your way tomorrow and we wondered if you would be free for lunch," the person on the other end of the 'phone asked me.
"That would be nice but I'll have to ask the Senior Cat when he gets back," I say cautiously, "I don't know what he has planned. Could I call you back?"
I really do not have the time to go out to lunch but I will make time. Well, I have made time. I got up earlier. I have done what I would have done later in the morning and I do not need to prepare a midday meal. As we eat a main meal in the middle of the day this also saves time.
Like most other "working" people we knew we always had a main meal in the evening until I went to boarding school.
Australian schools generally do not provide cooked lunches for their students. My boarding school did and I assume most boarding schools do provide such meals for the boarders. Naturally staffing considerations mean they provide that meal in the middle of the day.
I never had a school cooked lunch. The girls' boarding house was deemed too far for me to walk to and from - and it would have taken me the entire lunch period - so I was provided with sandwiches.
The odd part about this was that nobody ever suggested I had lunch with the boys, who lived in a boarding house much closer to the classrooms, or thought that a meal could be put aside and reheated in the evenings. The sandwiches were usually filled with tinned baked beans for some reason. They were horrible and only hunger drove me to eat them. All too often the evening meal was something like baked beans on toast as well. I could scarcely wait for Friday evenings and the haven of my paternal grandparents' home where there was what I considered to be "real food".
Under my grandmother's guidance I would do most of the cooking there but Fridays were always a fish night. It was not that my grandparents were Catholics but that most people in the area ate fish on Fridays. They would often eat it at other times during the week as well but the local fish and chip shops (there were several) did a particularly roaring trade on Fridays.
My grandfather did not trust the fish from the fish and chip shop however so he would bring home something he had chosen himself. He would gut it and clean it and it would be cooked while he went the short distance down Jetty Road to the fish shop and picked up the regular order of chips. Other people did the same thing.
After a week of school food those fish and chips were wonderful. So was every other meal I consumed each weekend but the hot, greasy, salty chips and the moist fish enclosed in my grandmother's light, almost non-existent, batter were particularly welcome.
We rarely eat out. There are places where I am still reminded of the awfulness of school food. I will eat baked beans but they have to be hot.
And fish and chips have never been quite the same as they were on those Friday evenings - but I still like them.