Dear Mr Key, writes Tim Thurn, I was intrigued, when reading your piece Fear Of Squirrels, to come across the phrase “marmaladeless morning”. I have not encountered this particular conjunction of words before. Could you tell me what it means?
I am only too happy to oblige, Tim. We may define a marmaladeless morning as a morning without marmalade.
For many people, marmalade is an essential and intrinsic part of their morning, when, for example, their breakfast menu includes toast, and after the toast is buttered it is then spread with marmalade. Greedier people, and those without table manners, may just spoon marmalade straight from the jar into their mouths. We may tut at this practice, but cannot deny that it happens, regrettable as it may be. The point is that, whether consumed spread on toast (in a refined manner) or straight from the jar (in a disgusting manner), marmalade is present at the breakfast table, and the morning is patently not marmaladeless.
We speak of marmaladeless mornings when the jar of marmalade is not present. This can occur for several reasons. The jar may be languishing unloved on a shelf in the pantry. Or the jar may be brought to the breakfast table, only for it to be discovered that it is empty, or as near as dammit. In some circumstances, the pantry, and related larders and cupboards, might be entirely innocent of marmalade. This happens in what is known as a marmaladeless house.
If I may speak for a moment of my own experience, I can say with some certainty that I have lived through thousands of marmaladeless mornings. This is because toast and marmalade is not one of my regular breakfasting items. As far as I know, it is not compulsory to include toast and marmalade in one’s breakfast, and thus I choose not to.
Of course, we can imagine a state or regime which makes it compulsory. In this nightmarish situation, a marmaladeless morning would be a criminal offence. There would be patrols of marmalade enforcement goons going door to door, barging into homes, demanding evidence of marmalade. Woe betide the marmaladeless outlaw!
Fortunately, this remains a dystopian fantasy. We are free to include or to exclude marmalade from our breakfasts. We are even free to eschew the toast and scoff the marmalade straight from the jar. We need not even make use of a spoon. We might simply dig the marmalade out of the jar with our bare hands, stuffing our marmaladey fingers into our mouths and licking and sucking until every last atom of marmalade is shovelled down our gullets. Such a practice is visually arresting, if barbaric, and one feels that a marmaladeless morning would be a small but necessary mercy were we to witness it.
The twentieth century’s greatest pamphleteer, Dobson, wrote a fascinating essay entitled Marmalade : Does It Come In A Jar Or A Pot? (out of print). Maddeningly, he fails to give a conclusive answer to his own question. Instead, he veers off, over several hundred pages, into a frankly incoherent diatribe, taking potshots – or jarshots? – at a variety of seemingly unrelated topics, including aniseed, bleach, corrugated cardboard, dentists, egg-timers, flip-top lids, gas, hags, ink, jam, kaolin (pig iron), loopy persons, Madagascar, nettles, oxygen tents, passementerie, quips, rhubarb, sandwiches, talc, ullage, vipers, weasels, xylophonists, yobboes, and zookeepers. We might concede that both jam and sandwiches are somewhat relevant to the ostensible topic – that is, in case you have forgotten, marmalade – but not in the way Dobson approaches them. Believe you me, I have read the pamphlet from cover to cover, twice, and I can make head nor tail of what he is going on about. But ’twas ever thus.