Now, if you're one of the enlightened souls who read my blog regularly, you will know that I'm not a man who likes to take risks. Some fools might dip blindly into a box of chocolates and eat whatever it is that their fingers find but I'm not that kind of man. I'm one of those poor pedantic souls who need the instruction chart which they then study with life sapping patience as they weigh up the options. Nut or cream? Swirly style or blocky substance? On a box of All Gold, the chart is printed on the underside lid in a very thin font so I peered at it a good few minutes and I confess that I struggled.
I like to think that I understand English. Furthermore, I like to think that I understand English which has been hammered into odd shapes by tricky wordsmiths. I spent quite a few years studying English poetry, so I think I know my way around a florid phrase or two. Yet even I couldn't fathom the turns of phrase these chocolate people use to describe their product. The makers of Terry's All Gold have ouija-ed up the spirit of Emily Dickinson to write their descriptions.
Because you can't stop for caramel, / It kindly stops for you;
This mouthful holds but just one nut, / And a gram of creamy chew.
Well, it should have said that... The entire business of marketing chocolates comes down to the single miserable job of selling caramel to the masses. There's not a taste in a box of chocolates that's as measly and nasty as caramel yet it's the single thing they won't stop forcing down our throats. When Mars recently announced their decision to axe a chocolate from their bags of Revels, they claimed it would be decided by a public vote. "Save the one you love, evict the one you hate" they promised. This, apparently, was the result:
Does this even make sense? The caramel is the third favourite in that list and the chocolates I suspect are the most expensive to produce are first, second, and third most hated? Yet the only reason I ever bought Revels were to eat, in order of my favourites: the orange, the nut (previously dumped due to allergy fears), and the coconut (also dumped for no obvious reason other than anti-Polynesian propaganda). I hate raisins and despise caramel and I'm not that keen on Maltesers. The British public would need to be more brain dead than I'd previous assumed to choose to drop the coffee and keep the caramel, clearly the most repulsive chocolate in the bag. Because what is caramel other than burnt sugar? It's a vile substance, very often an oozing syrup of charmless yuck. It's cheap and it's foul. I'm not even sure it's entirely edible.
However, they can't market it in such honest terms. So how do the people at Terry's (or Kraft Foods who now own them) describe this vile concoction on their boxes of All Gold? Here is their description of the 'Inca Gold'.
Soft caramel elegantly enrobes a whole hazelnut.
'Elegantly enrobes'? Even Shakespeare would blush and think that one a bit too ripe for his audience. In fact, the English canon doesn't often use the word 'enrobes' and I had to search a while to find this verse in Swinburne:
The toothed thorns that bit thy brows
Lighten the weight of gold on theirs;
Thy nakedness enrobes thy spouse
With the soft sanguine stuff she wears
Whose old limbs use for ointment yet
Thine agony and bloody sweat.
The last line just about sums up my experience with the 'Inca Gold'. Terry's dump a lifeless hazelnut in a puddle of gooey caramel and we're supposed to find it appetising because they say it's 'enrobed'? And how can a hazelnut be described as elegant? It's a sodding hazelnut! There's not a single nut on the planet that deserves to be called elegant. Not even the pair that swing between George Clooneys' thighs when he's wear a tux in a late night coffee bar and listening to cool jazz whilst planning an audacious jewellery heist from a vault owned by an icy Jodie Foster.
The entire farce reminds me of the old Monty Python routine about the crunchy frog surprise.
We use only the finest baby frogs, dew picked and flown from Iraq, cleansed in finest quality spring water, lightly killed, and then sealed in a succulent Swiss quintuple smooth treble cream milk chocolate envelope and lovingly frosted with glucose.
Frankly, despite my phobia of all things frog, these baby frogs sound scrumptious, not least because, unlike the Inca Gold, they're not 'enrobed' in bleeding caramel.
You might also notice how all chocolate manufacturers use the word 'gold' to describe caramel. 'Quality Street' even has the toffee penny, which is a solidified lump of the abhorrent matter but implying it has some monetary value. Caramel isn't even gold. It's a lifeless shade of brown. See the word 'gold' on a chocolate box and you can say goodbye to your fillings.
Another fine example of language mangled to describe something nasty is found in their Terry's description of the chocolate they call the 'Molten Gold'.
'Silky golden caramel wrapped in delicious milk chocolate'.
I'm not sure that caramel should ever be described as silky. Silky for me best describes silk, perhaps enrobing the reclined body of Scarlett Johanssen. That stuff that gums up your mouth and then leaks down your throat in a gloopy mess is not, in my book, silky.
Chocolate companies have other tricks to describe their ever cheapening wares. There was a time when you'd gravitate towards the creams (or, if you're posh, the crèmes) in a box of chocolates but you might have noticed how they've been generally replaced by the term 'truffle'. The new millennia was marked by many change in society but none quite as pervasive as the rise of the truffle in our chocolate boxes. Truffle is the new caramel. It is caramel by a different name and with a slightly different texture. It's horrible sugary stuff which doesn't really taste of anything other the vast disappointment you feel when bite into the stuff and realise they've replaced your favourite cream with this solid mass of bland. When Rowntree re-launched their 'Black Magic' in 2007, my favourite box of chocolates became an unappealing succession of variously flavoured 'truffles' which were so bloody disgusting that the company had to re-re-launch the 'classic' selection in 2009 to make up for the damn stupid mistake.
These product re-launches and chocolate 'evictions' are clearly done in the name of cheapening a product whilst disguising it as an improvement. Language is merely being used to tame that change, just as it's being used to make something uninspired sound interesting.
Here, for example, are Terry's marketing whizzes this time talking about the 'Cappuccino Radiance'
A smooth coffee flavoured truffle, just waiting to be discovered.
This probably takes us into the depths of phenomenology; that esoteric branch of pure philosophy to do with intentionality and the 'aboutness' of our conscious mind. How do we think of our body and of sensations as they arrive to us? Well, on biting into the Cappuccino Radiance, I wasn't suddenly aware that it wasn't radiant and not particularly cappuccino.
Perhaps I'm just naive in assuming that the description might actually describe the experience of eating the chocolate. Wouldn't it be better to say, 'your teeth sink through the chocolate and hit a strange stuff which you smack between your lips and then squash against your roof of your mouth before thinking: this tastes a bit like weak coffee. I won't try that one again...'
Then we have the 'Rich Orange' chocolate, which the makers describe:
Terry's milk chocolate protects this precious orange centre.
Precious? How precious, I wonder? How precious can something be when it comes in a box of chocolates reduced to a couple of quid down at the Co-op?
I could go on but that's to the labour an already laboured point. We live in the age of marketing when style doesn't simply replace substance. It stamps it into the ground until substance has completely vanished.
This Christmas, I aim to go chocolate free. Perhaps it's yet another thing about getting older but chocolate seems to be getting worse, smaller, less satisfying, less appealing. Apparently there's going to be a world chocolate shortage and I look forward to that day. Perhaps it will make people look again at the hazelnut and start to give it the respect it deserves instead of 'enrobing' it in that bloody horrible caramel gloop.