Marmighty Power

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:

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key complained his personal supplies of Marmite were dwindling Tuesday, amid a nationwide shortage of the salty spread caused by the Christchurch earthquakes.

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.

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1 Comment

Filed under Culture, News from at home

One response to “Marmighty Power

  1. Marmite is one of those things, which to an Englishman, only brings out the depths of his feelings whilst being parted from it or parted from people who appreciate it – a subtle but related anxiety if one is living abroad without many or any fellow Brits nearby. It is true that many in the tropics will go to whatever lengths they have to to obtain it and that in places like the United States for instance there are usually enterprising entrepreneurs who manage to defy gravity by importing enough to stock a dusty shelf or two – ample supplies if you know where to go. Most Brits would not be without a jar in the cupboard at home and if islolated from British in far away places allow it to incapsulate what they feel about their home country and lead them to realise that like it , Marmite is not missed at all by those around them and that does stir up feelings of being cut from a different cloth as it were. For one thing is for sure, one can never introduce the taste of Marmite to someone who has not been brought up on it – so that away from home , consuming it always feels somewhat furtive. Of course once one starts down the road of sniffing out a Marmite supplier if living abroad, there are all sorts of other things – often bearing the ‘ By Appointment sign ‘ that one finds one also can’t live happily without either- Coopers Oxford Marmalade – Coleman’s mustard etc. Luckily the Royal family have long since done all the leg work and one can just go by the label and each and every product bearing the sign will plug ones feelings right back in to kith and kin and all that seems right in the world in the Old Country. Ultimately I found, living all the way away in East Hampton, importing everything from Marmite to Brasso – not to mention a 1950’s Hoover – soap from Jermyn Street – and all the rest, so utterly exhausting, that returning home where of course these things are on ones doorstep, much the easier option – even if the weather does not always behave it self. But that is what Marmite is ultimately for – to provide comfort and sustinance on a cold wet afternoon – with a proper cup of English tea !

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