The students talk of their holidays and their trips to the seaside. The stretch in the summer days has brought extra days at the beach. The destinations are familiar places to someone from Somerset – Weston-Super-Mare, Burnham-on-Sea, Brean.
I was tempted to ask one of them to bring me a stick of rock, but do they still make seaside rock?
Seaside rock was unmistakable. The tube shaped stuff with a pink coating and white inner with the name of the seaside town in which you bought it in red lettering down the length of the inner, so that wherever you were in eating the stick of rock, you still knew where it had come from: do they still make that stuff?
But why was it seaside rock, anyway? Why couldn’t inland towns have had sticks of rock with their names inset in red candy?
Maybe the rock wasn’t even that nice, maybe it was the association with being on holiday that gave it a special flavour, like those bottles of wine that tasted well when you are away, but seem to have lost something when you bring them home.
There was good rock and bad rock – good rock was dense and became chewy if it was left in the back window of the car on a hot summer’s day; bad rock was brittle and tasted as bad as the old Communist bloc Eastern European chocolate with which cheap Easter eggs were made, or those foil wrapped Christmas decorations that were fine when adorning the Christmas tree, but tasted horrible when eaten.
Rock came wrapped in cellophane that enabled you to eat it without it adhering to your hands. Halfway down the length of the stick of rock, inside the cellophane, there would be a photograph of the resort; a slip of paper maybe two inches long and an inch wide. It was always a black and white photograph; in an age when postcards were all in colour, seaside rock pictures were monochrome – why? What would have been wrong in having a colour picture? Was there some seaside rock system of quality control that ruled out polychrome images?
Perhaps it was the uniformity of seaside rock that secures its place in the memory. You knew it was seaside rock because it looked like seaside rock. It was always a similar shade of pink; always wrapped in transparent cellophane; always having the name of its town printed through it.
Who determines these things? The colour, the shape, the wrapping, the taste – is there a standards authority that overseas these things? Is it like the French appelation system for wine? Is there some body that ensures consumers get bona fide rock?
Who decides what is and what isn’t, what shall be and what can’t be? Is there a reason in principle why I could not buy a stick of rock in any shop? Just imagine how much people’s morale would be raised by imagining they were once more on childhood holidays at the seaside.