Friday, November 21, 2008

Stuff called spam

I went to live and work in the UK in December 1962... at a time when an obscure musical group called the Beatles was starting to become popular up in Liverpool.

The 1962-63 winter was harsh, and I could never figure out why anyone would want to stay in such an environment. Brits were then offered spectacular spring entertainment in the form of the Profumo affair, featuring personages straight out of a James Bond novel.

At the end of June 1963, I decided that my six months with IBM in their Wigmore Street headquarters had been more than sufficient as an experience of life in Britain. So, I returned to France.

The reason why I'm talking about my first and last stay in the UK is that I'm obliged to make an amazing confession. During those six months in London, I never got around to eating spam. Worse than that, I hadn't even discovered yet, at the ripe old age of 23, that such a strange foodstuff as spam existed. I had learned to appreciate English delicacies such as fish and chips, cold pork pies, etc, but the spam phenomenon somehow escaped me. In fact, during my stay in South Kensington, I usually ate in Italian, French and Indian restaurants.

Years later, I returned to England for a few extended weekend visits, assisting a French girlfriend from Paris who organized tours. We were lodged in cheap hotels, and fed in standard tourist restaurants.

And that's when I finally discovered the famous canned meat called spam, produced by Tulip in Denmark under license to the Hormel Foods Corporation. It was hilarious to see intrigued French tourists in an English restaurant, trying to identify the exact nature of the mysterious ham-like product they found in their plates. The Internet did not exist then. Today, we can visit the official Spam website. Meanwhile, the Wikipedia page on the Spam foodstuff indicates euphemistically that most pejorative uses of the term spam evoke "undesirable repetition". Readers hear of the Monty Python masterpiece that no doubt launched the concept of spam throughout the civilized world.

As of today, we're privileged to have free legal access through YouTube (authorized by the copyright owners) to many of the great Monty Python sketches.


  1. Pedant's Corner: of course it was "Mandy Rice-Davies"; she who came up with the wonderful phrase in court "Well he would, wouldn't he?" when told by the judge that Lord Astor had denied the allegations.

  2. Thanks Paul. My referring to Miss Marilyn as "Candy" was an obvious Freudian slip. Those were great days, weren't they.

  3. Bien-sûr as they say here. Or tour à fait. I recall terrible jokes doing the rounds at the time. It would be good to meet some time to discuss the London of the early 'sixties; I started work just on the cusp of the big change. When I began, many things were probably as they had been in 1939!