Not Another Cookery Book. (3)
When I was a child I stole my mother's milk. I knew it was wrong but I was desperate; my body needed calcium. I was a growing boy. The third of a pint that was supplied in school went some way to satisfying my craving but on weekends and in the holidays this source dried up and I had to revert to subterfuge. Two pints were delivered, in bottles, to the front door, every morning, and one of them was placed on the top shelf of a cupboard in the kitchen. This was for the sole use of my mother who, it seemed, was always either pregnant or feeding the latest addition to our family and needed it more than the rest of us.
I must have been seven years old when I became tall enough to stand on a chair and reach the bottle.I clearly remember the first time I did it. The whole family were in the living room and I had been into the back-yard to the outside toilet when I passed through the kitchen and the cupboard door was open. There it stood, three quarter's full, and crying out to be tasted. As quietly as I could I carried a chair across the room, positioned it, and climbed up. Stretching out I managed to get a hand on it and lifted it down. Still on the chair I put the bottle to my lips and drank a little. It was delicious. I should have stopped there but it tasted too good. I took another drink. It tasted even better. I allowed myself another sip before realising that it would be missed. The level of the milk in the bottle was several inches lower than it had been when I had started on this heinous crime. Listening intently for any movement from the other room I got down from the chair, clutching the bottle, and made my way to the sink where I topped up the depleted contents with water. It looked like it had not been touched. I put it back on the top shelf, closed the cupboard door, got down and moved the chair back to its normal position. Then I returned to the living room and tried to act as though nothing had happened.
For the rest of the evening I sat with bated breath every time that my mother went to the kitchen. I expected to be caught but, even though she made a cup of tea, she did not notice a thing. I had got away with it. I told myself that I would never do it again but, of course, I did. On a daily basis. Sometimes I drank so much that, by the time I went to bed, the bottle of milk was fifty per cent tap water, maybe more.
Many years later I told two of my brothers what I had done. They, apparently, had done the same thing and knew that our other siblings had done like-wise.
Once I had been weaned I lived mainly on bread, potatoes and baked beans in tomato sauce. I ate the beans out of the tin, cold, with a spoon. The bread was spread with cheap margarine but I liked it. The potatoes were plain boiled and sometimes there was ketchup. At the age of six, with the arrival of another baby in the house, I qualified for free school meals. I had never eaten outside the house and had never used a knife and fork. I remember vividly the the first day I joined the queue outside the school dining-room not knowing what to expect. I sat down at a table with seven others and, in turn, we were called to fetch a plate of food. There were potatoes, a thin slice of meat with gravy and some cabbage. I carried it back to the table, sat down, and contemplated the task ahead. All the others were gobbling down their food as though it was a contest to see who could finish first. I observed them in order to see how cutlery was handled. I managed to cut a potato into pieces, speared one with a fork, and got it into my mouth. So far so good. The cabbage frightened me and the meat was an insurmountable problem. I concentrated on the potatoes. I managed to eat two before all the other children had finished the meal. Fred Tibbut, sitting next to me, enquired,
"Do you want that meat?"
"Not really." I replied.
His picked up my plate and scraped it onto his own.
"Do you want the cabbage?" Another boy asked.
"No." I said.
That, too, disappeared from my plate. I continued eating the potatoes.
"Hurry up." I was told.
Apparently, everybody at the table had to finish their main course before we could all go and fetch the dessert and the others were impatient. I gave away my remaining potatoes and went to collect the steam sponge pudding and custand. Now I was in my element as it was supposed to be eaten with a spoon. I finished first and wished there had been more. It was delicious.
The scenario for the next few weeks was similar. I gave away most of the main course but came into my own when the dessert was served.
I finally learned how to use a knife and fork and was able to eat as quickly as the others. I still preferred the potatoes but I managed to eat the meat and vegetables. Having had little breakfast I was very hungry and my survival skills were quickly honed.
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