Are we being fed dog biscuits? 

Last weekend we found ourselves wandering around a Sunday market. It had been an exhausting week and we had escaped up to the Lakes for a precious few hours. There were artisan loaves from Grasmere and chutneys from Keswick. There was a wood-turner with a fantastically impressive beard from Ulverston and a man whisking an omelette with a device that he claimed had ‘sold six million on QVC’. 

Quite quickly, I found myself overcome with a sense of utter boredom. At such points you have a choice – you either commit fully or beat a hasty retreat. I elected to do the former and I decided that I would while away the time sampling some of the edible goods on offer. I tried one of the chutneys which was perfectly pleasant and then moved on to what appeared to be a delicatessen bakery. Absent-mindedly, I picked up a sample of the baked peanut butter-flavoured biscuits. I was disappointed by the bland taste and extremely dry texture. The last time I had eaten a biscuit like this was when I attended a feast in Yemen some twenty years ago. I felt like the biscuit was sticking itself immovably to the inside of my mouth. ‘Wow. they will struggle to sell these!’, I opined to Fiona, who had, by this stage, caught me up. She looked at me curiously and asked what on earth I was doing. As I took a closer look at the stand, it became apparent that I was sampling the wares of a reasonably posh pet food store. Trying to disguise my obvious embarrassment, I adopted a nonchalant expression and moved on in something of a hurry. Resisting the urge to spit it out the congealing contents of my mouth, I preserved until the biscuit was gone and all that was left was a vaguely unpleasant aftertaste. 

  What life lessons do I take away from eating dog biscuits in Cumbria?

  1. Dogs are getting a rough deal and being unfairly duped. They deserve more tasty food. Admittedly,  our dogs will eat literally anything with unbridled enthusiasm (including things like the dining room curtains and part of my mother-in-law’s skirting board) so it is fair to say that they do not have a very sophisticated palette. Nevertheless, I doubt that any dog would have been able to communicate a preference for the roast pecan nut option over the honey-raspberry or ginger spice biscuits. It seems almost certain that if I had continued my exploration of dog biscuits, then it is most unlikely that I would have been able to distinguish between the flavours on offer. They might have looked different but they were essentially the same. 
  2. The extravagant promises made by purveyors of dog food do not seem to be predicated upon anything approaching meaningful market research. Our dog Dougal likes all food with the exception of sweetcorn which is entirely understandable.  Refusal to consume is the only feedback that he is likely to provide and this only happens very rarely. 

This election feels like we are being force-fed dog biscuits. Competing parties are making extravagant promises that are essentially undeliverable without raising taxes or cutting public services. Rather than offering a compelling and fully costed vision for the future, each party appears to be resorting to electoral gimmicks and personalised attacks on the opposition. Of meaningful substance, there is depressingly little. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this is an exercise in cynicism turbo-charged by social media posts and misleading briefings to the press. Inconvenient truths are ignored and meaningful analysis is jettisoned in favour of dogma. Starmer and Sunak are both centrists but clearly feel the need to appeal to those on the hard left or the hard right. For Starmer, VAT on school fees provides a perfect opportunity to showboat his flimsy socialist credentials  – much like his insistence upon referring to himself as working class even although it is embarrassingly obvious that he is nothing of the sort.  For Sunak, policies around immigration and the re-introduction of national service are intended to appease the reactionary elements within his own party and push back against the electoral threat posed by Farage and Reform.  The parties look very different but with the exception of the issue of VAT on school fees, there is little to separate them. 

Teaching young people to discern between metaphorical dog biscuits and the ‘real thing’ is one of our most important duties. The ability to critically evaluate information is one of the most important skills that we are able to impart. Without these skills, we are liable to quaff down whatever is served up to us on social media. Without these skills, we will be like the poor labrador who gulps down a Tesco’s own brand dog biscuit whilst being duped into thinking it is a Fortnum and Mason’s iced biscuit. Utterly scrumptious or desperately bland?

Fortnum and Mason’s offering certainly looks exquisite!

Jeremy Quartermain
Headmaster of Rossall School