Top Gear #16 Jelly Babies

8th Nov 2015

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'My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.'

George Washington

We will readily admit that Jelly Babies (JB's) make an unusual Peak Mountaineering Top Gear choice, but stay with me and you'll see why we've particularly picked them for today.  Firstly, the reason they are great for hill food is simple to explain - they are easy to eat little bundles of sugary energy and their dense composition ensures they offer good energy value for their weight.  On long routes you can't beat pulling one of these out of your jacket pocket to munch on while you wait at a belay.  That’s enough to make them a good Top Gear choice.

They also have a special place in my memory because they played a small but significant role in my instructor qualification journey.  I was on one of the client climbing days that is part of the Mountain Instructor Award assessment and my 2 clients, the assessor and I were trying to make the most of a monsoon day at Tremadog.  We sheltered under a small overhang mid climb and I remember thinking, as a small waterfall cascaded over the overhanging lip that marked our onward route, that it was the type of day where only people with no choice would be climbing.  

The clients were cold and the assessor, despite keeping a professional exterior, was undoubtedly willing the end of the day to come as quickly as possible.  I looked around at the dishevelled group and realised it was time to unleash my secret weapon - I dipped into my pocket and pulled out a packet of JB's.  A few heavenly minutes of chomping and everyone seemed a bit happier with their world.  Even the assessor cracked a smile when he saw the distinctive yellow bag appear and I obviously let him choose which colours he wanted first for added points.  My feedback at the end of the day was good enough to ensure I would be back for the next assessment day and I still like to think those shared moments over a few JB's had a small part to play in this.

But the real reason we've added Jelly Babies to our prestigious Top Gear list is all about today.  This morning I joined a couple of hundred people in the beautiful St Michaels church in Hathersage.  There were cadet groups alongside scouts, guides, beavers, war veterans and many Peak District residents.  Today is, of course, Remembrance Sunday, and as I looked around at the packed church I thought of how many people were doing the same thing in churches around the country.  Hathersage is just one small village out of thousands around and yet here alone over 400 villagers were directly involved in the war effort - and of course many of those never made it home.  What a great sacrifice was made both nationally and internationally to protect our freedoms.

It was a memorable service and soon enough we arrived at the Vicar's sermon.  It was really well delivered and based appropriately around symbols of peace.  One of these was sure to get a good response from the many children there when, from under the lectern, the vicar pulled a bag of Jelly Babies.  I certainly wasn't alone in wondering how these symbolised peace, but everything was soon clear.

It turns out that when Jelly Babies were introduced (*) by Bassett's of Sheffield in 1918, they were actually called Peace Babies and were presented as a symbol of celebration at the end of World War I.  The different colours were produced to symbolise different people coming together and existing peacefully in one place.  Production was halted during the Second World War due to shortages and when they were reintroduced in 1953 they were renamed Jelly Babies.  

As I listened in the church I pondered on whether we'll ever get to a point where all the people of the world can live together in one place harmoniously and at the terrible sacrifices of millions of young lives that have been lost in defending that ideal.  As we followed the procession back through Hathersage it was great to see the streets lined with people showing their respect and my hope is, having shared the peace baby story, that it offers a gentle reminder of that tragic loss every time any of our blog readers reach for a mid climb jelly baby treat.

* The first version of these sweets are said to have been invented in 1864 by an Austrian working in Lancashire and originally called ‘Unclaimed Babies’.

Posted by Paul

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