Reflecting upon The first world war it can be easy to dwell on the negative but it is worth remembering in this centenary year that had the politicans of a century ago foreseen the shameless exploitation of their tragic decisions by the book publishers and BBC documentary makers of a century later and, horrified, found a diplomatic solution to their differences the world might never have seen the birth of the king of sweets. For Yorkshire folk, whose memory of those dark days remains understandably coloured by being shelled by the imperial german navy, it is worth recalling that on the centenary backwards of the Tour de France visiting Sheffield the war to end all wars led to that city’s hitherto most notable connection to cycling, although for those of a certain age Malcolm Elliott probably figures in that calculation somewhere too, that nectar of the gods, that elixir of youth, that silver child shaped bundle of gelatine set in a sea of overpriced energy products, the jelly baby. The jelly baby, of course, began in 1918 as the peace baby, marking the start of the brief pause until the next world war. As well as reminding us of the armistice, which turned out to be not terribly permanent so not all it’s cracked up to be really, the jelly baby reminds us of the days before doctors told us not to eat sweets but to knock back prescription drugs by the packetload instead for the good of our health when The Doctor went around giving them out liberally to everyone he met, defusing many a potential conflict in the process and poignantly causing us to wonder what the world might have been like if jelly babies had been invented before the first world war and not after it.
The jelly baby, from a bike rider’s point of view, is almost the perfect fuel. It is small, doesn’t melt or get sticky, contains energy giving starch and protein providing gelatine, is inexpensive, easy to stash about the person and for the health and safety minded comes in a variety of high-viz colours. The only disadvantage is the starch dusting which remains on your fingers and therefore on everything else you touch. This is the reason most pro cyclists have white handlebar tape. The jelly baby is consumable in small discreet units; you don’t have to finish the bag once opened like you have to finish one of those awful gels or energy bars that some people fill themselves with for breakfast, lunch and tea. Hills to the confectionary cognescenti are measured not as category one, two or three but as a one jelly baby, two jelly baby or three jelly baby climb, the greatest mountain ascents being HC; requiring half a carton. Food fads may come and go, cycling fashions wax and wane, technologies appear then vanish but whatever and wherever you ride you’ll never bonk with Brilliant, Bubbles, Baby Bonny, Boofuls, Bigheart and Bumper up your sleeve. Dave ‘marginal gains’ Brailsford may attribute his team’s success to only allowing his riders to eat the red ones and making them bite the head off first but for me the jelly baby is for everyone. Jelly babies are the reason bike jerseys have pockets. The Von Schlieffen Plan and Treaty of Brest-Litovsk may now be just exam crib notes on the back of a history students’ hand (well, they are on my hand; that indelible ink really does what it says on the label) but Jelly babies are living history. Cycling is nothing without tradition so do the right thing by your sport and your country; bite the legs off a small orange child (but not the german haribo one, obviously) today and keep the flame alive.