Gum For The New Generation

Added on 15 January 2009

Today Douglas Lindsay is writing this year's cime comedy blockbuster, The Final Cut. This blog first appeared in his Letter From Belgrade on 18th March 2005:

You know those episodes of Winnie the Pooh, when one of the seasons arrives in the Hundred Acre Wood? There's always a defining day, as if the change of seasons is black and white. The scruffy little oik wakes up one day and a brown leaf floats in through the window, and bam! it's autumn, or he stumbles across a little yellow flower one morning, and pa-ding! it's spring. No gradual change, no up and down and weather that doesn't know what it's doing, just instant first day of autumn or first day of spring.

Life generally isn't like Winnie the Pooh, and thank God, or else we'd need to spend all our time being nice to the children. (I hate the way that the Winnie the Pooh of the books, as selfish a little honey-grabbing bastard as you're ever likely to come across, and consequently an interesting enough character, has been Disneyfied into this sharing-caring-Mother Teresa figure, who rather than wanting to eat all of Rabbit's honey, just wants to give him a hug and some fertilizer for his stupid carrots.) However, last weekend in Belgrade we had the Winnie the Pooh, spring-in-a-day effect. Friday was cold and frosty, seven weeks of snow still on the ground turned hard and crisp, a winter's chill in the air. Saturday, Winnie The Pooh awoke to clear blue skies, fifteen degrees and spring. And so it has continued, and now all that's left of the seemingly endless winter of January through to the beginning of March, are a few patches of crunchy snow, which lie hidden in shadows, out of reach of the warm grasp of the afternoon sun.

Fortunately, as previously stated, life is not an episode of Winnie the Pooh, and certainly not here in the Balkans. (One of the local channels does show a Serbian version of Winnie the Pooh which is much more entertaining. Vlada the Pooh drives a large black Audi and constantly smokes cheap Turkish cigarettes; Tigr is in the Hague awaiting trial for crimes against comedy; Ijor shot himself in the first episode; and Piglit has long ago been roasted on a spit and served with thick pepper sauce, French fries, kajmac, and one piece of lettuce.) And so this little burst of instant spring has crashed and burned beneath a new arrival of grey cloud, and all the old gippers who could be seen down at Ada island yesterday, completely naked in search of that all-over wrinkled tan that drives the seventy year-old women wild, will have to tuck everything away again, at least until next week. Still, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, "In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished bum, In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of chewing gum."

What a link. You can tell you're in the hands of an international bestselling author.

There are currently thirteen different brands of Wrigley's Orbit chewing gum on sale in Serbia. This, as far as I can tell from looking at the Wrigley's website, is more than double the number currently available in either Britain or America. They are: Classic, Lemonade, White, Spearmint, Forest Herb, Apple, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Winterfresh (not to be confused with Wrigley's Winterfresh brand, with Original, Icy Blast and Mountain Frost flavours), Sweet Mint, Herbal, Cherry Mint and Professional. You have to wonder if even the guy who invented all these different flavours would be able to do the Pepsi challenge between Classic, White, Spearmint, Peppermint, Winterfresh, and Sweet Mint. However, the one that really stands out, the one that grabs you by the eyeballs as you read through the list, or stare at this great panoply, this Helen of Troy inspired armada of chewing gum in the supermarket, is Orbit Professional.

What on earth does this refer to? In what way is the chewing gum professional? Are they implying that this is the gum that professional gum chewers use? Is that a job? I mean, if it is, it's the one for me. I've been chewing gum for decades. I know all about gum, different brands, how long they last in your mouth before going sour, which ones taste like they're supposed to, which ones taste like medicine. I'd be perfect. I can chew gum anywhere; sitting down, standing up, reading a book, playing golf. I can even chew gum while eating my dinner. This is the job for me.

And a gum chewer would be a great lead character for an action movie. "Is he a cop? Or a spy maybe? Or an assassin with a heart of gold?" "No, Mr Bruckheimer, he chews gum." Jerry Bruckheimer strokes his chin, he thinks about it, then suddenly he breaks out into a huge smile. "I LOVE it! Already I'm thinking Bruce Willis."

This, of course, might be completely the wrong end of the stick. Perhaps Orbit Professional is in fact Professional-flavoured, although what kind of professional that would be is not made clear. Professional footballers, maybe. They've taken the distilled essence of Ronaldo and David Beckham and turned it into a gum. Maybe they should do a his and hers version, and have distilled essence of professional lap dancer for men.

Of course, the truth is, that it's not professional-flavoured or to be eaten by professionals, it's all just marketing mince. It's nothing more than another minty chewing gum, quite indistinguishable from all the other minty chewing gums of the world, except that it has small blue gritty bits in it. Was it dental scientists or marketing men who came up with the whizz idea of adding small blue gritty bits to their minty gum? Fascinated by this latest addition to the gums of the world, I spoke to Zoran Orbituvic, spokesperson for Wrigley in the Federal Republic of Drvarska and surrounding regions. A confident and outgoing young man, wearing a black leather coat and impossibly cool sunglasses, Zoran seemed eager to discuss Orbit Professional. 'It's a professional gum for professional people,' he said. 'So it's a gum to be chewed by people with an actual profession, like engineers and architects?' I asked. 'Exactly,' he said nodding, as he quickly drank his third espresso since we'd sat down two minutes earlier. 'And why would that be different from a gum chewed by an unemployed member of society?' I asked. 'Orbit Professional,' said Zoran, his tone slightly robotic, 'is a gum that meets the aspirations of young professional people in the new millennium, with a taste concept designed to enhance the gum chewing experience for those in a working environment who need instant gum satisfaction on demand.' And the blue bits? 'Extensive testing amongst our core customer base showed that while they associated red with blood, and green with raw sewage, blue was considered a fresh minty colour, which would enhance the fresh breath experience for a new generation. Today's gum chewer is a more sophisticated chewer of gum than the pioneering gum chewers of the last century. Gritty blue bits augment the already delicious, sensuous and stimulating experience of chewing our special brand of minty gums.'

The other main standout flavour in amongst the Orbit line-up is Forest Herb. The Orbit websites are distinctly quiet on the subject. Stick Orbit Professional into Google and you arrive at all sorts of scientific bumpf about how good the blue bits are for your teeth. Put Orbit Forest Herb into Google and the first thing that comes up is my reference to it on this website two years ago. It's an odd concept in any case, because which herbs of the forest exactly would you want chewing gum to taste of? Thyme? Oregano? Cumin? As it is, it tastes of Germolene. I asked Zoran why they produced a chewing gum that tasted of an antibiotic cream. 'For professional doctors,' he answered, 'who like the all over experience of Emergency Ward-minty gum, without the association of severed body parts which that name might bring.'

I put it to Zoran that it was all a complete load of utter mince, but he quickly had to leave, to attend the launch of the latest series of Orbit flavours, Orbit Supermint, Orbit MintMint, Orbit WetDogMint, and Orbit MarmiteMint.

It is all great fodder for my fantastic new 'Sideways' style movie script, with two guys going on a week's vacation, taste-testing chewing gum up the Napa Valley. They get into all sorts of scrapes, mostly involving women, as one man teaches the other the joys of a delicious cherrymint, as against the pitfalls of the more popular, yet nevertheless shallow, peppermint.

As you will find buried somewhere on the website, "It's your breath. Let's see what you can do with it."

Next week, condoms.

I'm kidding, I'm kidding.