Cereal Killers

I ducked under the airborne bolus of Ready Brek flung from my daughter’s spoon but my arm, stretched out for balance, caught on a fork on the edge of the table, somersaulting it towards the other side of the kitchen. Fortunately, no damage was done – a quick audit of eyes at the breakfast table revealed none sporting an item of cutlery, but it occurred to me that breakfast cereal can be pretty dangerous stuff.

After all, this is just the kind of unlikely possibility that we must all be alert to these days. Now that doctors and boffins have largely removed the scourge of infectious disease from the western world, all eyes are now turned on to an even more ambitious target – that of erasing every kind of inconsequential risk from our lives. For example, an official leaflet sprung up a couple of years ago about the wild dangers of carpet slippers for the elderly while doormats in council flats were briefly banned in Bristol because they were identified as ‘trip hazards’. Then, last year, intrusion was elevated to a new level when specialist advice on the best techniques to employ while evacuating your bowels was issued by an NHS Trust in Scotland (the trick, apparently, is to leave your mouth slightly open).

Given this apparent desire to remove all risk, surely it’s only a matter of time before every table fork carries a mandatory tag to warn us of the potential for slapstick injury. Then, before we know it, they will be taxed heavily, then licensed and then finally banned outright while your local television news carries stories of a successful fork amnesty and shocked police officers hold a press conference standing over a cache of unlicensed Russian tableware. The spoon will follow shortly after, having been identified as ‘soft cutlery’ which, an official report will inform us, leads to a spiral of serious crime to fund the sick and filthy habit of fork abuse. Eventually, in fifty years time or so, someone will write a libertarian tract on silver service which will start ‘First they came for the teaspoons and I did not speak out because I did not take sugar’.

Perhaps aware of the inevitable backlash to come once the true nature of breakfast cereal is revealed, manufacturers are moving early to show their credentials as responsible corporations. Their advertising has long centred on the promise of health and fitness and that message is now being augmented by pious advice on the back of the packet. Having bought the cereal, we are now being asked to buy the lifestyle as manufacturers position themselves as the oracles of wholesomeness.

I remember reading the back of the cereal packet when I was a child – it was where you could find out where the world’s tallest building was, how many velociraptors would fit in a double-decker bus or how large the Moon was in terms of that standard unit of surface area, ‘the size of Wales’.  Now that’s all gone. What you get instead – what our children ingest along with their toasted grain sweepings – is beige and brown cross-sections of wheatgerm, tiresome treatises on the importance of fibre, the recommended daily allowance of Riboflavin and now, the final straw, wilful incitement to exercise. What was once an open door to a world of learning and curiosity, the back of the cereal packet is now little more than a portal to the consensus of the mundane.

On the back of this particular packet of Sanctimonious Krispies was a short, bullet-pointed piece on the benefits of exercise. A quick jog down the park, a bit of swimming in the pool and a short bike ride to your mates, we are told, are the keys to a healthy, active childhood. Furthermore, if you can enlist mum or dad or, in modern parlance, ‘a responsible adult’, you’ll be helping them get fit too.

I’m sorry, but when did it become my child’s place to tell me that I’m fat and lazy? When did pester power extend from the simply unethical – an exhortation to buy plastic crap for them – to the well-meaning but misplaced invasion of my sloth?

Investigating other cereals in the cupboard failed to turn up any meaningful information on dinosaurs, the Moon or skyscrapers, just more humbug and piety on health and fitness. On one packet of Holier-than-thou Flakes, the usual couple of hundred words of powder-puff copywriting was followed by the suggestion that I should schedule 30 minutes of exercise every other day and treat it like any other appointment. Which is fine, I usually arrive late and in poor condition for my appointments, so it does at least mean I can spend my scheduled exercise time in the same way as all my other engagements, swearing under my breath on a stationary bus, chipping away at a hardened glob of Ready Brek on my lapel. There’ll be no exercise though, you can’t move on the bus these days for all the bloody velociraptors.