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.