It’s late afternoon on my third hot and humid day in a row. This is the UK so aircon only happens in my car. The sky is overcast. The temperature is 28C. The humidity is 69%. My brain is running almost as slowly as the sweat running down my back. Yet I’m an introvert, so even on a day like today, my head is full of noise. Today the voices in my head are having a ‘which was worth more?’ debate. Me? I’m just listening and telling myself that both sides have a point.
There was a time, way back in the seventies, when defining ordinal measures of value was something I spent a lot of energy on. I was studying Analytical Welfare Economics (or AWE as the voices in my head labelled it) and was concerned with defining value using indifference curves and utility functions. I see now that, for the connection they have to real-life, I might as well have been using tea leaves and Tarot cards. Worshipping at the altar of the God of The Perfect Market (which the voices in my head called The Immaculate Preconception) I was trying to figure out how to link value and price. If Sisyphus had been an economist, this is the kind of task he’d have been given.
Anyway, in today’s humid embrace, the voices in my head have split into two teams debating two purchases I made today: Team 99 and Team Austen.
I’m not going to take sides. I let them both make their pitch to you and you can decide.
Here’s what they’re arguing about.
Team 99 Pitch:
Listen to your inner hedonist.
It knows what it wants and it’s a 99.
Let yourself remember how this started. You were with you wife, walking by the river, relishing the sunshine on honey-coloured stone, the lazy flow of the water over the reads and the glaucous dappled light beneath the trees when you saw that emblem of summer’s arrival: the ice cream van. Immediately, you both knew what the day needed, what you needed, a 99.
What is a 99? The facts are easy. A 99 is a cone filled with soft ice cream into which is inserted a Cadbury’s Flake chocolate bar. It’s called a 99 because that was the name of the variant of Flake that Cadbury’s made for the ice cream market in 1930
The facts leave out almost everything that gives a 99 its value, that feeds your need.
Your need starts with the Flake.
The Cadbury’s Flake isn’t just a chocolate bar, it’s an icon, an aspiration, a statement of desire. It represents well…
…here’s what it represented in the 1960s when you first started eating them but were too young to get the ad.
This is what it meant by the 1980s, when you not only got the advert but couldn’t stop singing the song.
And by the1990s, the Flake had become the absolute definition of indulgence. It had become self-referential popular art.
So why do you need a 99?
Because the 99 take the crumbliest, tastiest chocolate that tastes like chocolate never tasted before AND MAKES IT BETTER by serving it pushed deep into soft yielding ice cream, whipped upward in a spiral and nested in a crisp wafer cone.
It’s got EVERYTHING. The Flake demands to be devoured handsfree straight from the icecream. The icecream calls for your tongue constantly to reshape its softness and to lick it off your fingers as it melts over your hand. The soft, cold, yielding ice cream and the dark, strong-but-ready-to-melt chocolate competing for your attention, grabbing hold of all of it and making even the most glorious day fade into the background in that moment when there is only you and the 99.
And to give your wife all of that you only had to spend £2.45.
Are you kidding me?
How do we even need to talk about value?
NOTHING beats that.
Team Austen Pitch:
‘I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book!’
A 99 is all well and good but when the last bite is taken all you are left with are sticky fingers and an ice cream headache.
When you finish Jane Austen’s novels you have a head full of characters that remind you so much of people that you know that you nickname your colleagues as Darcy or, more often, Collins. You will have gotten to know many exciting young women, from the obstinate headstrong delight of Elizabeth Bennet to the handsome, clever and rich Emma Woodhouse. You’ll have shared deep insights into people that will never leave you, like:
“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”
Every Jane Austen book, even ‘Mansfield Park’, is a treasure and, as Jane told us ‘Northanger Abbey’:
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
But the very best thing about Jane Austen’s books is that, in the most important sense, you never finish them. You read them again and again and every time you do they show you how you have changed, console you for your losses and offer you some hope for the future, or, if they are unable to do that, they will at least make you smile.
‘The Complete Novels’ gives you six books: “Emma”, “Mansfield Park”, “Northanger Abbey”, “Persuasion”, “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice” and all for £0.75. At that price, each novel is £0.125 or 5% of your soon gone and forgotten 99.