Cockayne, again


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No writing is ever truly self-contained. Every text references others, and each of those comes freighted with its own referential baggage, and so ad infinitum. Listen with sufficient attention, and even the simplest utterance will turn out to be co-extensive with language itself.

Of course, few of us ever engage at that level of subtlety. It’s not that we’re born insensitive, but rather that writings like the present example drive us into reflexive lockdown. 66 words that cram an O-level spelling mistake, a redundant capitalization and a belated trademark deployment into a mass of stock phrases? The sensible response is surely to turn up one’s collar and trudge on by.

If we’re opting for a less sensible response, we may as well do it properly. The writer was content to use a series of hackneyed trigger phrases associated with ‘aspirational’ goods. We, however, will track them to their source.

That process begins with a simple observation: lazy writers often say ‘naughty’ when they mean ‘pleasurable’. Naughtiness implies transgression and thus punishment, probably divine. Of the five most prominent keywords in the present example — ‘tempting’, ‘weakness’, ‘penchant’, ‘indulge’, and ‘luxurious’ — four have theological origins or connotations. (The first and second are implicitly religious; the fourth and fifth explicitly so. ‘Luxury’ was originally a variant spelling for the deadly sin of ‘lechery’, while an ‘indulgence’ was a retroactive pardon issued by a priest.)

All of which may remind us of Angela Carter’s remark about the contradictions inherent in the concept of a permissive society. “A permissive society is still a profoundly authoritarian society — who is it, do you think, who is permitting you to do all those exotic things?”

Of course, the Harrods writer doesn’t really expect to be damned for her sweet tooth, and the ‘indulgence’ she craves no longer requires the intervention of the Church. But, since the unspoken theme of her text is emergence from control, we can usefully ask: whose control?

One of the favourite themes of late medieval literature was the Land of Cockayne, defined by Wikipedia as “a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied (abbots beaten by their monks), sexual liberty is open (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and food is plentiful (skies that rain cheese… roasted pigs wander about with knives in their backs to make carving easy)”.

Academics read these stories as harbingers of the emergence from repression. When the religious authorities began to slacken their grip, their former subjects found themselves bereft of any imaginative alternative. The best they could manage was an inversion of the old order. The same mechanisms would underpin the ‘World Turn’d Upside Down’ theme which came out of the English Revolution, and have re-emerged periodically ever since. (Older readers may recall Burl Ives’ version of the Depression-era ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’.)

To relate the Harrods copy to these historical precedents is not to excuse its lack of imagination. Copywriters have enjoyed centuries of relative freedom, and it’s high time they replaced childish assertions about rulebreaking with a grown-up rhetoric of pleasure. Our rewrite goes some way towards this goal, although ‘hopeless chocaholic’ still sounds a tad infantile.


Champagne cravings? Penchant for praline? Hopeless chocaholic? Harrods shares your passion! We mustered many of the world’s most masterful chocolatiers when we made our selections. Our unequalled range includes delicacies from Charbonnel et Walker, Patchi and To’ak as well as our very own assortments. Whether you’re in search of a perfect pick-me-up, a selection for sharing or a thoughtful gift, Harrods has the chocolate you need.