There are some things whose eternal (but barely registered) presence you take for granted. Things both ubiquitous and easily ignored. Artefacts that function as shorthand for a kind of parochial (defiantly un-hip) “Irishness”. Cidona is one (despite modest attempts to “yoof” it up). Ireland’s Own is another (in fact, it’s several). Oatfield sweets are/were yet another…and look at where taking them for granted led.
The sad closure of Oatfield’s Donegal HQ jarred me into a state of hyper-consciousness RE: the hardy local survivors that surround us. And few are hardier (and harder) than Caffrey’s “Big Time” (or “Time Bars” as we knew them back in the day).
Established by the late Thomas Caffrey (“Ireland’s Willy Wonka”) in 1948 and still, as far as I know, a family-owned business (out in Walkinstown), Caffrey’s range of products look (and taste) like confections secretly deposited in shops by an impish time-travelling chocolatier. Tea Cakes, Macaroon bars, Mint Crisps, Whippers, and hoary old favourite – the “Snowball”.
Snowballs, if memory serves, are composed of marshmallow centres swathed in chocolate. So far, so yummy. Or it would be, if Thomas Caffrey had left it at that. In a final mad flourish he covered the chocolatey surface in…dessicated coconut. Being someone who pukes, shrieks ‘n’ weeps at the sight/smell of a Bounty, this is/was about as appetising as showering the exterior with dessicated donkey faeces.
But back to “Big Time”. Let’s try and make sense of it, starting with the packaging. While the shocking (nuclear) yellow makes it the kind of Hi-Viz bar you’d want on a cloudy night on a lonely country road, the olde timey, Wild West font simultaneously screams “Nostalgia!” and “Irish love of Cowboy Americana!” (bit exhausting screaming the latter). It may not be as overtly Spaghetti-West-of-Ireland as Triple A Golden Maverick or the (jaw-destroyingly chewy) “Texan” chocolate bar, but it still evokes a cultural universe inhabited by the (Stetson-ed) likes of T. R. Dallas.
Unwrapping it reveals what can only be described as a tiny version of the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey coated in fudge and chocolate.
Biting into it merely confirms this impression. The mot juste here is: adamantine. I’d forgotten this. I’d forgotten that once, as a wee chap, I’d adventurously (and recklessly) bitten hungrily into a freshly-opened “Big Time” (without softening the material up with some preliminary licking). When I yanked the bar out, the surface remained…barely scratched. The only notable change being that there was now a tooth embedded in it.
“Big Time” wasn’t so much something you ate, as something you overcame. You needed a strategy. Licking it into submission could take weeks, but it did reduce the chances of you losing parts of yourself (while also being an economic solution to the problem of limited pocket money coupled with limitless desire for sweet things). Smashing it into (just about) chewable chunks was an alternative approach, but the only material hard enough to smash a “Big Time” bar was another “Big Time” bar – necessitating forethought, and further expense.
While I didn’t lose a tooth tackling the above-pictured “Big Time” yesterday afternoon, I did surrender some dignity. While jamming the bar sideways into my gob, seizing it with molars and canines, and attempting to rip portions of it free I caught sight of myself in the hall mirror. Face scrunched up, red with effort, gurning…I looked like Popeye having a heart-attack (or on the point of orgasm).
Attempting to conquer Caffrey’s finest means channelling both your inner child, and your inner animal. It’s like some sort of primal chocolate therapy. And all this for 50 cents. Worth it? Big time.