On Saturday morning I awoke at around seven o’clock, yawned and squirmed in my itchy bed. My bed was full of crumbs from eating biscuits the night before and a couple of seconds after waking I had pulled the packet of Custard Creams from under my pillow and was biting into one to taste the creamy filling. It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning – no school, nobody awake, a world of opportunity. I had plans to make the most of the day but the custard cream I was eating was not helping me as they are not biscuits which inspire sudden movements. They make me think of jumpers, crosswords, relaxing in bed. I considered about curling up in bed with my stomach full of Custard Creams and falling back asleep for a few hours.
No! I used the momentum, climbed out of bed and dove straight underneath and into the cupboards below. I stuck my head and shoulders in and turned on my torch, running the beam over the insides of the cupboard, my favourite sight to start the day with. It was an Aladdin’s cave, though filled with something far more interesting than treasure. This was my biscuit research, archive and conservation centre, carefully built up in the last few years, propelled by the enthusiasm of my sweet tooth yet constrained by a perpetual lack of funds. At the front of the cupboard were assorted packets of biscuits which I was currently consuming and doing taste tests on and to the left of this jumbled mess of packets were my files – catalogued wrappers, notes from previous tastings, all the essays I had previously written. Along the back of the cupboard though was the most important part of my centre, row upon row of airtight glass jars all containing samples of all different types of biscuit, carefully packed and kept just in case any of them became extinct.
This was a worry. And today I intended to further investigate one of the biscuits on my endangered list – the Chocolate Fudge Crunch Cream. These are some of my favourites – they are a bit like round, fudgey bourbons with a cracked earth type biscuit base. According to the matrix on the manufacturers website there is only one supermarket chain which stocks them and I had already checked at one nearby store. The only other nearby store in the chain was a forty five minute walk away, but what were Saturday mornings for? I dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, picked up my backpack and left the house, my parents still sleeping.
Once at the supermarket I made a beeline for the biscuit aisle. I hadn’t walked two and a half miles to mess about in the rest of the shop. I could see straight away that they had an impressive array of Crunch Creams but my heart fell when I realised that none of them were of the chocolate fudge variety. I checked again and again, hoping to see the purple packet where I had missed it the first time. No Chocolate Fudge Crunch Creams presented themselves to me, just Ginger Crunch, Golden Crunch, Ginger Golden Crunch and every other type of crunch. It was on the fifth check that I noticed that on the shelf it still listed ’Chocolate Fudge Crunch Creams 79p.’ Above it just seemed to stock Chocolate Chip Crunch Creams – a fine biscuit but not what I was looking for.
Perhaps the Chocolate Fudge Crunch Creams were hidden behind them. I removed the top couple of packets and tried to peer over the top but it was too dark. I was going to have to go in. I carefully removed a couple of rows of Chocolate Chip Crunch Creams and placed them in my basket which I then left on the floor close to the shelves so that no one would accidentally step in it. I placed my foot on a lower shelf, pulled myself up and climbed onto the shelf and started crawling behind the biscuits so that I could see what was going on back there.
I was surprised by how far I could crawl behind the piles of biscuits and, feeling a little disorientated, took out my torch and turned it on. The biscuit shelf went further back than I could ever have imagined, my torch unable to illuminate all the way to the back. I carried on crawling on my belly, through the darkness, dust and crumbs, intrigued to see just how far back this shelf would go. Occasionally I would come across a packet of biscuits which had clearly been there for sometime and the expedition became a little like archaeology. I found a half-eaten packet of the short-lived chocolate digestive spin-off Plain Chocolate & Pear Digestives and some childrens novelty biscuits with Edd the Duck on.
I carried on a little further but was becoming a little weary. There had been nothing for a while and I was considering turning back. I could not turn properly to see the bright light of the outside supermarket but it seemed a long way away and now I was just crawling through crumbs, dust and the occasional streak of jam.
Then I saw it. A packet of Chocolate Fudge Crunch Creams.
A packet of Chocolate Fudge Crunch Creams that was half eaten. Half eaten by rats. I watched as five rats feasted on this elegant biscuit delicacy, picking them up and struggling to get their mouths round them, instead nibbling frantically with their sharp teeth. I edged closer, perhaps I could scare them off. I reached my hand towards the packet of biscuits and was met with a barrage of angry nips and nibbles. They did not bite and I assumed that they were merely warning me off. It was time for plan b. In my backpack I found my Custard Creams and took one out, holding it out to the rats in the hope of distracting them from their meal. But these were canny rats and they knew when they were on to a good thing, they just carried on munching away.
It was then that I noticed that they were not merely munching away on the biscuits but were eating them and then stopping, turning to one another and squeaking and gesticulating as if they were discussing the biscuit between themselves. Were these rats biscuit connoisseurs too? Instead of feeling disappointed about missing out on the Chocolate Fudge Crunch Creams I began to become enthralled in watching the rats and found that I could almost read their reactions to the biscuit even if I could not comprehend their squeaks. They were discussing texture, taste, the cream filling, the lot.
The packet was nearly gone, they would have to come to their conclusions soon. When there was just one biscuit remaining they all stood around it, leaning on it as though it was a table in a pub, squeaking away at one another animatedly. These rats really seemed to know their stuff, I could tell that they had appreciated the biscuits by their expansive gestures and that their debate was along the lines of, “is this one of the best we’ve ever had?” rather than, “what is this rubbish?” They seemed to come to a conclusion and once they had done this they attacked the biscuit with venom, all biting in from different sides and eventually meeting together in one playful rolling ball of fur.
All apart from one. The smallest rat, who was white and covered with brown patches snuck away from the group and began investigating the custard cream which I had been attempting to use as bait earlier. He sniffed at it and then looked up at me as if asking permission before beginning to nibble away at it. It was then that an idea struck me. Biscuit research was a lonely pursuit when you knew no one else who was quite so enthusiastic as yourself – most people just seemed to like crunching through them with little or no thought. But these rats had properly considered each mouthful and seemed to have a wider appreciation of what they were eating.
I watched him whilst he ate and named him Oliver. How would you like to come and work for me Oliver? I thought. You could be my research assistant. He had finished the custard cream and so I took another one out. I placed it on the palm of my hand and decided that if he came and ate it on my hand then he would be happy to come with me and if not I would leave him where he was. He moved towards the biscuit cautiously and then gingerly placed one foot on the palm of my hand. When he had climbed on completely and was engrossed in the treat I slipped him carefully into my backpack, leaving him with the whole of the rest of the pack to gorge on.
I crawled back towards the exit to the biscuit aisle, picking up more dust and crumbs as I went and hoping that Oliver was not being disturbed too much in my backpack. When I reached the shelf edge though I found that the biscuits had been placed back on the shelf and this meant that I had to spend a couple of minutes moving them carefully to one side before sliding forward and out onto the supermarket floor to the bemusement of some elderly women doing their weekly biscuit shop.
It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the harsh white supermarket light after so long in the dark and then I looked down at myself. My t-shirt and jeans were both a mess of crumbs and dust and no doubt my face and hair would be covered in the stuff too. I made an attempt at cleaning myself up but wasn’t too worried.
I had not picked up anything that the supermarket would have a price for so technically I wasn’t stealing as I walked through an unstaffed checkout and through the doors without setting off the alarm. I walked home thinking about my mornings work. The bad news was that I would have to step up the alert on the endangered Chocolate Fudge Crunch Cream. But there was good news too – I had found some old samples to add to my archive and had found myself a knowledgeable research assistant. In my bag I could hear Oliver tumbling around in amongst the Custard Creams. Happy is a rat in biscuits.