Everything is better than sliced bread

A FRIEND tells me that DVDs are the best thing since sliced bread.

I think he’s easily pleased. I mean, if sliced bread is your yardstick then there’s not very much that comes lower on the league table.

My old favourite, line dancing, scrapes in ahead of sliced bread (but only just).

Having no bread is better than having sliced bread. Walkmans, Big Brother, soft ice cream and politicians are all odious in their individual ways, but they come in several lengths ahead of sliced bread.

I suppose we forget. These anaemic, air-filled, soggy sections of wan ex-wheat are so endemic we don’t even think about life before sliced bread. There’s a whole generation out there, now aged about 40, who probably think that when Christ fed the 5000 he had to take the plastic wrapper off first.

But is that any reason for it to become the milestone by which the English-speaking peoples navigate their successes? Sliced bread!

What about the best thing since penicillin? Or the best thing since the computer chip? Even the best thing since toilet paper with little butterflies printed on it would be a more creditable achievement.

And if it’s modesty that restrains us why stop at sliced bread? Why not the best thing since cod liver oil? Or encyclopaedia salesmen?

And another thing: what was the best thing before sliced bread? I was there in the days when bread was still something you could make gravestones out of, or you could use as doorstops; in the days before sliced bread was even a gleam in its inventor’s eye, may God forgive him (it would have to be a man).

And yet I don’t recall anyone ever saying: “Hey, have you seen bicycles? They’re the best thing since the wheel.”

Or: “Check out the wireless. It’s the best thing since pickled onions.”

And what about the day sliced bread stood silhouetted on the horizon? Did people say: “Bugger the wheel and pickled onions; forget about the bicycle, the wireless, the internal combustion engine, the flush lavatory and the bow and arrow — here’s sliced bread!”?

It was only a short step from there to worldwide enthusiasm for meat shredded almost to a paste and bunged into a bun. If you can sell people sliced bread you can sell ’em anything.

I only mention this because if you check out the supermarket shelves nowadays you’ll find it’s getting harder to buy real flour. It’s all bread mixes. For use in bread machines. And it comes with most of the additives, like anti-staling agents, that come in the plastic-wrapped version. We are in the process of inventing sliced bread without the slices!

The day is not far off when real bread – the good old-fashioned, tooth shattering, bible-thick bread they used to fight wars on (that they used to fight wars with!) will be no more than a guttering memory in the failing minds of old farts like me.

Probably no-one will care. But when someone invents a cure for cancer and it’s heralded as the best thing since sliced bread, I can’t help feeling we will have let ourselves down somehow.