I am 16 on my friend Adam's sofa and my fingers are lurid with Dorito dust, and I am not allowed to hold the PlayStation controller to take my turn as Solid Snake before I wipe my greasy hands on my already quite soiled teenage boy khakis. Or: I am 23 at a party and I just spilled a whole lukewarm Corona into a plastic bowl of Sensations and everyone is mad at me now, a girl walking over to me in a cardigan–dress–and–leggings combination specifically to sharply tell me off for it. Or: 25, grateful, rolling off the collapsed bed I slept on and onto the floor, where a half-open blue bag from the corner shop opens like a glowing treasure chest in front of me, and in it is one bottle of Yazoo and a whole thing of hummus chips, which I consume entirely, prostrate and grateful.
Crisps are there for you at your lows and at your highs. Crisps are at weddings, and funerals, and with your sad Pret lunch every day. The day of your seventh birthday party you ate so many crisps out of a small polystyrene bowl that you had to go outside and take deep breaths while everyone else cracked a piñata open without you. Crisps [ you are nine years old and you are reaching your entire arm deep into the Walkers multi-pack your mum brought back from the big shop, digging deep down for a forbidden packet of Worcestershire Sauce flavour]. Crisps [ it is your first adult dinner party invitation and you bring one bottle of £6 red wine (ignored) and two-for-£3 Kettle Chips (gratefully devoured), and on the basis of the salt and balsamic vinegar choice alone it is decided that you have passed The Adulthood Test, and that yes, you may attend dinner again]. Crisps [ crying on the walk home after a particularly harrowing day of Year 10 and you have forgone spending your bus fare on actually getting the bus to instead get as many bags of pickled onion Space Invaders as it is possible to get, the crumbs yellowing the front of your sweater]. Crisps, crisps, crisps! CRISPS! CRISPS! CRI—
IN WHICH WE CONSIDER WHAT THE CRISP CHOICE OF THE CRISP BUYER (YOU) SAYS ABOUT THE AFOREMENTIONED CRISP ENJOYER (ALSO YOU)
The Nik Nak refuses to conform to order. Consider the Nik Nak: run it beneath your nose like a fine cigar. Zoom in upon the Nik Nak. The Nik Nak bobbles and blisters and swells and tapers like a tiny caveman's club. No Nik has an identical Nak to live alongside it. Each Nik Nak – like a rib 'n' saucy-flavoured snowflake – is unique. Each time you crunch one into a wet mush within the confines or your mouth you are destroying something original. Put two looped fingers into the packet of the Nik Naks and pull out a singular twig of art. You are the only human who will ever behold this. And now— crunch.
What I am saying is you should not trust the Nik Nak enjoyer, because they are deranged and built to destroy. Nobody who goes out of their way to eat Nik Naks – beyond those with the palate of a teenage boy – should be trusted with anything. An adult, stood in a dirty T-shirt by a window, hungover and soaked in their own sweat, scooping handfuls of vile Nik Naks into their open mouth. It’s been me, and it's been you, too. But it's not something to be proud about.
Pringles are Frankensteinian nonsense, let us head up with that. Take a potato, right? Nice. Good. Now shred it up into a starch-like dust and reform it into the shape of a mad UFO? Wild, deranged. Am I Pringle averse, though? I am not. Spiritually, they are to crisps what a nugget is to a chicken breast (reformed monster that fulfils a certain need), but when you roll up at a party blasting two separate tubes of them? Bongo on the top of them and eat them by the ten-stack? Make a little duck-beak with them in your mouth? Dip the plain ones in hummus? Eat the Texas BBQ ones by the handful? Throw the Sour Cream ones – the most cursed flavour of anything, crisps or otherwise, on Earth – unopened into the bin? Come on. Pringles are for people who say: I don’t care how dirty it is, I want to have fun. They are a drunken kebab. A pint of Foster's with breakfast. Dogging up against the bonnet of a Fiesta. They are life.
Only good for putting on the end of all ten of your fingers and either making a satisfying clack–clack noise on the surface of a desk, or – better – pretending you are some sort of sovereign-ring wearing East End cabbie in a Ray Winstone movie about gangs. "Ere, what's this gang doing in the back of my motor?" you say, ready salted Hula Hoops straining against the tips of your every finger, arm out the side of the window. "SHAT YOUR CANT AND JUST DRIVE!" Ray Winstone roars, dust and blood covering his wrinkled face, bank notes fluttering around him, a sawn-off in his hands while three men in clown masks nestle in around him. "DROOOOOIVVE!" And now you're an accessory to murder. Anyway, sorry, Hula Hoops are for lunch boxes, not for adults. Grow up.
THE TORY CRISP CONUNDRUM
Listen, here is a thing we have to admit: the best commercially available crisps (I am assuming here that there are some special off-market, off-menu extremely exclusive crisps that are only available at, like, Buckingham Palace garden parties, or those sex parties all the Made in Chelsea lot go to in masks, or Waitrose, and they are better than the general crisps available to scum) are Walkers Sensations (new money middle class) and Kettle Chips (old money middle class), both of which are fundamentally, unshakeably Tory. This is a truth we must admit.
How can a crisp be Tory? It is hard to define. It is something palpable. There exists, within crisps, an inherent class system, with Walkers Sensations and Kettle Chips braying away and watching us through brass binoculars from the top, and beneath them you have well-to-do ordinary-flavoured Walkers, and beneath that you have supermarket own-brand Walkers rip-offs, and beneath that you have those little bags of Tesco Value unmarked ready salted crisps that, when you open a lunchbox and see staring back at you alongside a small hard green apple, while friends either side of you open a box stuffed with Walkers Prawn Cocktail and a full-size Mars bar, that make you realise: ah. Okay. You are poor. Within crisps contain multitudes.
But the Walkers Sensation/Kettle Chip power duo have something very "new reg-plate Audi" about them. They are bagged in large packages with a luxurious protective air pocket. The finish to their pack is matte, not glossy. They are on the top shelf of the crisp aisle, near the dips and auxiliary snacks (jerkies, nuts), not down there by the off-brand maize bites. They are proud princes, and you are verminous paupers. You do not buy them unless they are on a discounted deal. This is how you know you are not worthy.
It's difficult, though, because they are the best crisp. But every time you eat one, it's like taking a sacrament of Toryism: every crunch atomically erodes the NHS, or locks up some poor kids, or burns down a food bank. Every Kettle Chip you eat is another £50 note burnt to the nub to light another round of cigars at the top of the Shard. Can you live with that? The blood on your hands? Thai Sweet Chilli Sensations are so good though. But can you live with yourself? The balsamic vinegar. The sea salt. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you're a good person. Breath deep through both nostrils and pay for your kids to go private. Eat the nice crisp, you Tory worm. Embrace what you truly are.
A WEIRD 1LB SACK OF TORTILLAS THAT IS MARKED AS 'HOT' FLAVOUR AND COSTS LIKE £1.49 FROM THE SHOP ON YOUR CORNER, TAKES THREE WHOLE DAYS TO EAT, THAT SORT OF THING
Best crisps there are, a crisp for noblemen, a crisp for gods
You started a diet two weeks ago and you think you worked out a way to eat crisps on it. But you haven't. You haven't at all.
The Monster Munch is fundamentally a low crisp for dogs, and you know this every time you peel open the pack. Open a packet of Monster Munch, and now behold your hand: clean, isn't it, and smells faintly warm and like skin, and nothing else? Treasure this moment, because it’s about to fucking stink of pickled onion for three to five working days. Monster Munch belong in a special sub-category of snacks I like to call "Cuck Crisps", because every time you decide to eat one you are basically talking yourself out of having sex with anyone for the next 24 hours, minimum, while your body processes the sheer flavour of the crisp and pumps it out of every flap and pore you possess (see also: Skips, Pret Mature Cheddar & Red Onion, Onion Rings, Beef Hula Hoops). So we admit the Monster Munch is depraved, but it also has a crucial role in society. Does anything say "I'm having a hangover at work" like coming back to your desk with a grab-bag of MM, a full-fat Coke and a Double Decker? Does anything taste quite as good while you're stoned and/or a bit pissed? There is a solid honesty to the Monster Munch. It is unpretentious and good. It deserves our love.
A RANKING OF ALL THE DEFAULT CRISP FLAVOURS FOUND IN A MULTI-PACK, BEST TO WORST
SALT AND VINEGAR
A good boy crisp, for good boys. Good solid boys! Mighty boys!
CHEESE & ONION
Solid but unspectacular boys! They would pick you up in the morning and drive you into work while lightly humming away to Radio 1. "Did you see the game at the weekend?" "No." Thank you anyway, Cheese & Onion crisps!
Listen, I like Prawn Cocktail crisps, but they also smell like I imagine the inside of an old man’s shellsuit might, so—
Every group needs within it the deranged wildcard – Hollywood tells us this. Every posse needs an element of chaos. You have your boring dependables who keep the story thrusting forward (Ready Salted), and you have the strong and capable who keep the gang out of danger when things go awry (Salt & Vinegar), and you have the flash one who everyone fancies (Prawn Cocktail), and then you have chaos. Worcestershire Sauce is climbing over a chainlink fence and rattling so loud a security guard might hear you. Worcestershire Sauce is hot-wiring a Mustang and getting you guys The Hell Out Of Here. Worcestershire Sauce just— Jesus! Worcestershire Sauce just shot that guy in the face! W.S. didn’t even blink about it! You can see inside at the meat of him! It’s like someone dropped a ball of mince! Jesus Fucking Christ!
For People Who Genuinely Enjoy Doing Their Taxes™
BEEF & ONION
Venn diagram of people who like Beef & Onion crisps and people who laugh at their own burps is a circle the size of the sun.
You know that weird lad in your halls who ate the flavour sachet from a Pot Noodle dry like a weird umami form of sherbet? He’s graduated on to Roast Chicken-flavoured crisps now, from his cell in prison.
THEM MINI POPPADOM ONES
Bit like you, really: nice, but forgettable.
SALT 'N' SHAKE
Why am I salting my own crisps? What am I paying you for, if I have to salt my own crisps? Anyone who chooses to eat Salt 'N' Shake is destined for a later-in-life Grand Designs build where they tile their entire bathroom because they don't trust a contractor to do it, fuck it up entirely and have to pay £3,000 to a man with a special untiling machine to come and crack the whole thing apart and redo it.
I feel like Jade Goody sort of ruined Chipsticks for everyone by spending an entire summer just bellowing the word from the confines of the Big Brother house – "CHIPSTICKS!" she used to say, "CHIPSTICKS! CHIPSTICKS! CHIPSTICKS!" – and that put a sort of taint over them. But they are alright, I guess, especially if you like to spend the two hours between school and your dinner terrorising the elderly outside of a big branch of Spar.
You know at the end of The Witch (2016) when my boy Black Phillip is all, "Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?" and you are thinking: 'Yes, that sounds nice'? I know that's not the point of the movie, but what that haunted goat is offering sounds nice. Butter is sick. Pretty dress? Why not. Would I like to live deliciously? Absolutely I would, Black Phillip. Lay some spooky luxury on me. Does Black Phillip at any point mention Quavers, which are essentially peelings of air that got slightly too proud of themselves and got packed up and sold to children? No, he doesn’t, because Quavers are not part of the "live deliciously" plan. Would you like to smell like cheese, and have cheesy fingers, and have a strange rough feeling on the top of your mouth, but not actually really ever taste any cheese, and every time you try to eat a crisp it melts into nothing beneath the moist heat of your tongue? That is what Walkers are trying to palm you off with every time they offer you a Quaver. Take the haunted goat butter instead of that. Take anything instead of that.
"The Quavers of the Sea". Utterly pointless, like anyone who eats them.
Somewhere between a crisp and a fry, ultimately frustrating for fans of either, falling as it does into a liminal No Man's Land between the two. Do you like fries? Yeah, it's sort of… sort of like a fry. Do you like crisps? I mean, it's… it's sort of crispy, I guess. French Fries are for people who use 2-in-1 shampoo and body wash and use their laptop as a TV.
McCOYS (OR THEIR NOT-AS-GOOD EQUIVALENT, WALKERS MAX)
McCoy's are exclusively for dads who have smoked too many cigarettes in their car to be able to taste properly, and now hard, strongly-ridged beef-flavoured crisps are the only thing that get through the fog. "Ooh, but the ridg—" No. Bad. Pick a real crisp.
I like the Dorito: a hearty, consistent crisp. A Dorito would help you move house or change a tyre. A Dorito drops you a text when you've had a bad week, just to "check you’re alright". Is the Dorito your best mate? Not quite, not really. The Dorito does sponsored 10k runs and has a really quiet girlfriend called Laura. The Dorito sometimes talks to you about F1 for a really, really, really long time. The Dorito is a good lad, but also the Dorito wears shorts slightly too early in the summer and slightly too late into autumn, and you can’t really trust someone like that. Like: mate, it’s March. Cool it with the shorts. Or: pal, it’s September. Zip the bottom of your shorts back on.
You go round to the Dorito's house (the Dorito owns a house) and in the garage there’s an untouched keg of Abbot Ale. You think about the steps that bought it here – did the Dorito go out of its way to buy a keg of Abbot Ale? If so, why is the keg unopened? Or: does the Dorito have a taste for Abbot Ale, but not the instant inclination to drink an entire keg of beer the second it crosses the threshold of its house? You think how long a whole keg of beer would last in your share flat. It is not as long as it took you to even think this thought – and you wonder what the Venn diagram of shared interests between you and this Dorito are that made you friends in the first place. You are completely alien to one another. You: corporeal, normal. The Dorito: a gigantic triangle made of maize that went to see John Bishop do stadium comedy last year. You like the Dorito. But do you like it?
ANY CHEAP OFF-BRAND MAIZE-BASED SNACK
For some reason, despite these only ever being served up at weird family functions where someone does a one-use paper tablecloth over a load of trestle tables and two uncles end up decking each other inside a church hall, any sort of unbranded Onion Ring or something salted and vinegared and in the vague shape of a waffle are great. I've never eaten one without someone storming out of a Renault Megane halfway through and shouting "OI, CUNT!" at their own brother, and maybe that’s part of the allure, but you can’t argue with the results. The Jeremy Kyle of alternative snacks.
How many gamers do you think would have died of starvation in the past decade if multi-packs of Wotsits didn't exist? In an alternate universe to ours there is an entire Ready Player One-style graveyard dedicated to their large carcasses, each crowned by a glowing neon Pac-man stone, wakka–wakkaing away, forever.
Something weird about Mini Cheddars: when you eat them out of the tiny packet, as intended, they are reminiscent of coach trips and hot lunch boxes, where a sandwich has steamed next to an overripe banana all morning until they both roughly taste the same; and if you decant them into a bowl, like how I imagine Mary Berry eats them, they are suddenly some decadent gourmet shit, and you feel like you should be eating them delicately with a jewel-gloved hand. What I am saying is the Mini Cheddar is capable of a glow up, and anyone who actively eats them probably had a really harrowing two years towards the end of secondary school that they cheerfully "don’t like to talk about!" before they discovered the dual delights of not getting pushed into bins a lot and having good haircuts.
Convinced that Pom Bears are exclusively eaten by contoured girls w/ messy rooms and minimum three dents in their car from where they've reversed into something in the Tesco Extra car park, and absolutely nobody else.
SNACK A JACKS
Anyone who has a pipe of Snack a Jacks on their desk at work has done at least one "diet starts today X" status on Facebook this year and is perennially, near-permanently at one of their cousin's weddings, sorry.
HOLIDAY CRISPS THAT ARE ALWAYS KETCHUP-FLAVOURED, FOR SOME REASON
The sun beats down on the beach that laps by the sea that smells like the shore. You are eight years old, and you are on holiday. Everything is white and yellow and cerulean blue. You run barefoot down hot cobbled streets. You dig your fingers into the white sand beneath you. Your dad lets you stay up until gone midnight, gone 1AM. Your skin smells like the sun. You are allowed to suck the foam off the top of a pint of lager. You are allowed two cans of full-fat Coke in one 24-hour period. You build sandcastles and wear hats. Your parents are that inch or two more relaxed than normal – holding hands, laughing again – and let you get what you want. A tie-dye T-shirt? Of course. A five euro go on a waterslide? Absolutely. A bag of ketchup-flavoured crisps the size of your head? Take all the change currently weighing down your dad's tactical holiday shorts and buy as many as you can. Everything tastes better here, in paradise – the fruit, the Fanta Lemon, the chips – and no more so is that evident than in a share-sized bag of ketchup-flavoured crisps. They taste phenomenal, now, in the sunshine. Sneak a bag back in your carry-on luggage and eat it in the British rain, though: tart, sour, horrible. What magic dictates these crisps? What alchemy in the combination of ketchup, potato and sun?
PUB CRISP: LIST OF ACCEPTED RULES
- Crisps should only be allowed to augment the round from the second order of drinks onwards (starting a session with a round of both lagers and crisps ties you into a near endless spiral of crisp-eating that only ends with you, stinking of Cheese & Onion and heaving out of a cab, ripe like a mango in your clothes, so full you might shit or explode);
- Crisps are to be flopped from a height onto the centre of the table without any announcement. Anyone wishing to acknowledge the presence of crisps may say, "Ooh, crisps";
- Crisps should be opened down the seam of the packet and flailed like a science room frog until all the bag's contents glisten beneath the light;
- Never eat more than half of the crisps in the bag if you did not personally buy the crisps yourself (if you break this rule you have to get up for an interstitial round and get more crisps);
- Similarly, if someone buys crisps and you do not fancy a crisp, but they offer a crisp to you anyway (flayed bag, open handed gesture), it is traditional to take two to three crisps anyway to quietly consume, to make the Crisp Buyer feel better about eating an entire packet of crisps in front of the Crisp Heretic;
- If you eat anything more than a handful of crisps from the communal crisps, then, on the next round, you also should buy crisps (the crisp order should be identical: do not deviate into wild flavours of crisps);
- If you do that thing where you take ages to order and then, right at the end of the round, the bar-person goes "anything else?" and you go "yeah, what crisps do you have?" and then, when they usher the vertical strip of crisps they have hanging behind the bar, in clear sight of you all along, you put both hands on your hips and just fucking squint at them, before so obviously making the same order you always do (1 x S&V, 1 x C&O, 1 x pack of Sweet Chilli-flavoured Nobby’s Nuts), and I have to stand behind you while you do this, this whole routine, for some reason ordering crisps taking longer than ordering a round of five Guinnesses, guess what: we're fighting.
Scampi Fries are great because your dad always used to buy them for you when he was On The Beers – day-drinking in the nearest main road pub, eyes bleary and handing you change for the pool table, laughing deliriously with all his enormous dad mates, you sprinting around the garden outside and skidding on your knees in the grass, making weird transient deep friendships with some other shaven-headed feral pub garden boy, occasionally running inside for hot chips and a cold shandy. And then, peeled open in front of you, treasure: tiny, salty, weirdly-textured parcels of fish flavour, each more delicious than the last.
Now you are an adult, though, and you can buy them yourself, and it's just not quite… right, is it? You can get them with a round, clenching them between your teeth while you carry three lagers back to the table. You can buy a six-pack from the supermarket. It's not the same, is it? Like plugging an old Game Boy in, or re-watching Hook. How the thrills of our childhood dull as we crash into our twenties. Scampi Fries taste like nostalgia, and lost youth. Scampi Fries taste of an era long gone. Scampi Fries taste like that last time you truly had no responsibility, before the weight of the world crushed you down to dust. Good crisp! 8/10!
The minds of serial killers and just normal murderers run differently to yours and, I guess, mine. The cogs spin on a different frequency, in opposite directions and on a different axis. They think it’s alright to slit a throat, for instance, or heave a body into an open well. They don’t blink about firing an air rifle into a crowd. That Sort Of Thing. It is by this logic, then, that I propose the following: John F. Twiglet, the inventor of Twiglets, was also at the same time a murderer. He beheld a small stick once and thought: what if I dip this in Marmite? He filled a solid tub with them and gave them out at Christmas. He was one step away from carving a heart out of the chest of a passing vagrant and eating it raw with his pointed teeth. Anyone who likes Twiglets – who goes to the crisp aisle, and ignores every other crisp, and instead chooses Twiglets – should be in a medical prison.
Frazzles are for shaggers. Frazzles are for shaggers. Frazzles are a legends-only kind of crisp. Walk with me here: vegan. Fake bacon-flavoured. Two-tone pink. Incredibly good with a pint. Frazzles, ridged like a corrugated roof is. Cost about 39p. Manufactured by some no-brand shit you’ve never heard of. Frazzles. You are long past the desert of Walkers here. You left the forest of KP long ago. Welcome, now, to the dark dirty swamp of Smiths, where the shaggers live, shagging and eating bacon-flavoured chips, and shagging, and shagging and shagging and shagging, amen. Frazzles are for shaggers.
CORRECT WAYS TO OPEN A BAG OF CRISPS
- Along the top (eaten out of packet)
- Along the top (decanted into bowl)
- Along the seam (opened out and offered to everyone at the table with you in the pub)
INCORRECT WAYS TO OPEN CRISPS
- With teeth
- Pulling so hard on the two top lips of the seam of the bag that, pulling with all your might, you explode the entire bag open, Walkers Bugles scattering onto the kitchen floor beneath you, the synthetic deep smell of barbecue just rising, like a miasma—
DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT WHAT THE LAST CRISP YOU EVER EAT WILL BE
You won't even know it is the last, which I suppose is the beauty of The Last Crisp. You'll just enjoy it, like you always did, scooping a single crisp – or two, or three or four, pinched into a small pile into your mouth – and you will crunch and chew, and you will be satiated in that small way that only crisps seem to please you, crisps crisps crisps, and then you will get on with your life – what little remains of it – and then clunk: whatever gets you will get you, a truck or a bullet or the sun exploding in the sky, and your heart will stop, and your body will fall to the floor, and the little remnants of crisps inside you will be the only evidence left that you lived a good life, and you were happy. And at your funeral they will serve a load of those own-brand ready salted potato sticks in little bowls at the buffet table, and your soul, cursed by this final crisp choice, will be bound down to hell. I have thought about crisps so much my mind has turned inside out. I am going to have an emotional breakdown. I’m going to cry. I am going to scream. I am going to tear my own scalp off with the white clenched knuckles of my hands. I need to lie in a dark room and eat soft foods and never be disturbed, ever again, please do not ever talk to me again. Crisps. Crisps crisps crisps. It’s not even a word to me any more, just a beige feeling of dread. Crisps. Crisps. Crunchy boys. Crispies. Crisps.