Food Not So Glorious Food

I was probably always a fussy eater. Early memories of food prior to going away to boarding school are practically non-existent so I can’t be sure. My father, who died a couple of days after my ninth birthday – hence the ticket to the Masonic School – was something of a gourmet though. The walk-in larder was dominated by mysteriously spicy smells: black puddings, tinned lychees and other such exotica were to be found there. For all that I don’t recall mealtimes except one traumatic one where my father was trying to force my sister to eat goulash (I don’t know how I knew that either) despite her tears.

What does make some experiences memorable? Easy enough to understand where strong emotions like anger or fear are evoked, as above, but some early memories seem absolutely random; my father mixing cement or my mother mangling clothes.

Food revenant nous mouton only kicked in to focus when I started at the Masonic School. A day at school could be defined by whether it started with god-awful porridge ladled out and passed down or glorious cereal (and within that a pecking order from Weetabix at the top down to Puffed Wheat at the bottom).

Food was prepared in the kitchens and handed out through the serving hatches to monitors who collected for each table. Most of it, to my perhaps overly fastidious taste, was horrible. Because you were expected to eat it all, mealtimes often became a challenge as to how to get rid of the bits you didn’t like, disguising them as acceptable leavings or passing them to somebody else: some boys would eat anything and were a godsend.

Boarding school life (at least when I was at school) had something of the intensity that I imagine life in wartime held. Perhaps this is why some people cleave to their time at public school because life afterwards is disappointingly grey. Ends of term were as intensely exciting as the returns to school were dreadful. Visits out, letters from home, private moments with friends – all had that quality that comes from the sense of a moment snatched but all too fleeting. 

So too with food. When it was good, baked beans on toast, arctic roll, fish fingers and chips (my God was that it?), it was very, very good. When it was bad, greasy stews, semolina, welsh rarebit, and many more, it was horrid.

My nemesis came when my my two worst dishes – lamb and barley stew (all fatty meat and grease) followed by suet pudding with marmalade sauce – followed each other in the dinner from hell.

I failed totally in any attempt to palm bits off and was forced to return to the House with both plates congealing and, while the rest of the house had silent reading, the deputy housemaster tried, unsuccessfully, to force me to finish my dinner. A ghoulash moment.

Through the masters’ eyes, many of whom had come through wartime deprivation, I must have looked wretchedly ungrateful. I am still somewhat fastidious  (tripe, liver, kidneys, fatty meat NOOOOO!) but food and the preparation of food is now a source of great pleasure.

But then England too is a different place. We have all moved on from the country of Martha Harrison’s observation “I’ll bet what motivated the British to colonize so much of the world is that they were just looking for a decent meal.”

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8 Responses to Food Not So Glorious Food

  1. camilla says:

    ghoulash is well funny!! xxxxxxx

  2. camilla says:

    and artic roll……are you taking the michael? x

  3. Helen Monelle says:

    Thanks for reminding me, though I admit it’s a moment burned deep in my memory.
    It took 40 years but I did eat goulash in Germany and thoroughly enjoyed it!!
    Your big Sis.

  4. Frank Weeks says:

    Stonic food during the war was, well shall we just say, memorible.
    You could tell which day of the week it was by what was served.
    I think the ‘Stonic Tart’ was on Tuesday, when the routine question was asked “Have you got your chisel?” Your dispised steam pudding with hot marmalade on it was the highlight of the week, Thursday Pud’. Boiled eggs were Saturday. I always felt sorry for the cook. Have you ever tried to boil a few eggs well. Imagine 400 to be cooked to perfection. Soccer-Boot Stew was the friday residue of the weeks offerings.
    Toast, of course, was that mushy thing you had by leaving a slice of bread under a tea urn for as long as you could. I understand that the bell that was sounded each end of meals is now at the Girls School.
    There are other stories. For instance, have you ever heard about the night most of the school were found to be at the Watford cinema.

  5. Simon Greaves says:

    Though of a later Ston vintage, your entertaining writing vividly recalls a shared experience that shaped our lives. The boarding school environment encouraged excellence in any sphere with a range of challenging opportunities in a competitive community which, looking at it now, was a sound model because we all had such disparate backgrounds. There were opportunities, I now realise, to achieve your best. The eccentricities of masters and individuals made for an unforgetable 10 years!

    • admin says:

      Hi Simon. Thanks for your comment. I suspect your vintage was not only later but also less harsh! Best wishes Chris

    • Battle says:

      Hi ChrisYour memory is pertty accurate and I remember your name although my memory for faces ain’t what it was. I was a friend of Bill Robinson and Dave Jones in Cadogan House though. He joined me at Exeter and we rented a house together, although we are not in touch now.Don’t know about King though. He seemed a pertty dark character to me. Hope you are thrivingBestChris

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