Now you’re going to have to bear with me for a minute on this, in the way that you might with an elderly relative, who, in order to explain why they’d forgotten to buy eggs, feels the need to include a backstory that starts with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, but I’ll try to be quick.
This story starts in 1985; we were going through a bit of a difficult time in the UK back then. Thatcher was still riding high after winning the ’82 Falklands war and then going on to beat the miners (the enemy within) and she was doing her best to destroy what was left of the fabric of society that kept us all together. Eastenders had just been invented in order to keep us glued to our TV’s and stop us joining in with the riots that were happening in housing estates and football stadiums across the country. Things were pretty grim. A lot us were wearing more denim than was healthy and unemployment was above 3 million. But one day Daley Thompson appeared in a TV commercial that blew our minds.
Of course Francis Morgan Ayodélé Thompson was already a household name and British hero by now. He’d won a gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics the previous year and made the decathlon cool, an event that up until then had been largely thought of as the thing that people who were alright at sports, but not quite good enough to do them properly, did, it was a sort of general studies for athletes. He’d gone on to confuse the Americans by proclaiming: “I haven’t been this happy since my grandmother caught her tit in a mangle”, which let’s face it is probably the most British thing you’ve heard all day, unless you happened to find yourself stood behind David Attenborough in the queue at a chippy. He put his name to a computer game that helped destroy every joystick in the country, and was considered to be the greatest athlete in the country at the time. We adored him, we trusted him, and we wanted to be like him.
If Daley Thompson had told us that rubbing Anusol into our arms gave us muscles we’d have been queuing up at Boots before you could say “embarrassing arse medicine” so when in 1985 he appeared in an advert for sugary water that played in every household and cinema in the land he was to become partly responsible for a change that was to affect our lives irreparably.
To an energetic soundtrack from a fairly unknown London-based heavy metal band, it took 31 seconds for the traffic lights to change, for him to wipe the sweat from his brow, take a slug from a bottle of Lucozade and set off from the blocks.
In that half a minute it felt like Daley had let us into incredible secret and opened our eyes to a world that before had never been possible. If you haven’t seen the advert or don’t remember it, watch the short clip below. Admittedly compared to today’s glitzy efforts it looks quite tame, but try to imagine what it must have been like to view this through the eyes of someone who’d recently had their free school milk revoked. It was to change the fortunes of Lucozade and although they’ll probably not admit it, changed the fortunes of Iron Maiden too. It certainly introduced them both to an impressionable 10 year old sat in Pontefract with a thirst for adventure, a record player and a Woolworths voucher burning a hole in his stonewashed Levis.
You see up to this point only sick people drank Lucozade, it was a sticky orange medicine that came in a nasty dimpled bottle wrapped in crinkly yellow cellophane, and was generally found gathering dust on the bottom shelf of corner shops. It was something you took to hospital when you visited a schoolmate who’d had a bad reaction to swallowing a bag of pennies, and wasn’t the kind of thing that was advertised with heavy metal music. It certainly wasn’t the kind of thing you expected the greatest athlete in the country to be drinking, but drink it he did. As Daley raced against himself to the tune of Phantom of the Opera, Lucozade transformed itself into an elixir of the Gods.
Suddenly there was a loophole, a get fit quick scheme. Being great at sports and becoming an athlete wasn’t just about doing exercise anymore, and within a short period of time Lucozade was being consumed in massive quantities by anyone doing any kind of fitness activity, but also by those that weren’t doing any at all. In hindsight this probably has a lot to do with the epidemic of obesity we are now seeing, (up from around 7% in 1980 to almost 27% today*). And although it’s unfair to burden Lucozade and Daley Thompson with all the negative effects of that trend, (as there are a lot of other societal, political, environmental and celebrity endorsement factors at play), I do blame them for enabling the conditions that led to Brexit.
Lucozade was one of the forerunners in the change that occurred to our consumption habits, and with that, it is partly responsible for our growing need for quick fixes and immediate results. Why push yourself endlessly at the gym when in order to look healthy and fit you don’t even need to exercise, you just need to carry around a bottle of energy drink around with you at all times and wear a tracksuit (like the athletes do). Lucozade and Daley Thompson got us hooked on that sugary rush of success, we believed their lies when they told us we needed to replace lost fluids, and energy, and we believed them when they hinted that we too could become athletes. We were dazzled by muscles and sweat and heavy guitar riffs, and by the time we discovered that they had been lying to us, and that Lucozade did nothing but make us as fat as whales and as athletic as a bag of pork scratchings it was too late the damage had been done.
Brexit was exactly the same, the adverts on buses told us lies about how our problems would be solved and posters of dark skinned people told us lies about where the problem came from. The sound bites told us we’d be better off out of the EU. “This time next year Rodders…you too can be an athlete.”
When Brexit finally arrives, the people who voted in favour of Brexit will no doubt wonder why the NHS hasn’t improved, why the fisheries aren’t flourishing, why the manufacturing industry hasn’t leapt back into action, and why all these bloody immigrants are still here, and those of us who voted against Brexit will take no pleasure in telling them “we told you so”. In fact if you voted to leave, then you are probably going to feel more let down than anyone because the promises that were made to ensure your vote are already being broken.
In the same way that the parents of the schoolboy, who gets out of breath climbing onto the top deck of the bus clutching his breakfast bottle of energy drink, can’t work why he is tired all the time and irritable and not able to concentrate in school, or the schoolgirl wonders why she can’t complete a lap around the playing fields despite the copious amounts of Lucozade she consumes every day. Brexit will prove to be as much a political solution to the problems we are collectively facing in this country as Lucozade is to creating a county full of athletes.
Because there is no such thing as a quick fix.
Our consumption choices, our political decisions and our entertainment options are faked to provide the allusion that we are in control, that we are in charge of our bodies and our destinies, that we can all be athletes. We are persuaded that the decisions we make are always in our best interests, and not a clever web of lies that disguise the truth that they are rarely in our benefit, and without all the information they are easy to make. The quick fix solutions we are offered under the guise of a free and democratically fair society are actually camouflaging our limited choices, and they become the manacles that we fit to our own wrists, that control us, without us even realising.
Brexit is never going to be the panacea it was promised to be, a quick fix to all our problems. It never could be, the problems we are facing in this country go way beyond membership of the European Union. What Brexit is, is a cheap and quick opportunity to pretend we are in control of our politics and our life, a one size fits all solution. Brexit is nothing but a sugary energy boost to convince us that we are somehow healthier, or better off through its existence, without the need for all that hard work, and ultimately not that cheap.
But it’s not too late.
Regardless of how you voted, because at the end of the day, we all voted in the way we did because we believed it was what was the best for the country, now is the time to stop moaning or gloating. Now is the time to embrace Brexit and make sure that it works for all of us and not just the elite few at the top who are planning to line their pockets because of Brexit. If we don’t do something about it now, there won’t be many winners from Brexit other than those who are already winning. Now is the time that we should hold our government to account, to ensure that the promises they made, and the things that the some of the adverts promised us (not the racist ones obviously), are actually fulfilled.
Now is not the time to be a passive consumer. Now is the time to get active.
If you think that Brexit was a victory, and that everything will be just fine without any more public involvement, and if you’re happy to leave our future (and that of our children) in the hands of a political elite who flip-flopped between being in favour and against Brexit at every opportunity when it suited them, then your 31-second Brexit advert is over. And as exciting and energising as it was, instead of taking the opportunity to change your life, to become an athlete in charge of your own destiny, you’ve decided to take the easy route out, you’ve drunk the medicine and are wondering why you aren’t getting fit. And despite how much they tell you you’re a winner, you won’t be, you won’t be great like Daley Thompson, you’ll just be that fat school kid with type 2 diabetes holding a bottle of expensive orange sugar water, who can’t do PE, blaming everyone else for their poor situation in life.
As someone recently said, “the fight starts now” (perhaps it should have happened earlier) but if you’re up for it, I’d suggest you put your Lucozade down for a minute and get active.
*Paradoxically if you are a regular consumer of the ‘sports drink’ Lucozade, one of the greatest improvements you could make to your life to get fit and healthy would be to stop drinking so much of it. A 380ml bottle of Lucozade contains 48g of sugar, (which is 18g more than the daily recommended maximum of added sugars you should consume) and contains more than 10% of the recommended daily calorie intake. To burn the calories consumed from one bottle of Lucozade you’d need to cycle your bike for an hour.