Tuesday, February 12, 2013

1978: Leave it there

Eggs au gratin. Victoria Sponge. Treacle tart. Gooseberry fool. Apple crumble. No, not the lunch menu at a 1950s convalescent home, but just some of the delights I remember making in domestic science lessons in school.

When I say making, I mean not paying any attention, forgetting to take in some of the ingredients and hoping for the best. Basically, it was the ultimate opportunity to piss about, big time.

It was quite new, I think, back then, for boys to cookery and girls to do woodwork, not segregated but all together. It must have been a recent change to the school curriculum. It was on roatation with technical drawing, woodwork and metalwork, and cookery was always in the January term.

I can't remember learning a single useful or practical thing, and I certainly didn't make anything more adventurous than toast until about 1987. But it was the most enormous fun. I spent more time out of the classroom than in it, with Mrs Sharland (the willowy nice one with the alice band and slight cardigan) or Mrs Stewart (the dumpy one with the teal Crimplene elasticated flares, owlish specs and very northern vowels) often at the end of their tether and banishing me from the room until I'd had a long, hard think about my behaviour.

But I wasn't the only one. Preparing anything was always fraught with danger. Beware an incoming spit ball, pen lid, bit of Blu-tack, even a drawing pin. Someone once found a  pencil case in their shortbread mix. Then of course there were those grubby schoolboy hands kneading and fiddling about. I'm suprised environmental health didn't stop us at the door on the way out.

Once pastry was made, it invariably ended up stuck to a window, the ceiling, the clock, in the hood of someone's anorak, in a brief case, anywhere but in the bowl. Flapjacks ended up being used as frisbees and fairy cakes crumbled into girls' hair. It was a riot.

In the You Couldn't Make It Up file, after having been sent out to calm down, Richard Stead ran in as Shaun Corrigan was taking his crumble out of the oven, which he dropped due to the misuse of oven gloves, which was then slipped in by the aforementioned Richard who slammed his hand down on the workbench in order to steady himself thereby sending someone elses millionaire shortbread sky high. If only You've Been Framed was going.

It wasn't all a disaster. I did get a B+ for my Victoria sandwich, something my mum and my granny laughed endlessly about. Not that we ate it. Everything I took home went straight in the bin, unsurruptitiously too. No one wanted to eat the very gelatinous-looking egg dish, which would have been both unappealing and unpalatable had it been prepared by Escoffier himself. I didn't protest; it turned my stomach too.

Cooking wasn't as glamorous as it is today. I don't think BBC1 or ITV had a single cooking show on in prime time, with BBBC2 the only place to see the likes of plain cooks Delia Smith or Zena Skinner in action after 7pm. But we always had Farmhouse Kitchen during the day. Who doesn't hear Fruity Flute and get all nostalgic?

Naturally I'm a super cook now. I can do anything. It's all a question of knowing how to follow and recipe and getting your timings right, and we're drowning under the weight of a million cookery shows. But I wonder how useful school cookery lessons were to anyone?

Still, at least boys were exempt from Parentcraft. That child doll wouldn't have stood a chance. Sewing, on the other hand, was a whole different ballgame.

Anyway, one cookery lesson day it snowed. I'd been out before school to get my Record Mirror which had Abba on the cover in full The Movie mode. This song was all the rage.
But we all know that one, so let's have Fruity Flute instead.


  1. Gosh, your school was terribly modern, wasn't it? Teenage boys and squishy oleaginous substances - what a fatal combination.

    I was good at cookery but gave it up as a subject for squares, to pursue far more hip 'O' Level Art, which I subsequently got a U for. What judgement.

    I have a vivid memory of my friend Diane inviting me as her 'lunch guest' to sample her lemon soufflé, which had so many lumps of undissolved gelatine embedded in it that it was like eating a lemon-flavoured slug. We then had a big row as she asked me for 50p to cover the cost of the ingredients, and I told her it "wasn't worth tuppance". Catfight!!

  2. Love it that you were her lunch guest. We never had to go that far. No one would have eaten it. But I remember there was some sort of flatlet in the department, where those doing this seriously would host things like that, to show what good housewives they'd be. Oh, the Seventies.

    Diane, what a tight-arse, eh? I bet she's one of those unsmiling meanies that makes life difficult at the bank. Or she's in the accounts department of a dull government department.