Are there people from your past that you no longer hang out with, friends or even family members who are no longer part of your life? There are a few people from my past that I now actively avoid, troublemakers and malcontents who would bring unwelcome uncertainty and, quite possibly, danger into my life. If you have had friends or acquaintances who exhibit the following behaviour you will know what I mean: they call you in the middle of the night, shout down the line and demand to know someone else’s address so that they can send their heavy-duty friends round to break every bone in that unsuspecting person’s body, or to cut all their fingers off. You refuse to give out such information. Another number is permanently blocked from your phone.
There is one person from my past, who is not guilty of the late night phone calls mentioned in that last sentence, but was, unquestionably, T-R-O-U-B-L-E. He comes to mind whenever I eat a packet of Skittles (the chewy sweets) because he gave me the following advice. If you buy them from a vending machine, or from a shop in winter, the Skittles are a little too hard to chew on. They’re crunchy rather than chewy, but if you put them in your pocket for 20 minutes they’ll be just right. This works best in the front pocket of a pair of jeans. I have been following this advice for years, and have passed it on to other people. I have been questioned many times about why he and I were friends for so long. How did I put up with it all, the moods, the tantrums, the misogyny? Well, I did get something out of it: that tip about how to warm up a packet of Skittles.
I have known people whose relationships have broken down, and at the end of it they feel that there was nothing positive to take away from the experience. It can be hard to find worthwhile things when looking back, even over an extended period of time. All those thousands of hours watching TV, or hanging out with people you no longer want to spend time with: what did you get out of it? I half-remember a comedy sketch, from a show like “Armstrong and Miller” or “Mitchell and Webb”, where someone wakes up from a coma after 20 years. When he realizes how long he’s been unconscious he asks, eagerly, about all the things he’s missed. There must be so much for his family to tell him. They tell him about his sister getting married, and something that happened in a soap opera. Oh, and Opal Fruits aren’t called that any more, they’re called Starburst now. There’s a long pause. That’s about it. His father comes in and we expect to hear more news. We hear again about the sister who got married. And the thing that happened in the soap opera. “And did you tell him about the Opal Fruits?” he asks the boy’s mother. They’re stumped; they can’t think of anything else.
If someone awoke from a coma today after 20 years would there be that much to tell them about the world at large? We had mobile phones, multi-channel TV, computers and the internet 20 years ago, but a bit of research reveals that Opal Fruits only changed their name in 1998. Well, that’s something. I have said, only half-jokingly, that the two notable things that have altered our day-to-day lives in London in the last 20 years are the introduction of Oyster cards and self-adhesive stamps.
I have titled this piece “Some sweet advice”, because it’s built around that handy tip to ensure that a packet of Skittles is chewy rather crunchy, and I have some more confectionery-based advice to finish with.
Recently, after a break of many years, I have been eating Revels, the Mars Inc. brand of chocolates with assorted centres. Many of them look like Maltesers. Some of them are Maltesers, others have coffee- or orange-flavoured centres. Some contain raisins and some (the easiest to identify) are shaped like Minstrels. Last time I had Revels there were some with peanut centres but these have been discontinued. Most people have at least one Revel flavour that they do not like, usually orange or coffee in my experience. If you play Revels Bingo (or maybe that should be Revels Roulette) you might end up with three or four of your least favourite flavour in a row. Here’s my tip to ensure a happier outcome: when you eat a packet of Revels keep a packet of Maltesers handy. If you inadvertently select your least favourite flavour of Revel, eat a Malteser to get rid of the taste. Think of it as a palate-cleanser. I have been making free with this advice in recent days, at work and at home (until this month my children had never eaten Revels before). Try it; it might work for you.