Taste of inflation from a reliable sauce

Taste of inflation from a reliable sauce

I am not sure where Bangkok stands in the list of most expensive cities released by the Economist this week. Singapore and Zurich top the table but judging from recent visits to the supermarket, Bangkok must be racing up the inflation charts.

More to the point, even my hallowed HP Sauce has not been spared. I'll keep on buying it of course, but in future I will have to savour every precious dollop of the brown stuff.

HP has an intriguing history and once billed itself as "the official sauce of Great Britain". It still remains a British institution, even though since 2005 it has been produced in the Netherlands and Spain by Heinz, an American company. But at least it originated in Britain.

The recipe which came from India was developed by Nottingham grocer Frederick Garton who named it HP after hearing it was being served in a restaurant at the Houses of Parliament. The iconic label, featuring Big Ben and Parliament, probably helped the popularity of the product.

HP was also quaintly advertised as a "Husband Pleasing" sauce. It received the ultimate seal of approval in the 1960s when the British satirical magazine Private Eye adopted the name HP Sauce for its political column.

One statesman said to be extremely partial to HP was former British prime minister Harold Wilson and in the media the sauce was sometimes referred to as "Wilson's Gravy". Wilson was quite happy to be linked to the sauce as it boosted his "man of the people" image.

French dressing

A curiosity in those days was that part of the HP label describing the sauce was in French. It began: "Cette sauce de haute qualite est un melange des espice orientaux," which sounds a lot more alluring than simply "brown sauce".

The use of French was a bit odd because across the Channel they turned their noses up at English food and France wasn't regarded as a serious market. It was of course a marketing ploy by HP to make the English feel like they were consuming something exotic. But in 1984 they dropped the French script, sparking howls of outrage.

Saucy songs

The French script on the HP label was so popular that in 1969 English comedian Marty Feldman used the words to perform "A Song For Sauce Lovers" in the passionate style of Jacques Brel. It's on YouTube and worth a look. The sauce also appeared in "As Long As I Can", a 1979 song by Gilbert O'Sullivan -- remember him? It includes the immortal lyrics: "I think it's only fair/to point out that despite its faults/England still has HP Sauce."

They don't write lyrics like that anymore.

As a nipper I preferred tomato ketchup, probably because it was sweeter. But on growing older the spicier flavour of HP became more appealing. In fact it ended up being sloshed on everything. To get into the spirit of things for today's column I diligently tucked into a bacon sandwich this morning with more conservative than usual lashings of HP. The sauce still went down a treat despite the price.

Mellow Yellow

I experienced my first ride on the newish MRT Yellow Line earlier in the week.

Things got off to a promising start at the station when the female security guard stood to attention and gave my friend and I an impressive salute as we entered. Now that's the way to treat passengers, especially if they are a bit wrinkly and crinkly like me.

It was off-peak in the middle of the day and the platform at the Suan Luang Rama IX station was virtually empty, a pleasant contrast to the sardine-like experiences over the years on the dear old skytrain.

There was even a helpful electronic information board telling us the exact minute the train would arrive. It's not often in Thailand you get such precise information concerning transport arrival times.

As the train entered the station right on time, I couldn't help but notice that it was driverless. No worries. My friend assured me the train knew where it was going and importantly, exactly where to stop. That's all you need.

We even got another salute on the return journey, which made my day.

Caught short on Sathorn

The salute reminded me of one of the first I encountered in Bangkok in very different circumstances.

It was the early 1970s and I was walking along Sathorn Road when I had a sudden attack of the Bangkok Trots. In those days the only decent toilets were in the few first-class hotels, and there weren't any on Sathorn. So I hailed a taxi which rattled its way painfully slowly to the nearest hotel, the rather posh Oriental. Mercifully I made it just in time.

Something I always remember from that episode is the doorman at the Oriental giving me a smart salute when I lurched out of the taxi and looking a bit startled as I sprinted across the foyer heading for the restroom.

I suspect he wasn't very impressed after working out the sole purpose of my visit. I don't recall him saluting me on the way out.

Possibly still unemployed

A final word from our "Things that could have been better expressed department" concerns a fellow who advertised in Farmers Weekly: "Unemployed man seeks work. Completely honest and trustworthy. Will take anything."

Contact PostScript via email at oldcrutch@hotmail.com

Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

Email : oldcrutch@gmail.com

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