Class conscious

Not only is class warfare not at an end, as Tony Blair has proclaimed, it is even being waged in the arena of crisps.

Crisps, per se, are quite declasse. They are essentially surrogate chips, and there is nothing posh about chips. Crisps were the staple diet of Compo in Last of the Summer Wine and featured in that most yobbish of pop songs, "Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please" by Splodgenessabounds. It's fine to order a bag of crisps in a pub, but always embarrassing, especially if one is surrounded by one's social superiors, to specify a flavour. The earnest insistence on cheese and onion, for example, is naff; much better to suddenly declare, "You know, I've just got this sudden craving for a packet of crisps!" exactly as if you are not some spotty prole who lived on the things. Then, when the landlord asks you to specify a flavour, say "Oh, you know, whatever . . . "

In recent years, though, a new, middle-class type of crisp has become available, seeking to satisfy the bourgeois requirements for healthiness and authenticity, and this has reached its apogee with a brand called "Jonathan Crisp". "Unlike ordinary, mass-produced crisps . . . " the blurb on every Jonathan Crisp packet snobbishly begins, "Jonathan carefully selects his potatoes before cooking them in their jackets." John Whiteside, MD of Jonathan Crisp, denied to me that his product was aimed squarely at the middle classes, but rather undermined his position by correcting my pronunciation of one of his flavours, Jalapeno Pepper. "In Spanish," he said, "the 'j' is silent."

Whiteside distinguishes between his own crisps and white, mass-produced crisps whose flavours contain "c" numbers, such as Sea Brook, which is my favourite brand. They're available mainly in the north. A spokesman for the firm pointed out that they're cooked in sunflower oil, salted with sea salt and endorsed by Compo's own favourite flavour, tomato (the "t", by the way, is not silent there), and I'd recommend them to all.

Middle-class people inhibited by prejudice should dispose of the bags and serve them in ramekins.

This article first appeared in the 11 October 1999 issue of the New Statesman, A world without children