Z at school 3 – mostly milk

We had out own playground at the back of the school and the senior schoolchildren used the bigger front playground.  In those days,  there was free school milk, which was ghastly.  It’s an under-appreciated factor in Margaret Thatcher’s electoral success, that the children from whom she *snatched* free milk were heartily grateful to her, even as voting adults, because  they loathed the stuff.  It was delivered in third of a pint bottles and you drank it straight out of the bottle with a straw.  I think the bottle caps were made of cardboard.  None of that would have been a problem if the beastly stuff had been refrigerated, but it wasn’t.  It sat at room temperature for two or three hours before being doled out and there was no choice but to drink it, warm and cloying and, in summer, perilously close to being off.  I was talking about it right at the end of last term to my lovely retired Headteacher, henceforth known as Sean, who admitted he’s never been able to stomach milk since.  We agreed that we can add a splash to cereal but have to eat it quickly and leave any surplus.  I drink black tea and coffee, he drinks neither at all.

School lunches, which I know I’ve written about before, were not particularly appetising either on the whole, except the puddings, which were delicious.  But many of you will remember what I said about that – I think telling you about my early lunchtime experiences was rather long ago, and I am starting from my earliest schooldays, after all.

You’re probably heartily fed up with me for reminding you I was shy.  But lunch was served in a large dining hall at big tables, each seating at least ten.  Eating with that many people was impossible and I didn’t do it.  As I said, though normally biddable, I was immensely stubborn and, the first day, I just sat there.  Not allowed to leave the table before I’d eaten something, I just sat there until the bell rang and I went to afternoon lessons.  Sad to say, I can’t remember anything of the solution the kind nuns came up with, but my mother did.  She discovered that I was being taken aside into another room and given milk (out of the fridge) and chocolate finger biscuits – this is what nuns ate, behind the scenes, no doubt.  Who told tales I have no idea, but someone did and my mother put her foot down.  Left long enough, I’d see sense and eat when I was hungry.

No, I wouldn’t.  I just sat there.  It’s not as if I wasn’t getting breakfast and dinner, after all – but I was a tiny, thin creature and the lovely nuns were anxious.  And some bright person found a way round the problem.  A kind older girl, probably one with younger siblings, sat with me and persuaded me to eat.  I do remember that – she put food on my fork and even fed me, I remember her encouragingly saying “down the red lane…” and I was disarmed into obedience. And, of course, it wasn’t long before I ate my lunch by myself.  The youngest children ate first and had the earliest playtime, so my friend, whose name I never did learn, was probably disappointed when she arrived one day and found I’d eaten and left.  She was so very kind and I don’t ever remember speaking to her again.  I’m so sorry.  I still remember her gentle persuasiveness and that she gave up part of her playtime 55 years later, little as I appreciated her at the time.

16 comments on “Z at school 3 – mostly milk

  1. kipper

    This morning (before reading your story) I was thinking about checking on getting pony rides for a neighbor child’s birthday. I never had an official birthday party with schoolmates. I do recall a classmate who was a friend but not a close friend, brought cupcakes to school lunch to celebrate my birthday when we were in 8th grade. Can’t remember her name but I do remember getting teary eyed at her kindness. If only we could remember the names of our childhood peers who did kind deeds for us and let them know how much they still mean!

  2. sablonneuse

    In Winter the milk was frozen but that probably wasn’t as bad as being warm in the Summer. When I was teaching the children loved being chosen to make holes in the tops and put the straws in. That was much better than drinking the stuff!

  3. Sir Bruin

    Oh, I am so with you on the milk thing. I am not sure how right it is to drink milk after one has been weaned.

  4. Pontillius

    I bet you did all your sums on a slate with a slate pencil. Wasn’t it terrible trying to wipe the slates clean afterwards? I was one of the lucky ones, Hitler bombed our school, on a Sunday fortunately, so we had to have lessons in the public library and we could slip away and hide in the rows of books and teacher couldn’t find us.

    1. Z Post author

      No, they had done away with the slates by my time. I started school in 1958, we’d graduated to pencil and paper by then.

  5. Mike Horner

    Sometimes in winter the milk was refrigerated (by nature), and not only frozen, but with an inch or so of frozen milk sticking out of the top of the bottle, and the bottle cap perched on top of the cylinder of frozen milk. I’ve never understood why frozen milk expands. Does anyone know?

  6. Liz

    I’m sure one of my nursery rhyme books had “here comes a lighter to light you to bed” rather than “here comes a candle”.

    I have few memories of primary school, but the horrible school milk is something I do recall. I remember sitting there refusing to drink the stuff. Eventually, my mother wrote a note to say that as I did not like milk, I was to be excused drinking it.

    I also have some school dinners recollections from my brief time at a primary school in Lincolnshire. We moved to the village in October 1977 and I went up to secondary school the following year so I wasn’t there long. It was probably my first day when one of the dinner ladies got very angry with me because I didn’t understand what she was saying. I was new the the Lincolnshire accent and what sounded like “hodge-job” turned out to be “hitch up”, which apparently was supposed to mean ‘move along the bench’. A few months later, I had a run in with the same woman who offered me another piece of the cake that was being served as pudding. I said yes, but then she put two huge pieces on my plate and when I wasn’t able to finish them both, I was marched to see the headmaster.

    1. Z Post author

      I suppose no one took candles to bed – but lighters sounds just as risky. You and Sir B are made for each other if neither of you drinks milk!

  7. allotmentqueen

    I’m so with you on the milk – usually left near a radiator. Ugh! I remember at my last junior school, probably when I was new there but aged nine or ten, sitting in the hall all afternoon because I wouldn’t eat the cabbage.

  8. allotmentqueen

    Absolutely not, no way! The only way I’ll ever eat cabbage is as part of coleslaw. I cannot abide cabbage or sprouts or swede (which was a bit unfortunate as my mother appeared to like it). If I’d had any nous in those days I’d have stuffed it into a hanky and disposed of it outside. But this was the only school where I got the cane (on my hand, for being late, and as I went to school by bus so either it was late or I’d missed it). Oh it was a Catholic school, but I don’t recall any convents, etc.

  9. Z Post author

    It was just as well we were all so nice because I remember no punishment at all. But I’m so glad you weren’t bullied into eating the cabbage.


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