Cheese, Gromit!

You know how there are some phrases that stick in your head for years? Some words that trigger an immediate association in your mind? One of those for me is the word cheese. Anytime a sentence ends with that word, I can’t help but think to add: “Gromit!”

I owe this to the many times I watched the original episodes of Wallace & Gromit as a kid.  It’s a British claymation series of short films about the hapless, bachelor inventor Wallace and his clever, faithful dog Gromit. The show is filled with puns and dry humor, ridiculous excursions and silly twists. It’s sometimes predictable, but it’s always delightful.

Wallace and Gromit love cheese; their ability (or inability) to sit down to cheese and crackers with tea is what motivates a lot of the action. In “A Grand Day Out,” the very first episode (which came out in 1989––it’s as old as I am!), Wallace and Gromit run out of cheese in their cupboard. So, naturally, they build a rocket ship in their basement and fly to the moon. Everyone knows the moon is made of cheese! It turns out to taste like no cheese they’ve ever had before––not even Wensleydale.

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Everyone knows the moon is made of cheese! From “A Grand Day Out.”

It’s Wallace saying “Cheese, Gromit!” that I will always remember.

Ari and I have been married and living together for more than a year now. He’s given me a number of quizzical looks when he’s heard me add “Gromit!” to sentences ending with the word cheese. We needed to watch Wallace & Gromit together, so he’d know what all the fuss is about.

We watched Wallace and Gromit land on the moon and meet a strange robot, who sees someone skiing in one of their travel magazines and subsequently tries to stow away on the rocket so it can go skiing on earth itself. We watched “The Wrong Trousers” (1993), in which a criminal penguin hijacks the automatic walking device Wallace bought to take Gromit around the block in order to rob a museum. And we watched “A Close Shave” (1995), when Wallace falls in love with Wendolene, who turns out to be involved––with her own dog, Preston––in a sheep heist.

These were the three episodes I knew as a kid. Another, “A Matter of Loaf and Death,” had apparently come out in 2010 and was included in Amazon Prime’s collection. We watched that, too. It was still charming, but it wasn’t nearly as good––mostly because its plot was too similar to “A Close Shave.” But I wonder if I would have liked the fourth episode more had it occupied a place in my heart like the others.

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A fromagerie at the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal. I wish I’d known enough French to ask for a sample.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing this beloved part of my childhood with Ari, and watching the show again transported me back to the feeling of viewing it on repeat as a kid. It’s like Ben Bag Bag used to say: “Turn it and turn it, since everything is in it. And in it should you look, and grow old and be worn in it” (Pirkei Avot 5:22).

Okay it’s not quite like rereading Torah year after year. But returning to Wallace & Gromit was indeed a trip down memory lane, a return to something from much earlier in my life after I’d grown older. It was also chance to notice new things about the series that I’d missed as a kid––things like punny newspaper headlines and smart cultural references in titles of books Gromit reads.

Revisiting the films alongside someone watching them for the first time revealed even more. Not until Ari pointed it out did I realize just how poorly Wallace treats Gromit. Gromit does most of the work: standing in as a sawhorse for rocket ship construction, operating a contraption that gets Wallace dressed and fed in the morning, and piloting a motorcycle-sidecar-turned-airplane to help rescue stolen sheep. Gromit is always the one who saves the day, but he rarely receives more than an appreciative pat on the head from Wallace, the one who usually gets them into trouble in the first place. It’s amazing that Gromit puts up with him at all!

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Endless samples are the best part of shopping at our local North Shore Farms. They once had a Wensleydale with orange and chocolate.

Recently, I’ve fallen in love with David Whyte’s Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday WordsI’m slowly making my way through his meditations––written in the most poetic of prose––on words such as anger, friendship, and solace. And as I am reflecting on my experience revisiting Wallace & Gromit, Whyte’s concluding sentence on nostalgia feels resonant:

Nostalgia is not an immersion in the past, nostalgia is the first annunciation that the past as we know it is coming to an end. (p. 152)

I cued up Wallace & Gromit with Ari to bring a bit of my past into the present, but doing so reveals how much has changed. Today, my current viewing partner is my husband, not my parents, and we watch it now via online streaming instead of VHS. I’m now living in New York, not Ohio, and I spend my days at work instead of school. And there are the new things to notice about Wallace & Gromit itself.

I’m glad to have rewatched the films. I’m sure I’ll do it again sometime; they are still good fun. I’m also grateful, at the risk of sounding extra sappy, for the unexpected moment of reflection in which I am remembering a childhood delight while recognizing the blessings of today.

Now I think I’ll fetch myself a cup of tea. And maybe some cheese.

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