written and posted by members of Lancashire Dead Good Poets' Society

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Came Forth Sweetness

I'm going to start this blog with a digression. I never thought of myself as a cruel child, but I wince slightly now in recounting the following tale from my formative years. When I was aged four and living (as I'm sure I've explained before) in deepest, darkest Africa, I used to collect toads and pop them into old Lyle's golden syrup tins, the lids of which my father had punctured with a few holes so the creatures could breathe. I think I must have imagined I was an intrepid explorer, scouring the continent for rare and exotic beasts and bringing my amazing finds home to base-camp, much to the wonderment of all.

I was certainly in the right locale; but toads were about as exotic a trophy as a four-year-old armed with a few syrup tins could expect to ensnare; and as for the wonderment element - which is the real point of telling this story - that consisted of presenting a tin to my younger brother (aged two) and enjoying his reaction as he pulled off the lid  and came forth not sweetness (as the famous logo proclaimed) but a toad, springing right up into his surprised face. It's a trick that, to my satisfaction, worked on more than one occasion. What can I say? Boys will be boys. No toads were harmed. Digression over.

ye olde imperial measure golden syrup tin
I always took that instantly recognisable and usefully recyclable green and golden syrup tin for granted with its lion, its bees and its slogan 'out of the strong came forth sweetness'. It was only when I was mulling over ideas for this  sugar  blog that I decided to delve a bit deeper - and here is what I found...

Take the lion in the picture. I always assumed he was sleeping contentedly (possibly after a heavy meal of treacle tart, one of my own favourites as a lad), but he is in fact dead. And those bees buzzing around his head aren't seeking out any last traces of treacle to be found on his magnificent muzzle and whiskers, they've been nesting and breeding in his corpse. Quite a shocker.

Abram Lyle, founding father of the East End sugar refining company that bore his name, was a very religious man and he took that slogan from a Bible story (Judges chapter 14 if you wish to check it out), which relates how Samson on a visit to select a bride from among the Philistines once tore a young lion apart with his bare hands and on re-passing the scene some considerable time later found bees nesting in the carcass, from which he extracted honey that he took home with him. That led him to pose the following riddle to the Philistines at his wedding feast: 'Out of the eater came forth food and out of the strong came forth sweetness.' After puzzling over this for three days the guests advised Samson's new wife to get him to expound on the meaning of the riddle or they would burn the house down. Ah, the old days, the old ways!

The image of the lion on the Lyle tin is based on a painting of 1849 by Sir Edwin Landseer, entitled 'The Desert' (or alternatively 'The Fallen Monarch'), reproduced below. The original can still be seen in Manchester Art Gallery.

the lion sleeps forever
Sir Edwin was famous for his depictions of wild life in various media. His most well-known works are the sculptures of lions that stand at each corner of Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square. He was also much given to drugs and drink, suffered from depression and his family eventually had him certified insane.

Abram Lyle & Sons duly merged with England's other leading sugar-refining company Henry Tate & Sons in 1921 to form Tate & Lyle. In the previous century both of the firms' founding fathers had become millionaire sugar magnates and Tate's lasting benefaction (on his death in 1899) was to the world of the arts in the form of the Tate Gallery. In a curious way, that closed a circle.

I make a point of trying to avoid sugary foods, except for the occasional treat. Treacle tart remains one of my few sweet indulgences; not so easy to come by nowadays. In Egypt it's called 'palace bread' (if you ever need to ask). The finest treacle tart I ever had was at a pub in Moretonhampstead on the northern edge of Dartmoor. It was made with black treacle. That was over thirty years ago but remains a fond memory.

To wrap up this week's blog, a new poem - a work in progress (so subject to change) - a somewhat caustic commentary on La Dolce Vita, a tilt at the second estate and those who possess it or aspire to it.

The Sweet Life
Life on Quality Street boasts
an embarrassment of bitches;
the cream of Tory motherhood
has suckled the next clutch
of arrogant young bucks who
aspire to lord it over us;
their ancient double-barrelled names
already down for Cleversods,
that prestigious school-on-the-hill
where they'll learn how to be elite,
with bullying and buggery for sport,
get taught how to shoot, ride roughshod
and be ready to rule the world
unfolding at their precious feet.

Meanwhile on Quality Street,
behind those beds of roses
and bold front doors with CCTV,
fanlights and carriage lamps,
anachronistically a feudal world prevails
of nannies, butlers, cooks and maids
whose duty is to serve, but not observe
discreet affairs between masters and au pairs
or mistresses and fashionable beaus,
to make sure everything is laid out
on the plate precisely so the second estate,
whose members, ensconced, immune
from want or strife can thrive;
no shadow of austerity shall taint their lives.

With silver spoons in mouths
and later up their noses - one supposes -
the children of the privileged
will want for nothing but compassion
as they grow into their roles.

How elegantly debutantes
perform the ritual mating dance,
in season now and looking for a match
more based on money than romance.
Handsome but penniless won't cut it
unless the title's right;
coarse with a king's ransom might.

So history repeats itself,
the mystery of succession of the privileged.
They take their places on the boards
of hedge fund companies with offshore fortunes
well beyond the reach of law
or buy a safe seat in the House from where
with others of their ruthless kind
they legislate to decimate the Welfare State
in the interests of keeping things sweet
for their fellow residents on Quality Street.

Thanks for reading. Stay sassy and sharp, S ;-)


Anonymous said...

Fascinating and fearsome!

Boz said...

Tremendous, la. Top blogging again - great new poem.

Deke Hughes said...

That's some offing of the Toffs! I assume you had the ERG in mind as you wrote your poem.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant Steve - a funny and informative blog and a killer poem. I loved it.

Peter Forster said...

Very good ;-)

PFTH said...

Sugar is a foe but our body needs it but at a good level not overboard. Great poem!

Anonymous said...

Mmmm... treacle tarts :-D

Anonymous said...

That's what I call "giving it to the ruling class". A bit of a caricature perhaps but a powerful one.

Matt West said...

Good. Angry Steve is back! That's your best one since your Owen Oystains poem. Well done buddy - hope to get up to Pool for Saturday meeting.

TJ said...

Tremendous Steve. Keep it coming my friend.

Rochelle said...

Well this lived up to its billing of sweet'n'sour all right; as beautifully written as ever. I remember Lyle's golden syrup - my Dad used to stir it into his porridge.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous blog. Thank you.

CI66Y said...

"He's not an explorer - he's a very naughty boy!" Sorry Steve, couldn't resist that. Thanks for another fascinating blog and another great slice of polemical poetry.

Anonymous said...

That's a fascinating sweet blog and one hell of a poem.

Anonymous said...

Toads, treacle tarts and Tories - that's quite a sweep. Well done, a great read.

Celia M said...

Love it. Keep giving them Tories hell.

Anonymous said...

Sweet! Someone had to say it :)

Anonymous said...

What's not to like? Witty, instructive and a fine poem to boot. Very good that.

Andy Higgins said...

Think the Jewel of The North is a good term .....

Anonymous said...

The blog was interesting but the poem is tremendous - specially like the lines: "with others of their ruthless kind/ they legislate to decimate the welfare state" and I hope everyone can see that is the real root of modern conservative ideology even if they wrap it all up in this one-nation make charity take the strain claptrap. Well done.

Phil Drabble said...

Thought provoking Steve, but I prefer to celebrate how far we've come since that syrup tin, than bemoaning the era where we've all come from.

Anonymous said...

Glad to learn the toads lived to grace another tin. I wonder if you could have included 'toadying' in your poem. I too loved golden syrup and have fond memories of it in flapjack and on porridge. I thought it was still on sale.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Steve.

av said...

I thought this was great. A funny and informative blog and a wicked poem. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I love the blog and your poem - not just well said, brilliantly said.

Anonymous said...

What a great blog!

MoonGoddess said...

What a witty poem! Tate and Lyle's Golden Syrup was a childhood treat and I loved looking at the design on the tin. I didn't realise that the lion was dead either - but just showing its gentle side!

Anonymous said...

Wow. I heard you perform The Sweet Life at Montagues last night - a brilliant poem and a powerful performance Steve.

GV (Vance) said...

What a great poem.

Steve Rowland said...

Thanks all for the positive feedback. When I performed the poem in Preston a couple of weeks ago it was remarked that you're never too old to be an 'angry young man'.

By the way, Lyle's Golden Syrup is still going strong in its iconic green and gold tin - much preferable to the squeezy plastic tube version.

Carey Jones said...

A most entertaining blog and witty evisceration of the 'residents of Quality Street' :)

Anonymous said...

Such a wittily-written piece. I like the way you've captured the sense of a child's view of the world with the suggestion that the lion could be sleeping off a big meal of treacle-tart. Very funny. As for the poem, excellent. Thanks for sharing it.

Tyger Barnett said...

An interesting blog and a forceful satire.

Anonymous said...

Really smart blog and some great lines in your poem.

Statto said...

This country loses a whopping £35 billion every year in tax evasion by wealthy companies and individuals (HMRC statistic). It loses a less staggering £2 billion every year in benefit fraud (DWP statistic). The government employs over 4,000 people to chase down benefit fraud but only 500 to tackle tax evasion - nobbling the little man since forever!

Steve Rowland said...

Thanks Peter. Telling statistics.

Stu Hodges said...

Steve, your blog was fascinating and your poem had me laughing out loud - Cleversods School... brilliant satire and alarmingly not as OTT as one would like to think. Bravo pal.

Anonymous said...

What a brilliant and biting poem.