* Some history : mass-manufactured in the rock 'n' roll 'fifties, the Morris Friedman-designed moulded polyethylene (soft flexible plastic) tom was the first squeeze-bottle food dispenser. 1947 had seen the appearance of a Stopette deodorant container, the first squeezable of all, after cosmetics chemist Jules Montenier had perfected the squeezy bottle, working alongside Plax Corporation engineers. Initially adding colour to domestic kitchens, the tom soon became a restaurant favourite. The original tom was more realistic, smaller than the one I half-remember. The mould developed, the tomato becoming squarer, more stylised.
Memories are vague, frosted glass-hazy : not having encountered one such novelty fruity condiment container for two decades or more (in order to be able to safely contradict that kid's-eye-view, where objects always seem bigger than actual size) has resulted in what's maybe a distortion, an exaggeratedly handsome version/vision of something which could well disappoint, and leave me futilely craving a more impressive, never-really-existed fairytale tom.
Fellow Cheap Date-r Alvin Smith reckons the hinged-lidded (pull off, pop back on) tom was quite sizeable, like a comic strip bomb - and describes it as having possessed a Beanoesque quality : expected to have been employed by assorted Bash Street-ers upon their mountainous celebratory final frame bangers 'n' mash (and, little doubt, upon the fizzog of swotty star pupil Cuthbert Cringeworthy). The tom certainly lent itself to mischief, to minxing and menacing : I've heard tell of how one could unscrew the cap, very carefully up-end the dispenser, and equally deftly place it upon the table, its cap precisely positioned on the wrong end. An unsuspecting customer would pick up the "innocent" tom for a hearty squeeze, sending a deluge of red gloop every which way.
Does anyone recall how brown sauce was previously presented ? Was it simply poured straight from its slap-the-base glass bottle ? Perhaps the absurd notion of a companion brown tomato (or was there one ? Alvin thinks so - can any Wimpy regulars confirm this ?), coupled with the appealing idea of the tidy matching pair with which we're familiar today, led to the tom's withdrawal. Or maybe so many folk considered the tom beautiful - and fun - enough to sidle out with one hidden under their coat that it was decided to discontinue them... ?
Late 'nineties Wimpy ketchup comes in individual sealed sachets of silver, white and red - but how much for reasons of neatness and hygiene, and how much an anti-hooliganism measure ? Brighton's Wimpy manageress speaks of red being squirted up the walls...
Whilst I'm growing both accustomed to, and quite fond of those tall, dimpled squeezy cylinders some caffs offer, they lack the humour and verve of the beloved tom. Of all my thrifting desires, the ketchup squeezy is probably my greatest obsession (and incidentally, I'd much prefer a battered old ex-someplace specimen with some history than a gleaming, unused, blemish-free model). Realistically, I know I'll never charity-shop a copy of Richard Brautigan's ultra-scarce (£450 +) 1968 Please Plant This Book (seed packets with poems printed on); and I've grave doubts about my local Heart Foundation chucking the Half Japanese triple L. P. boxed set (complete with all inserts) my way. But this hunk of cheap red and green plastic seems equally frustratingly elusive. I want one !!
Andrea diNoto : Art Plastic - Designed For Living (New York : Abbeville, 1984)
Jeffrey L. Meikle : American Plastic - A Cultural History (New Brunswick, NJ : Rutgers University Press, 1995)
Author : Stephen Drennan, June 1999.
Originally published in the Cheap Date anthology, edited by Kira Jolliffe (Slab-O-Concrete ISBN 1 899866 26 4; 2000).
And now those squeezies are in every retro-kitsch shop ! I've owned that Half Jap boxed set for a while (though it wasn't acquired via a charity shop), and of course I'm still hoping to find that Brautigan !