Canteen Days

“Canteen” | a place in a factory, office, etc. where food and meals are sold, often at a lower han usual price.[Cambridge English Dictionary]

“Craic” | (Irish English) enjoyable time spent with other people, especially when the conversation is entertaining and funny [Cambridge English Dictionary]

 

I hear some people are finding it hard to stay at home and shun human contact during this Covid-19 crisis. Understandable, especially if their regular lifestyle involves daily socialising. But I am experiencing an unexpected bonus. Ever since I stopped going to work I have found it increasingly difficult to find the time to keep up with this blog; suddenly I have no excuse but to knuckle down and resume normal service. Thanks pandemic, for the first time in ages I have time on my hands.

I am fascinated with communal eating, and it’s ironically apt at the moment, when eating out is banned until further notice, by edict of BoJo. In particular, canteens are a thread which runs through much of my life, from school dinners to university refectories, via worker’s canteens, in the UK and overseas.

Even without the virus crisis I just miss the canteen experience these days, as a social diversion, a welcome pause in the working day. Looking back, there have been periods when no canteen was available on a daily basis, such as when I went freelance after leaving the BBC in 1983. At such times, the lack of a canteen was a minor disappointment, something missing in the working day.

Of course, it’s not just about the food, but the craic as well. Actually, like Commisario Montalbano I am rubbish at eating and talking simultaneously, so it’s eat-first-chat-second for me if I have a choice, but for sure there’s not much to be said for eating alone. .                 Continue reading

Season’s Greetings 2018

Image Courtesy Somebody Think of the ChildrenMerry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all, dear readers and followers.

Thanks for all your comments – keep them coming. More musings in the pipeline for 2019!

 

Kingsbury County Days

In 1954 I passed the eleven plus exam, a bundle of tests which, according to Tory MP David Davis “rescued a generation of underprivileged children”. Even at this tender age we all in our last year at Fryent Junior understood the what was going on, and many feared the consequences of failure. I can’t remember much about the tests themselves, and I was surprised that I passed, as I suspect did my parents.

I know my Mum and Dad were pleased, especially as I had missed best part of a year’s schooling when I nearly lost my eyesight when I was eight. I learned later that for Dad, Grammar School entrance was a pretty big deal as he had always resented having been denied the opportunity himself in favour of one of his three brothers.

I remember the impact of my attainment on my Dad’s meagre wage packet, which immediately arose from the need to kit me out with an expensive uniform, only obtainable from a posh tailors shop in Golders Green which enjoyed a monopoly supplier arrangement with Kingsbury County Grammar, the school in London NW9 which the local education authority had selected for me.             Continue reading

En Marche!

The recent success of M. Macron and his party En Marche! brought to mind my own entanglements with the French since I first went on a school trip to Paris in the late fifties. Standing on the deck of a Newhaven to Dieppe British Railways ferry, my first visual impression of France was of a gendarme standing on the quayside at Dieppe, sporting a machine gun. The second mental snapshot was of a group of French women washing clothes in a river, seen from the SNCF steam train to Paris.

Still a teenager, at last I was quite literally en marche, (on the move) having saved up for this trip from my earnings as a Saturday boy in Woolworths and Boots the Chemist. I think it cost around £25.

Those first brief images still exist only in my mind, but are as vivid as photographs. Later that week one of the French teachers on the trip asked me why I wasn’t taking photos. I did have a Boots camera, and I had taken a few black and white snaps in Paris, but the real reason for not snapping further was that I could only afford one roll of film and it had run out. Rather than admit that, I pompously answered that the best photos are the ones in your brain, just to shut him up. As it turns out, it’s true, at least for me, but not much use for anyone else I guess.

The idea of the school trip was that we could practice our conversational French. Needless to say that didn’t happen much, but for me it was the start of a love affair with France and the French. I just loved being in Paris – people effortlessly speaking French (how did they manage that?), actually sitting outside cafés, riding the Metro, smoking Gauloises, drinking red wine and wearing fashionable clothes. I had seen pictures in books and even the odd French film, but suddenly this was the real thing. Marianne made Britannia seem rather boring. Continue reading

Leicester, Part 2: Turbigo days

I spent three years of my life in Leicester, between 1962 and 1966. In Part 1 I wrote briefly about my earliest impressions of this city, its university, and my tenuous connection to its football team.

Talking recently to another graduate of Leicester University I was reminded of an odd aspect of student life there in the sixties, just one mild absurdity, the use of haute cuisine names for mundane dishes served up in the refectory (academic-speak for canteen.) One ludicrous example  has stayed with me – the term “Turbigo”, used as an adjectival noun in menus, for instance “Chicken Turbigo”.

For me there was something intrinsically laughable about the word itself, and I was amused by the pretentiousness of dressing up canteen food with posh names. Over time I noticed that Turbigo could be applied to just about any main course; the common factor was that the dish always included mushroom stalks. No heads, just the stalks. Continue reading

Thank you General de Gaulle (for my bubble car)

1965 was not a good year for me. As a student reading French I was required, not unreasonably, to spend a year teaching in France. This ought to have been a pleasure, but by and large it turned out not to be. However there was one unexpected consolation prize, thanks to General de Gaulle, then president of the republic.

For some unknown reason, that year he decided to pay an extra month’s wages to all those like me who had been engaged in the mostly futile task of teaching English to French schoolchildren. This inexplicable but welcome gesture enabled me to buy my first car – an Isetta bubble car.

From two wheeled hell to three wheeled heaven! Continue reading