You’ll Ruin Your Dinner by Damien Corless
Rebel Voice wonders how many readers spent a childhood trying to consume as many sweets as possible, even at the risk of incurring a parent’s wrath and the associated dire warnings of life with no teeth. If the Irish experience is in any way standard, then quite a few of you will enjoy the stories and information contained in this little sugar-filled gem of a book. Note: this book is high calorie.
You’ll Ruin Your Dinner is about sweets and treats. It covers the period from the Easter Rising of 1916 up to the 1980s and includes sweets, ice cream, crisps and many other miscellaneous goodies that made young Irish eyes boggle and young mouths water with desire and anticipation at a time when such goods were beyond the daily reach of most.
There are some wonderful anecdotes, such as how looters, during the ’16 Rising, stole more sweets than anything else. The various pieces of trivia are a delight. Did you know, for example, that Ireland gave the world the first flavoured potato crisp? It’s true. I kid you not. Tayto founder, Joe ‘Spud’ Murphy, came up with the concept after becoming bored with Smith‘s single flavour, which was potato. Cheese and Onion was unveiled and the rest is high calorie, smelly fart history.
The one recurring theme throughout this poignant look at the munching habits of Ireland’s children is that the confectioners were a whiny, greedy lot, less concerned with the welfare of their clientele than they were about maintaining a monopoly on the sale of sweets. Vending machines were anathema to them, as were vans and bicycle vendors selling the goods. They opposed any other retail outlet selling the same produce that they did, and also complained about any reductions in prices. They lost that battle and eventually had to adapt or collapse. Both occurred.
There were a staggering number of confectionery manufacturers in Ireland in bygone days. Toffee companies sprang up everywhere. Ice cream supplies were considerable. Hygiene was not a consideration. Window displays won prizes for their ingenuity and variety. Irish companies such as HB (Hughes Brothers) fought viciously for their share of a very competitive market. But local companies began to lose out when multinationals entered the Irish market. Today HB is owned by Unilever, a far cry from the days of battles with Dublin’s other manufacturers.
There are some wonderfully evocative photos of old, featuring Irish children and their tasty prizes. There is also a plethora of adverts that have been forgotten by most. Individual contributors provide a few quaint stories from their own childhoods which may resonate with readers. The fascinating thing is the way that sweets went from being an occasional and much sought after treat, to becoming an everyday foodstuff for both children and adults. Cadbury used to advertise their products as filling a hole. From that advertising ploy, citizens began to employ confectionery as a means of staving off hunger whereas before it may have been an apple or, in Bandon town, half a turnip.
Curly Wurlys, Chewits, Cola Cubes, Refreshers, Love Hearts (known as ‘conversation lozenges), Opal Fruits, Wibbly Wobbly Wonder, Brunch and Fruit Salad penny chews are just some of the multitude of tasty delights to be rediscovered in this book. There is so much to remember in You’ll Ruin Your Dinner that you may develop a toothache from reading and need a loathed trip to the dentist. Send the bill to Damien Corless.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. Light, informative and enjoyably poignant read about 80 years of Irish sweets and assorted treats.