The news on the radio this morning was that New Zealand is running out of Marmite, the Marmite factory having been put out of action by the earthquake. A note for my American readers: Marmite is a salty yeast-extract that we put on toast or bread: you wouldn’t like it. Indeed, the original version of the preamble to the US Constitution ran:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, get fucking Marmite off our breakfast tables and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
But in the final version, they dropped the reference to Marmite. It seemed, well, a bit petty. Some people like it, some don’t. But hardly worth getting all hoity-toity about in the constitutional sense.
Anyway, it comes in varieties:
On the left is the real Marmite. By and large, if you are a Brit living in Australia, you have to get it brought in from England by diplomatic bag, or ask your children to bring some when they come visit. This is the real McCoy.
In the middle is the New Zealand Marmite. Not quite as good as the real thing, but personally I think it is OK. Jeanie and the kids won’t touch it, despite holding NZ passports; they insist on the real thing.
On the right is Vegamite, which is an Aussie thing. By and large, it is to real Marmite what Julia Gillard is the Margaret Thatcher. Views vary. Some people like it. Good for them.
You are not supposed to be able to buy real Marmite in Australia, but in fact you can, if you knock on the right back door and know the password, which is Britmite. Someone has stuck labels saying “Britmite” over the top of the labels saying “Marmite”. I tell you all this now, because I am probably going to get a Finkelstein Solution notice slapped on me any moment prohibiting me from mentioning it again. You might need to act swiftly to prevail on any remaining friends or family you have in the UK, before they piss off to live on some Greek island that they have bought for 500 euros as a result of the Greek debt crisis.
Anyway, apart from the noting the calls for New Zealanders not to panic, despite reports that the Prime Minister has run short:
the key thing is this: Marmite is the acid test of fealty to the Crown. Never mind about whether people stand up and up to sing the national anthem at sporting events. Or whether people stand up and toast the Queen before cracking open the cigars after a decent dinner. Or whether we refer to the Queen and Prince Philip as “Brenda and Keith”. The real test of Englishness is whether you like Marmite. At the height of the cold war, when suspected spies were arrested by the Russians, they threw them into dungeons and played “hard guy, soft guy”. The hard guy would beat the prisoner up, pull out his fingernails, and pump him full of truth-drugs. All of which was pointless. But the soft guy would then drop by the cell the next morning with news of the cricket and some breakfast. Orange juice, tea, toast, butter and Marmite. If the prisoner ate the Marmite, they knew for sure he was a Brit.
That was of course only half the story. If they wanted to know if the guy was just a foot soldier, or a senior officer, they needed something else. And that something was Patum Peperium. Which is a dried-up anchovy concoction, spiced up and salted, to spread on hot buttered toast, and ridiculously expensive. To like that, you have to be both a Brit and a toff. Yanks: you’d hate this stuff even more than Marmite.