Monday, 18 August 2008

A biscuit is a biscuit...

…or so you would think. Apparently, however, it is not that simple. This is what I have discovered since I read Nicey and Wifey’s book Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down, a most inspired present from my wonderful husband, who, I would also like to point out, commonly refers to me as ‘wifey’ ever since we got married (rather to the horror of some friends of ours). Nice as my husband is, though, I don’t call him ‘Nicey’ in turn, for fear of copyright infringement and/or a surfeit of symmetry.

I have to say that I don’t eat a lot of biscuits, even with my cups of tea, but the NCOTAASD book (and website!) is enough to inspire me to start. I would have to do so at home, though; the standard of biscuits which are supplied at my work is not a terribly high one, and (in my experience, anyway) they only make an appearance at training sessions that run for longer than a couple of hours and consequently need to include a morning tea break.

The biscuits provided at these sessions are invariably Arnotts Assorted Creams (Australian readers will know exactly what I mean and not have to click on the link). Not all of the biscuits in this collection are awful, but really the only decent ones are the Kingstons and the Monte Carlos (and the Kingstons are better), and there are never enough of them. Perhaps the best solution would be to buy ONLY packets of Kingstons and Monte Carlos, but I doubt that this will ever happen.

My sister, who works for one of the State departments, told me a story (a couple of years ago now) about how she had been lucky enough to attend a meeting important enough to have Tim Tams present. Apparently Tim Tams were once a fairly regular sight at her workplace, but they became more of a rarity, only to be brought out at high-level events, after a newspaper ran an expose revealing the (apparently enormous) sums of public money being spent by this department on Tim Tams when cheaper biscuits were available.

This story continues to cause me unbridled hilarity, but it raises interesting issues which Nicey and Wifey also tackle in their most excellent book: the question of which biscuits count as a luxury and which don’t. This appears to be a more complicated issue in Britain because of the VAT, which means that biscuits with chocolate on the outside are taxed as ‘luxury items’, but ones with their chocolate on the inside (as chocolate chips or filling) are considered ‘basic’, and not taxed.

This situation seems vaguely – ok, well, quite clearly – ludicrous to me, because it appears perfectly possible to have some very very very good quality, luxurious biscuits that don’t involve a chocolate coating and would therefore avoid the ‘luxury’ tax, and some really quite appalling and down-market biscuits which are nonetheless chocolate-coated (albeit with crappy chocolate) and taxed. I am sure this causes endless headaches for the tax people in Britain, and I’m glad that the situation is rather less silly down under.

But back to the NCOTAASD book. It is a really fun read, with lots of useful tips, for example on dunking – which biscuits hold up best, the most efficient and effective way to dunk, etc – on having tea in public (and the importance of sitting down), how to ostracise people who like sugar in their tea, and so on. Plus the biscuit reviews are great. It is solely as a result of reading this book and the reviews on the NCOTAASD website that I decided to try McVities HobNobs, just because they got such a good write up – and truly, for a non-home-made biscuit, the milk chocolate-coated ones really are a splendid accompaniment to a nice cup of tea. Better than Tim Tams, even.

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