Maltesers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have a treat for you today – a guest blogger! Her name is Kate Shrewsday and she and I have been following each other for a long time.
Kate has a wonderful parlour trick: she can take two disparate subjects and link them so that they make one interesting post…Batman and aqueducts; sharks and cats; death and Debussy.
She knows the value of a hook – that first line of writing that grabs the reader and keeps them reading. My personal favourite: Everyone loves a cross dressing lady sailor.
I gave Kate what I felt was an impossible challenge: link Maltesers and Queen Victoria. She was back in a couple of days with a So you think you can beat me, Mrs Wrong… and the following post. It’s hard to believe there was ever a time without Maltesers, but Kate has unearthed that disturbing fact.
Enjoy the post!
Then go and visit her blog; I’m sure you’ll like her. Who wouldn’t like a burping woman?
Queen Victoria (State portrait) by Sir George Hayter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is a well-documented fact that the quick fire humour of the Laughing Housewife is fuelled by small spheres of malt, covered in a thin coating of chocolate.
The Malteser, created in 1936, is iconic. It is moreish in much the same fashion as that Wonka bar of fictional fame, and might as well be made by oompa loompas, for all we know, for the company – Mars Incorporated, a family concern – is notoriously schtumm about its methods.
In 1993 The Washington Post, the paper which broke the Watergate scandal, congratulated itself thoroughly on being able to send a reporter into an American Mars factory to witness the ‘M’ being painted on an M&M.
It’s all very hush-hush. And I should know: I live not far from the mysterious British industrial cathedral which fills lorries with Maltesers and speeds them up the M6 to Stockport.
You may have heard of it. The birthplace of the British Malteser is Slough.
English: An aerial view photograph taken over the infamous Slough Trading Estate in Slough, Berkshire. United Kingdom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A barren industrial wasteland, Slough earned the poet John Betjeman’s scorn: “Come friendly bombs and rain on Slough,” he intoned famously; “it isn’t fit for humans now.”
It is, but it ain’t purdy. Concrete, a mix of new shopping paradise and tired old parades, it goes on for mile after relentless mile, with little to persuade one to tarry.
It has not always been a concrete jungle. It was once known for something very different from Ricky Gervais, and Forrest Mars’s chocolate factory.
Its fame stemmed, back then, from a lady who was rarely amused.
Her nearby gaff at Windsor Castle had long been a place to which dignitaries flocked. Even in Shakespeare’s time the visitors were much in evidence – one glance at The Merry Wives Of Windsor will show you the extent of the bustle.
But Queen Victoria was not just a queen, she was an empress.
And an empire’s worth of visitors: that’s a lot.
They came from all over the British Empire to visit her by invitation at Windsor Castle. But there was an awkward problem.
The castle wasn’t particularly comfortable. It is said its design, and formality, were stuffy: and the Queen had a suspicion of gaslight and would not tolerate it. It was strictly candles-only at Windsor Castle.
And so, furtively, visitors began to book hotels: just down the road, in a conglomeration of villages which gathered around the Great Western Railway station which opened in June 1838. It was collectively called Slough.
The station attracted understandable interest. It was just an informal stop for a while because the headmaster of Eton made a rumpus about railways interrupting the discipline of the school.
In a typically British compromise, the train just ‘happened‘ to stop at Slough so passengers could alight.
But you can’t rely on chance when an empress gets on.
Queen Victoria made her first journey to London from Slough’s newly built station in 1842. Long before Betjeman invited the bombs, before concrete, before industrial estates.
And 94 years before the advent of Maltesers.
*Joel Glen Brenner, “Planet of the M&Ms” Washington Post Magazine, April 12, 1992