Saturday, 4 July 2015

There is an open thread in the Guardian

asking people to comment on their "awful lunch". Along with the usual anti-government comments there are comments about tins of tuna, hummus and the like.
Someone mentioned his father made him baked bean sandwiches. It brought back memories of something I would rather forget but probably never will.
I went to boarding school for a while. It was a co-educational school. The boys boarded on the school grounds. The girls lived in "the hostel", a boarding house a bit over half a mile from the school. At lunch time the girls were route-marched to and from by the prefects at a rapid pace for the main meal of the day.
There was no way I could keep up so an arrangement was made that I would have a "packed lunch". Why I was not allowed to have the same hot lunch with the boy boarders was a mystery at the time. 
My packed lunch, every day, consisted of stale white bread with a smear of baked beans (no butter) and, sometimes, a piece of fruit.
I tried to eat those sandwiches and I couldn't. On Mondays it was not unusual for the bread to be showing signs of mould. Even the boy boarders, who were forever hungry, couldn't face them. 
I treasured the days there was a piece of fruit in my lunch. I never had a proper hot meal on a school day. The evening meal was always something like baked beans or tinned spaghetti or soup. 
The girl boarders also had to set and clear the tables and do the washing up. (There were no commercial dishwashers in the kitchen.) As I normally spent the weekend with my paternal grandparents (where I was more than happy to help) I did not share in the major cleaning chores on Saturday mornings.  The other girls did not mind me missing that too much as I would bring back a packet of biscuits on Sunday evening and divide them up between the members of my dormitory. Even just two biscuits each were much appreciated by hungry girls. It was illegal of course but nobody ever said anything. The wrapping went into a rubbish bin at school on Monday morning. I  used to worry I would get caught but the biscuits kept all of us happy for a few hours.
Looking back now I wonder at it all. Boarding school food is often said to be awful, dire or ghastly. Complaints have been many and varied but ours genuinely was dreadful, mine worse than most. We were all constantly hungry.  It wasn't necessary. Our fees were no less than any other school. It was a deliberate policy.
When I pack a lunch now it is quite a different affair. It isn't fancy but the bread is usually homemade and there will be plenty of filling in my sandwich - never ever baked beans. I might have carrot and celery strips, a banana or an apple or some grapes. I might even put a biscuit in.
Thankfully though I can still eat baked beans - properly hot baked beans on toast. That is the way they were intended to be eaten. If I had eaten the sandwiches at school I doubt I could eat baked beans now.

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