In which we may serve a writ or three

27th December 1996 at 00:00
I used to have an irrational hatred of the boy on the Tunnock's caramel log box. He would beam out at me with apple-cheeked, hair-creamed goodness from his position by the till in Edinburgh's Teviot Row Students' Union. Perhaps I disliked him so intensely because, despite my imitation leather jacket and Honda, I knew deep down that I was just as innocent as he.

My latest bugbear is also food-related, namely serving suggestions. My kids are fond of hotdogs, and the brand we favour shows a couple of the sausages on a plate beside a single sprig of parsley. And there it is, in tiny letters: Serving suggestion. So there you have it: A sprig of parsley, two hot dogs, a veritable feast. An explosion of contrasting tastes. Eat your heart out, Gary Rhodes, with some fava beans and a nice Frascati (serving suggestion).

Now see if you can guess this one: the illustration shows more tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and cucumber. What packaging does it feature on? Do you give up? It's low-sodium salt. You can't even see the flaming salt on the picture.

Now who on earth has such a dearth of imagination that they need these suggestions? Who is so ignorant of the ways of the world that they need to be guided towards adding milk to their breakfast cereal? If that was the reason for having serving suggestions, then it would be bad enough. Unfortunately, the real reason these words are printed is far more disturbing.

It goes to the very heart of human greed, stupidity and opportunism. Should I open my hot dogs and not find a sprig of parsley as illustrated, I can try to sue the firm for misleading advertising or some such tosh.

I am sure it all began in America. The story goes that in that country there was a woman who was in the habit of drying her recently shampooed poodle in a gently-warmed electric oven.

She then bought a microwave oven and tried the same stunt. . . I hope this is an urban myth, not so much on grounds of animal cruelty, rather because I would hate to think such a stupid person received any of the reported compensation.

Of course, there was no warning on the microwave oven not to put pets inside, just as manufacturers should not have to cover themselves with the words "serving suggestion" lest some opportunist feigns upset at not finding a piece of toast in his soup.

What I am pleased to see is the tobacco companies getting it in the neck. I look forward to billions in compensation being paid out to those unfortunate enough to have become hooked before the health warnings became compulsory.

Far less pleasing is the new fashion of bringing legal action against schools. It would be foolish to mention any cases I have heard about as some of the egos involved are so large that, should individuals be identifiable I could find myself at the wrong end of a writ.

Suffice to say that we may soon have to cover ourselves. Handbooks will contain phrases like: "Pupils who consistently disrupt classes may find themselves excluded from those classes for a period of time and whilst every effort will be made to supply them with meaningful work it must be accepted that the child's education may be adversely affected. And don't claim we're aye picking on him."

Worse still, brochures picturing academic or sporting success will have to have something akin to "serving suggestion" underneath. See you in court.

Gregor Steele's serving suggestion: wrap your chips in this article.

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