Monday, April 09, 2007

Meme 2 & 7 Part II

(For what this is all about, see previous post.)

In 1962 I was at boarding school. On Sunday afternoons the rain thrummed down on the corrugated iron roof of the Common Room and we listened to Top of the Pops on the radio. Alan “Fluff” Freeman counted down the Top Ten pop records “And at Number One it’s Please Please Me From The Beatles” and signed off with a cheesy “All right, stay bright…” The Sixties were getting into full swing and I was reading Ian Fleming. James Bond heroines always had short cut fingernails and smelled of musk. We were rationed for sweets – 2ozs twice a week – and we learnt that marshmallows and chocolate buttons went a lot further than toffee.

The food was pretty miserable. All the meat was grey and round and fatty, lambporkbeef all indistinguishable from each other. Hunks of gristle in the stew, and a clean plate de rigeur. Years later I was at a private banquet in Northern China, dining off silver with the Governor of the Province. He helped me to a choice morsel with his silver chopsticks. I slipped it into my mouth and froze. Blocking my throat was a huge lump of gristle. Instantly I was back in boarding school and the sweat broke out on my forehead. I reached for the water in my silver goblet but it would not be budged. At last, holding tight to the underside of my chair with both hands, I swallowed hard and felt it shunt down my gullet. Turning to my translator I whispered
“What on earth was that?”
She nodded sagely.
“Camel’s toes…”
Camel’s toes? Do you eat a lot of those?”
“I’ve never had them. Great delicacy. Come from Outer Mongolia

Puddings were what boarding school did really well. Lots of stodgy things with chocolate sauce or custard. Something called Queen of Puddings with jam and a meringue topping; spotted dick, syrup pud, and rice pudding, solid and sticky sometimes, and other times loose and creamy. We fought over the skin. And then we went and ran up and down a hockey pitch for two hours and worked it all off.

On Sundays we had coffee for breakfast. My grandmother was diabetic and maybe this was why she drank her coffee black, I don’t know, but I took to drinking mine without milk too. On my table sat Matron, wearing a wimple and a little upside down watch pinned to her chest and looking as if she had just landed from Sebastopol. Her accent was pure Edinburgh Morningside:

“It’ll stain your insides”

“Nobody is going to see my insides”


And one day at supper in 1963 the housemistress rang her little bell for silence, which was usually a prelude to telling us that someone had failed to clean their games boots. But this day she said simply

“I thought you would all like to know that President John F Kennedy of the United States has been shot and is not expected to live.”


Ash said...

This is so interesting! Your recollections of boarding school have made me remember mine. I was at boarding school in Zimbabwe in the 1980s and I too remember the puddings. The best one we had was a jam crumble. Sounds ghastly, doesn't it? However, my mouth is watering just thinking about it and the custard that accompanied it. I'm really enjoying your recollections, can't imagine how you stomached the camel's toe though!

Jeanne said...

What a beautiful post (and a great idea for a meme)! I never went to boarding school, but I did have to survive a couple of years of Home Economics during which we had to make and eat cornflour mould - I was put right off wobbly puddings for decades!! We also spent a week in a university residence for an English festival in our final year of high school. I remember our endless amusement at identifying in each meal which element was in fact a leftover from the previous meal - like green pasta salad the day after we had lasagna with green pasta sheets. Urrrgh.

Virginia said...

For a moment, I thought we had been to the same school until the paragraph about Kennedy - we were summoned to the common room to listen to the news on the radio (sorry, wireless). Was it a healthy diet? We had buns at break, stodge for pudding, and at tea we had to eat two slices of bread before we were allowed to eat cake. I'm also a Bathonian, by the way.

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