Monday, 1 March 2010

The Shining

I think that the first time I heard of the kiwi, or indeed saw its picture, was on the eponymous boot polish tin. Although not English in origin, the very look of this particular tin (my guess is 1952-ish) is so redolent of newspaper laid out on the kitchen table and a row of shoes lined-up waiting for my father's robust military applications of polish. And the subsequent buffing-up with a yellow duster accompanied by either a Player's on the go or his tongue sticking out for some reason (like he did when he drove his car). William Ramsay first made the polish in 1906, in Australia oddly enough, but his wife was a New Zealander and so he named his product after the endemic flightless bird of her native country. Now it accounts for two thirds of all shoe polish sales in the world, and is accredited for popularising the kiwi as the country's national symbol. I thank fellow designers Philip Amis and Peter Denmark for giving me this empty tin in 1975. "We think you ought to have this", they said solemnly.

12 comments:

Jane said...

About 15 years ago I took an Aussie friend to meet my parents. Her presence led my dad to give me the news from my cousin in New Zealand.

"She's farming Kiwis", he said.

"Gosh, I didn't know you could eat Kiwis, and anyway I thought they were extinct", I said, thinking of a tin of shoe polish.

"If you can't eat them, they won't be extinct will they?" was my dad's logical reply.

Then we noticed my Aussie friend had fallen off her chair laughing. She later explained that "kiwis" were those nasty bits of green slime they put in fruit salad.

Peter Ashley said...

Brilliant. I was trying to find a link between the fruit and bird for the title, to no avail, so thankyou for this.

Jon Dudley said...

Vigilance! Mr.A, vigilance! Thank goodness you demonstrate it. To think that your chums should have donated this tin aeons ago and yet broadly the same design still sits (maybe that should be 'perches') on the shelves of our local Sainsbury's. I considered on Saturday whilst doing the weekly trudge, of buying one of every product whose packaging was roughly similar to that which existed when I was a boy. Then I thought maybe I'd use the (actually useless) camera on my iPhone for cheapness. In the event I did neither, but noticed some old favourites without actually having to look too far - Kiwi, Atora, Marmite, Golden Syrup, Fowlers Black Treacle, Roses Lime Juice Cordial, Camp Coffee...there must be more. Anyway more power to the tried and trusted - that Mr.Opie's to be congratulated too.

Peter Ashley said...

Ooh Jon, heaven forbid we should ever meet down at Sainos or wherever, each with our respective baskets bulging with nostalgia but with absolutely nothing in them we'd like to eat. I too looked at a box of Atora in Waitrose on Saturday. Colours and type more or less intact, but missing 'Hugon's' and, I think, a line drawing of a horse and wagon covered with a hooped tarpaulin.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Excellent stuff. Today's kiwi is a bit more streamlined and stylized than this early one, isn't he, but still very much there. And now you've got me staring at the Marmite pot and wondering how much it has changed over the years. And as for Angostura Bitters...

E J Moore said...

When I was a child, there was a tin of ham with a label showing two pigs (wearing aprons?) holding a tin of ham, on the label of which were two pigs holding a tin of ham, etc etc. It was my introduction to the concept of infinity, at an early age.

オテモヤン said...
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Sue said...

Buffing up the shoes and sharpening the carving knife on Sundays are two of my abiding memories of my father - and yes, both actions with tongue on (stiff) upper lip. That could have been dangerous in the case of the Sunday roast but military precision ensured otherwise!

And shouldn't Colmans mustard be on that list?

Jon Dudley said...

Waitrose Mr.A? I am in awe. Best own label packaging by a supermarket aisle.

See what I mean! If that comment's Japanese it's obviously a reference to Yamaha soap
powder. Of course, Colman's...Worcester Sauce, Angostura Bitters, England's Glory matches (no longer Morlands).

I wonder if there are any govt. statistics relating to tongue injuries whilst shoe polishing? On those old films you always see someone like Alfie Bass (usually as a private) spitting on shoes during the polishing process - is this efficacious or is he just expressing his disgust at polishing what are some senior officer's brogues?

DC said...

Where's "Where's That Then?" ?!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jon: I remember when I was a young boy I saw a friend's cousin, on leave from National Service, spitting on his shoes during polishing. They certainly shone but I think this was as much due to the elbow grease as the spittle.

DC: Hear, hear!

CarolineLD said...

Shoe polish tins are definitely among those things - and smells - that take me back to childhood. (Mostly because the memory is unsullied by later experience, since I still get my dad to polish my shoes!)