Brands on the breakfast table taught me to read. As a child, I studiously absorbed every word, every line, on the sides of cereal packets, the lids of jars, the labels of condiment bottles.
I liked the pithiness of a slogan that was fun to say and easy to remember – “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” – and the never-ending words with multiple syllables that opened the door to whole new planets of knowledge. “Riboflavin”. I still don’t know quite what that means, but I always got the hint that it’s meant to be good for you. But this, back then, was my favourite brand, and my favourite slogan.
The big tin of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, with its image of a lion in repose, and a swarm of bees hovering above. “Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness”.
I think this was the first time, as a six-year-old, that I was forced to confront the notion of paradox, of language as a riddle, a chain of secrets waiting to be unlocked. It was only much later, in class, I recall, that we learned the story of Samson, and how in the land of the Philistines he had slain a lion, and had travelled back to see the carcass surrounded by the swarm.
And how he had turned this into a riddle at a wedding: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.”
I saw this tin on the shelves today, unchanged in packaging since my childhood, and the memories came, well, not flooding back, but slowly, goldenly, sliding from a knife, and cascading in a drizzle on a slice of toast.
We never forget the brands of our youth, nor the taste of Lyle’s Golden Syrup.