Tuesday, 5 January 2016

In Defence of the Custard Cream

  
                                I spy the custard creams...



  After one melted in his tea, Isle of Man resident Peter Ramsey, 25, is claiming that Marks and Spencer's Luxury Biscuits are "just traditional custard creams covered in chocolate..."

Just traditional custard creams?  Just...? 

  There were custard creams in the bag rations when I landed in Basra with Combined Services Entertainment to perform for british servicemen and women. A small, honey-brick coloured, individually wrapped crinkle of comfort amidst the roar and tainted vaseline smell from generators, the thud of shells hitting the railway station and the knowledge that camel spiders could be lurking anywhere at the foot of that anti-blast wall to jump on your face and start chewing. 
  As our tour liaison, Royal Marine Stacks, said, 'Deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan is like getting beamed down off the Starship Enterprise; and this time Scotty's well and truly fucked up the coordinates.' 
  So I offered him one of my custard creams; and watched to see how he would eat it. 
  Good, he took it apart and half-licked, half gnawed the filling first. 
  'What?' he asked, pausing mid-lick. 
  'Just pleased to see that even in a warzone you observe correct custard cream protocol.'

  I remember him asking me about four days into that first comedy tour how I was getting on with the various modes of transport. I said I had most enjoyed the Hercules flight, mainly because Nicky Ness, the director of Combined Services Entertainment, had played such a blinder. 
  'I don't remember her organising an official escort or anything?' Stacks commented.
  'No, she'd kept the custard creams from the day's bag rations and handed them out onboard. They were like travel sickness tablets in a valium version.  Ask the scouse ex-hairdresser PT instructor from on that flight. Signed up as an apprentice to his mum in her salon, got sick of the piss-taking, signed up to be a Guardsman instead. Now just wants to be back on the Wirral with his adjustable chair and his layering scissors asking, "Do you want some gel or wax on that?"  He was clearly about to bawl on the Hercules till he was on his third biscuit and the magic hit his bloodstream.'
  Stacks shook his head, grinning. 'You and your custard creams fetish. Shame the camels out here don't share it.'
  We had been forced to stop somewhere out on the road when radio contact went down between the vehicles in our armed convoy. There had been a caravan of camels a few feet away; I had wondered if they might like a nice custard cream and tried calling them over. 
  'They'd looked sad, thank you, Stacks.  The sugar might have pepped them up.'

  And, thank me, it was all about the custard creams when I tried to get Stacks flown home when he got injured in Afghanistan. 
  The Tristar home to the U.K. was AWOL due to an issue with security clearance, and not due to fly to Brize from Kandahar until Saturday. This was Thursday. We had finished our comedy show, and would be stuck out in Afghanistan until that Saturday at the very least. 
  Except that the president of Estonia finished an official visit Thursday afternoon and refused to wait for the Tristar; he commandeered a Hercules to take him to Qatar where he would then take a commercial flight to Hanover. Our people spoke to his people and we went along with him for the ride. I was so grateful, at Bastion airport I offered the President a pack of the custard creams that I had, inevitably, at some point saved from a bag ration.
  ‘Brilliant you were able to pull rank like this, your…er…president-ness. Oh, you’re more than welcome. Do take another pack. The camels never want them, anyway.’
  I tried and failed to get Stacks on the president's Hercules flight. 
  ‘But he’s been injured in the field of duty,’ I said to the check-in official. He was short, stern and had hair the colour of tarnished gold.
  ‘His injury isn’t nearly serious enough.’ He turned a questioning look on Stacks. ‘Not to mention that there is official protocol to be observed.’
  ‘But I gave the President of Estonia my spare custard creams; and it’s his plane!’
  Stacks, resigned, bent to pick up his kit bag. 
  ‘Worth a try, chick,' he said. 'Thank you. Er, no, belay!’ He grabbed me by the shoulders; I’d been on my way to ask the president to pull rank. ‘Really, no. It was a long shot. The president couldn’t interfere.’
  I wondered, When do you actually ever hear about Estonia other than on Eurovision night? Useless. He can give me my bloody custard creams back for a start!'
  'Princess, you are not, repeat not to ask the President of Estonia for your camel-reject custard creams back on that Hercules. International incident waiting to happen isn't in it!' 

  I didn't. But I did have a spot of bother at Hanover airport.

At my desk in St Pancras I saw that, finally, there was a little green dot by Stacks’s name on Facebook chat.
  ‘Stacks! When are you flying back?’
  ‘Saturday still all going to plan. How was your trip home?’
  ‘Ages to Qatar on the Hercules. Four and a half hours. Then I nearly got arrested for shop-lifting at Hanover Airport. Stupid of the Fräulein in the Christmas Fayre boutique to display the festive biscuit selection in bowls to be sold by weight. With the price hidden on the bottoms. Just asking for me to think they were free samples and royally help myself.’
  'Custard creams?'
  'No, German.  See, you should have let me tackle the President...'

  As the saying goes, might as well be hanged for an M and S Custard Cream as for a Hannoveraner Lebkuchen.
  

  
   
  

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