day for students everywhere. It might only be 25 pence but it’s still a 100% increase. What’s that all about? I also rule out the spicy Doritos. Spicy crisps and I don’t go. It’s not a thing. Not even the sweet chilli Walkers Sensations. Savoury, not spicy. However, in the Sensations range, they are some outstanding winners. Vintage cheddar and chutney, balsamic vinegar and caramelised onion, and they have recently brought out goat’s cheese crisps. Now, yes, these are with a chilli flavour too, but the goat’s cheese is good enough to balance it out. Nothing beats goat’s cheese.

The eternal question asked by crisp-lovers everywhere is what’s better – Tyrells or Burts? I’m inclined to say the latter, but I know an awful lot who would back the former. Kettle Chips are different, they’re posh but you know where you are with them. Tyrells bring out crisps that are, for example, Ludlow sausage and mustard. Ham and cranberry. Summer barbecue. Who wants to eat that on a crisp?! Yes they are posh and pretty tasty (with the more conservative flavours), but by my reckoning, they don’t cut their potatoes thick enough and I’d rather my crisps weren’t as translucent or as experimental as Tyrells. Burts, on the other hand, are outstanding. I think they’re my favourite of the posh-middle-class crisp area. Their smokey bacon wins every time, it’s so salty it makes your tongue twinge with it. The most disappointing crisp in the Burts range are the “seasonal” pesto variety. They just taste like garlic. As an avid lover of pesto, this was a great disappointment to me. However, I think, when faced with the dilemma of which to pick, if I had enough money, it would be the Burts.

So there you have it, my dissection of the crisp-world. It is a beautiful world, when used properly, you can’t eat crisps all the time. Otherwise you’d have no skin left inside your mouth and would probably die before you hit forty. Enjoy crisps responsibly, then you’ll always find yourself wanting more. The humble potato wins again.


‘The Road’ – Cormac McCarthy. (CONTAINS SPOILERS)

Well. This book’s quite moving isn’t it. Eye-opening. Enthralling. Amazing? Amazing.

I quite liked it yes. YOU NEED TO READ IT. EVERYONE needs to read it.

I am rather interested to see the film now – even more so than I was, except most cinemas don’t seem to be showing it much or at all currently.. Alas!

So. Cormac. I finished this last night curled up in a comfortable bed with Lapsang Souchong, listening to Classic FM. These are all things I am now that much more grateful for. Be warned, recovery time is definitely needed, post-reading.

Despite being easy to read (in that you don’t have to read a sentence twice to understand it – a rarity at the moment I find), McCarthy sucks you into the world of ‘The Road’ – I believe “suck” is an appropriate word here, as it’s not really an enjoyable world and you wouldn’t want to live here anyway. The frailty of life is so disturbing you HAVE to know what happens – you have to find out whether they get through this. I think Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn for those uncultured types) said of his character “the man”, that he is essentially learning from the child throughout the whole journey. This is indeed true to a certain extent, as the boy has qualities that the man lost a long time ago – innocence, faith, types of wisdom the man cannot cling onto – but then both characters need each other far more than you first realise. This is quite representative of the need for community in human life, as the boy needs the man to find him food, but the man needs the boy to continue human life. Is the man driven by his love for the boy and his survival, or by his own survival instinct? The two are surely almost the same, as even if the man is going to die, life can still continue after he is gone.

300 pages Cormac? How the hell did you do it? It’s all the same! Yet all so good. So how did you do it? The plot just revolves around two males fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. I certainly could not have made this last so long.

I was slightly fascinated by the sick images McCarthy conjured up, like the humans being held captive and being harvested for food, and, worst of all, the idea of a new-born child being wheeled around on a spit. How is that survival instinct?! To kill something newborn? To kill life? Moronic characters.

I suppose it was also slightly moronic of me to not see death coming (I was racking my brains as to how it was going to end), as they had survived for so long, so why stop now? But the death was so mortifying! So utterly tragic and so sad. He has led the boy through so much and kept him alive for so long that it just seemed so cruel this would happen. But was this some sort of moral tale? That the boy had faith in human life so he survived and was saved by “the good ones”, was able to continue to “carry the fire”, and live? And the man was not allowed to do this because he saw no hope in humanity apart from in his own son? The boy showed his naiveté, but brought a ‘freshness’ to the view on human life – he seemed to know there was some good left in the world and that it was worth fighting for. I was almost as terrified as he must have been when they were at the beach and the boy was ill. Now that would have been a depressing end to things wouldn’t it.

So much of the time you don’t even have the emotional capacity to consider what they have lost, as you are so caught up on what they still have to lose. This does make you think about our lives now, and appreciate that we do have community, we don’t eat each other, we are able to experience still the first snowdrops in spring, or a good pint on a warm summer’s evening, the cosiness of the bed after you’ve tumble dried the bedsheets and the warming glow of the open fire. In your living room. And if you don’t have time to consider what they already had lost (a wife, friends etc), then you don’t really have time to relate it to your life, so you don’t get to consider what it would be like losing your life partner or best friends, and yet someone you still attach yourself emotionally too them and begin to understand their situation. HOW does the author do this?! I say only “begin to understand”, as I don’t think anyone could really comprehend such a situation unless they’d lived through it, which is currently unlikely.

I found the end of the book somewhat more abrupt than I thought it would have been – I needed more words McCarthy! Although it was a very good ending, and it was an actual ENDING. Unlike in books like ‘Disgrace’ (Coetzee) and ‘The Bell Jar’ (Plath-o-rama). I adore good endings. Despite them sometimes, especially in this case, being ones that actually make you cry. There was a glimmer of hope though, as the boy is found and he survives, and there is a girl his age. Is this what they had been fighting for? The boy grew up very suddenly too, although this was no bad thing. As soon as the man died, the boy was almost the new man – he went from being helpless to carrying the fire in a matter of pages.

I found it odd how the weather had continued yet life had died, although I imagine this just shows how nature will always be there – it was very much a nature over humans book. There were also times when I couldn’t put the book down because the characters hadn’t eaten for days and I needed to know they found food. I couldn’t relax otherwise. It was also ironic that a weapon used to take life (the gun) was their saviour on so many occasions, and their hope for life also. Very odd. But well crafted.

Just one small criticism Cormac. You cannot punctuate to save your bloody life. And I swear you make up half those words. Is “crozzled” really a word? There was a fair amount of American-English in there, something which I don’t normally care for, and how, really, is it possibly for such an author to miss out apostrophes?! Has no one proofread this? Do you not need a system Cormac? Is it not called Language? Did no one tell you each new sentence NEEDS A CAPITAL? I also do not care for mangled English, yet somehow the vast quantity of it in this book didn’t actually detracted from my enjoyment of it. Another plus for McCarthy, his words and story telling over take everything else.

If ever you are feeling bad thoughts about the world, you must read this book. It is a necessity.