Britain: 'Spice' Is Out, 'Tubbies' In

You're probably familiar with Wallace and Gromit, Nick Park's animated characters. The stars of "The Wrong Trousers" and two other short films on video are extremely popular here. Besides Gromit notepads (see photo), you can buy small plastic figures of eight main characters (including the famous trousers), a Wallace and Gromit playhouse in which to place the characters, stuffed-plush Gromits, greeting cards, finger puppets, even a "Shaun [the sheep] nightwear case" for one's pajamas, presumably. A play based on the characters, acted brilliantly by adults, was a success with young and grown-up fans alike.

But the current phenomenal success here (much bigger than the Spice Girls, who are fading) is the BBC-TV program "Teletubbies." This children's show stars an odd quartet of beady-eyed babies that must be seen to be believed.

The Teletubbies utter baby noises, jump, and wave their arms with infantile glee. Actors inhabit their boiler-suit costumes, which have rudimentary TV aerials atop their heads and TV-screenlike patches sewn on their round tummies. Sometimes the tummy patches become real video screens showing real children doing various things.

Teletubbies are aimed at preschoolers. But the characters appeal to children of all ages, who sit glued to TVs in droves. We know of 11-year-olds, even, who love the Teletubbies. Even boys. Naturally, the characters appear on an extensive line of merchandise, from mouse pads to key rings.

What to eat for a sweet

Easter eggs are a major presence in shops at this time of year. Mostly chocolate ones, many of them hollow. Sometimes the hollow eggs are filled with candy, such as Mars Bars, Maltesers, or Smarties. Smarties are quite popular and were around for decades before the invasion of American M&Ms, which are very similar (or is it vice versa?). Smarties have survived the invasion, and even have fought back by introducing blue candies. (Or did M&Ms do that first?) In any case, one Smarties distinction endures: The orange ones really do taste of orange.

Zappers, also pictured in the photo on Page 8, are very sour-tasting at first, though the inside is sweet-tasting bubble gum. ("Sour" is a very popular flavor with children on both sides of the Atlantic, evidently.) They are similar to Zingy Zaps, sold in Canada.

Scots' own, 'made from girders'

Though it's called the United Kingdom, there are still many regional differences from country to country. Two come to mind when it comes to Scotland, for instance. One is the popularity of "tablet," a type of candy that some children (and many adults) like. It is very Scottish. It has a hard-fudge texture with a brown-sugary flavor.

Another very Scottish thing is Irnbru soda. It is a golden transparent color. Its generally undistinctive taste, laced with sweetness, is tinged subtly with a flavor one can only describe as "rusty." Thus the "Irn" (iron, presumably) in its name. In advertisements, the drink is described as being "made in Scotland from girders." The iron and steel industry once flourished in Scotland, particularly around Glasgow, Scotland's largest city - though not its capital. That's Edinburgh.

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