Jaffa Catastrophe

A certain generation will recall vividly the TV commercial for McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes (deliciously soft-centred) in circulation for several years around the turn of the century. Sources indicate it started in 1999, which would make sense, riding the coattails of that year’s solar eclipse which took place on my eighth birthday. It is perhaps due to this personal connection that I feel so strongly about discussing the moon accurately, and why I therefore consider the advert to be one of the great TV travesties of modern times (even worse than Without Prejudice), and one of the central reasons I didn’t grow to love Jaffa Cakes until I was 15.

Most infuriating is that it all starts off so well. A teacher, who I had no doubt at this stage was doing her absolute best, greets her class and uses a Jaffa Cake to symbolise a full moon. But of course. How inspired to use everyday treats to teach us about the movements of our world and its satellite. It needn’t stop there. We could drop bourbons to demonstrate gravity, use Kit-Kats to illustrate the geological make-up of the Earth, maybe even use a cup of tea for dunking as a springboard onto the heat-death of the universe. The sky’s the limit. If anything, at this stage, it’s the children I resent for failing to show due enthusiasm towards the celestial bodies.

Then, everything changes. The teacher takes a bite into the Jaffa Cake, creating, if we’re charitable, a waning crescent moon (it is too big for that, but the shape of the regular human bite creates a crescent, and so a crescent of some form it must be). Every time I watch this moment, it’s like the whole of reality slows down. Malicious glee in her eyes, the teacher looks from her crescent to her class and spews out, ‘Half moon’.

Shock. Dismay. How could she do this? To her class. To me. To all of us at home. To spread ignorance through the country in this way was, to my mind, unforgivable, and immediately my faith in her teaching abilities was shattered. This was a person, I now realised, who should never have been left alone with children. To this day, I find myself asking of the creators of the advert, would it honestly have looked that unappetising for her to have slowly nibbled her way directly halfway across the cake in a roughly straight line, to create an actual half moon?

Yet the worst was still to come. As if to misrepresent the cycle so badly wasn’t enough, the teacher then switches astronomical phenomenon altogether, and yet acts as if she has done nothing of the sort, as she pops the whole cake into her mouth, creating a new moon.

And what does she say? Well, you already know. So eager are her lies to escape her treacherous mouth, the words don’t even wait for the cake to get out of their way before they form and escape into the open air.

‘Repeat after me, class,’ she could have said, ‘A solar eclipse is an event entirely separate to the lunar cycle.’ But no, she did not. In 1999, of all years. The only thing totally eclipsed in that advert, reader, was the truth.

‘Good! Now, let’s do it one more time!’ No thanks, teacher. And I hope you’re placed in special measures.

I didn’t eat Jaffa Cakes when that advert was circulating, and I didn’t eat them for years afterwards. This, admittedly, may have been more to do with a Year 5 Food & Textiles lesson in which we spent an hour sampling different budget brands of Jaffa Cake to compare texture and lack of flavour. By end of it I was as pale as the lifeless sponge of the Tesco Economy pack. Absolutely nauseating, and to this day I still don’t understand what the point of the lesson was.

Eventually, in 2007, I found out that Jonny Greenwood, lead guitarist of Radiohead, liked Jaffa Cakes (and Meddle by Pink Floyd, which I also tried hard to get into). My girlfriend at the time bought me a selection of mini-Jaffa Cakes to try. The stars had aligned, and I ate all 36 in one night as I watched the 1979 Doctor Who story City of Death for the first time. Suddenly, I got what all the fuss was about (for Jaffa Cakes and City of Death, which really is one of the all-time greats). I don’t remember much else of that evening, other than it was Monday 21st May, the day before my friend Connor’s sixteenth birthday (and I was marking the occasion in style).

This led to an addiction which culminated on my own sixteenth birthday a few months later, when various friends and family, having become aware, treated me accumulatively to 84 individual Jaffa Cakes and two Jaffa Cake-inspired homemade birthday cakes. They didn’t last long. I think back to this period as one of the most blissful of my life. I truly loved Jaffa Cakes now. And only eight years after I was supposed to.

My only regret is it could have happened so much sooner. I feel sorry for my younger self to have been deprived of them by my own bloody-mindedness at the advert (and the aforementioned Food & Textiles incident which was definitely more at fault; most of them really were horrible, and the Tesco ones didn’t even have any orange filling in, they were just bad sponge with bad chocolate on, and again, what was the lesson for?!).

If only Little Me had become addicted to Jaffa Cakes then, he might have become alarmingly overweight because of it. Instead he became alarmingly overweight because of various other foods and low self-esteem. The Jaffa Cakes would have to wait, thanks to two teachers, one fictional, one real, each in their own way abusing a delicious snack to teach lessons that, in either case, could surely never have been part of the national curriculum.

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