When I was six my mum burned our kitchen down. She took a phone call, left the deep fat fryer on, and when me, my dad and my brother returned from our Saturday Beano run there were two fire engines outside of our house. It was one of the most exciting events of my young life, and my "What I Did At The Weekend" report absolutely slammed everyone else's.
While my parents dealt with the various admin involved in having half of your house burned to the ground, we had to stay at a neighbour's house. That's when the excitement came to a screeching halt, because my neighbours didn't "believe" in cereal. Kneeling on their counter, I frantically went through their cabinets while the enormity of my new life dawned on me. Not so much as a Cornflake.
"In my house, we have Coco Pops." I said, picking miserably at my porridge. "I miss my mum." And, because six-year-olds think that everything is permanent, I burst into tears.
There was a certain kind of independence that came with cereal eating, too: it was a meal you could prepare if the grown-ups weren't around
Realising that my mum was a rogue in the mum community – a mother who let all four of her children have chocolatey, sugarey cereal before 8am every morning – was a big moment. To quote Amy Poehler in Mean Girls, she wasn't a regular mum, she was a cool mum. She took us to the beach on school days, she let me stay up to watch sexy Tudor documentaries with her, and she bought Coco Pops and Nesquik by the cartload. It made me appreciate her who-gives-a-toss attitude that I still try to emulate as an adult. There was a certain kind of independence that came with cereal eating, too: it was a meal you could prepare if the grown-ups weren't around. And in 1996, grown-ups were a lot more okay with not being around you all the time. Helicopter-parenting hadn't happened yet.
It turns out our porridge-loving neighbour was way ahead of the curve because today, cereal is on the serious decline. Sales are down almost $4 billion since 2000, and 40 per cent of young consumers say that they avoid cereal because it's too much work (??) to clean up after. The worrying idea that people in their twenties can't face the idea of washing a spoon AND a bowl aside, I can't help but feel a pang of sadness for the humble bowl of cereal. What do siblings fight over now, if not the glow-in-the-dark sticker that comes in a Ricicles pack? What to read at breakfast, if not Tony the Tiger's word search?
On a health level, I guess it's understandable: people are starting to cotton on to the fact that a "Made With Wholegrain!" doesn't necessarily mean "Made Without A Truck Full of Possibly Life Threatening Sugar". For the meantime, we have all sold ourselves the lie of granola. Ah, granola: reassuringly bumpy, full of berries and occasionally has some seeds you can pick out. And at £4 a bag it MUST be healthy, right? Why, it's basically an Innocent smoothie in oat form. According to a somewhat spurious-looking study by the Daily Mail however, a bowl of Quaker Oats Granola has as much saturated fat as a Bacon and Egg McMuffin.
Somehow I doubt that me and my siblings would have set our alarms early to get up and eat a bowl of granola in the early nineties, no matter how much sugar it claimed to have.