Bespectacled, bearded, baseball cap clad and slightly overweight— with a lumbering gait I move through the children’s cereal section of B&M Stores looking like an incognito paedophile. Although I suspect I’m attracting wary stares from concerned mothers I eagerly rummage through what’s on offer, keen to find a cheap box of Count Chocula or a previously undiscovered variety of Pop Tart.
What imported treats from the US of A can I buy today? How do I mollify an inner child who is at this very moment screaming in agony at having spent another week captive in an outer adult slowly dying of boredom in a low level administration role?
The colourful boxes produce a hypnagogic effect, I don’t know why but I am paralyzed by nostalgia.
It’s a cheap fix— the comfort of looking back and wallowing in the playground of the past. It’s a construct of the memory and abides by the rules you’ve imposed. Adult life, on the other hand, is simultaneously terrifying and mind numbingly dull. Most of us have no real autonomy in our work lives and are consumed by the fear that without our jobs everything will collapse around us. Your boss treats you like a child? It’s only natural that eventually your emotional regression will involve an increased desire for sugary foodstuffs.
Leering Leprechauns, toothless vampires, incredibly buff tigers all peer down at me—members of the breakfast pantheon more consistently present in the lives of children over the years than the comparatively ephemeral careers of pop singers and sports heroes. Tony the Tiger would be eligible for a state pension if he lived in UK and was real. There aren’t many famous pensioners left in circulation that parents would trust alone with their kids nowadays. Tony, however, is a safe pair of paws.
I pull a bright red box off the shelf. A crude ethnic stereotype of an Irishman stares out from the cover exuding a palpable sense of malicious intent. These are Lucky Charms, the OG high sucrose superstar. I purchase them and hurry home past the glaring mums and crying babies.
Lucky Charms had a strong presence in UK during the early 1990s. Their multi-coloured freeze dried marshmallows bear a strong resemblance to the era’s other favourite ecstasy and the lurid food colouring contained within saw them being covertly pulled from British supermarket shelves over fears they were triggering child hyperactivity.
It seems a somewhat quaint concern considering the narcotic buzz of energy drinks happily guzzled by children today on the walk to school, but in 1990s Britain half-hearted censorious decisions were all the rage. Another favourite of the garish breakfast crew, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were renamed Hero Turtles as ninja was deemed too violent (or confusingly foreign) a word.
Americans have always been quicker to medicate the personality out of their kids, so they could enjoy as much bright blue cereal as they liked. Eventually Lucky Charms made their return to the UK via the world food aisles of the supermarket as luxury imports.
In 2014 Belfast twins Gary and Alan Keery managed to piss off a whole cross-section of British society through the seemingly innocuous act of opening up a cafe specializing in cereal.
Of course, it didn’t help that they called it the Cereal Killer cafe. Although it was more a homage to a minor character from kitsch 90s cyberpunk film Hackers than an expression of any lingering affection for the crimes of, say, Dennis Nilsen or Rose West.
Exhibiting the sort of plucky entrepreneurship which would have been widely met with polite disinterest in most other countries the twin kidults set up shop in Brick Lane and were quickly labelled out of touch hipsters by a news media happy to serve its viewers things even less healthy than a bowl of Frosties in their quest for content.
Rather than correctly categorising the cafe alongside other totems of arrested development, like onesies or adult sized Batman underwear, anti-gentrification campaigners elevated it to ultimate pariah status as an unacceptable example of urban whitewashing.
In the ensuing cereal riots the shop’s windows were smashed and wider public sentiment seemed to turn in the favour of the small business owners. The publicity generated by the controversy far exceeding the cost of a few panes of glass the twins rode a wave of sympathy, expanding their business to a second shop.
The anarchists took to the streets to fight the foot soldiers of the petite bourgeoisie over £5 bowls of Fruit Loops— both sides warmly ensconced in their preferred form of nostalgia.
Back at home I sit quietly having gorged myself on memories. I’m somewhat queasy and hating myself slightly for having eaten nearly a whole box of overpriced cereal in one afternoon —bloated and expanding like a freeze dried marshmallow submerged in milk.