Buying a loaf of bread and a half a pound of butter always brings memories of Tony. He should have reached his sixtieth birthday last year, had it not been for asthma that claimed his life in 2003. It was the illness that brought us from diverse corners of the country to a small Devon school.
Tony would have enjoyed the fresh bread and butter.
A memory comes back of a breaktime when we stood in the classroom talking about anything and nothing. There was hardly a subject that had not been exhausted; teenage boys boarding in a school deep in a Dartmoor valley hadn’t much to talk about in the first place. Perhaps it was a repeat of a previous conversation, or the re-working of a theme, but favourite food was the topic for the day. Tony talked about the baker delivering fresh Mother’s Pride bread in the morning and the delight of eating it with nothing more than thickly spread butter.
Healthy-eating enthusiasts would probably be unhappy at the thought of teenagers eating slices of white bread spread,with butter so thick that the imprint of the person’s teeth was always visible, but healthy-eating enthusiasts would probably have not been much impressed by the school diet.
Our breakfast always included cereal eaten with milk from the school cows, milk of a thickness that the present whole milk sold in supermarkets would seem a watery alternative. There was always something cooked, so cooked sometimes that it was easier to snap the rashers of bacon than to cut them. Slices of toasted white bread and butter bulked out any lack in the other food.
Lunch was of a very traditional variety, meat, potato and vegetable. The potatoes were usually good, the meat might not taste as most people would have expected, and the vegetables were usually of a non-descript taste, but there was no shortage of quantity. Pudding was from the crumble and custard or creamed rice and jam tradition, thick and heavy and sweet.
Tea was something cooked in the style of breakfast, along with plates stacked with white bread that might be spread with jam or peanut butter.
Accompanying breakfast, lunch and tea, there were massive pots of tea which was poured into plastic cups and drunk with milk and copious amounts of sugar.
At bedtime, it was tea again, with handfuls of biscuits for anyone who was still hungry at the end of the day.
Oddly, despite eating heartily three times a day, few people put on weight while at the school. The termly reports sent to parents included the height and weight of pupils and the report for forty-five years ago, the summer of 1975, a few months before my fifteenth birthday, showed I had just reached seven stones.
Perhaps it was because we had all been sent to the school for health reasons, so tended to be underweight, perhaps it was because there was hardly a moment when we were permitted to be inactive, the huge number of calories we absorbed were burned off in the programme of daily exercise and the free time spent playing football at every opportunity.
Eating Mother’s Pride spread thick with butter would have fitted well with the regime to which we were accustomed, a regime that sent almost every one of us out into the world as people more healthy than when we had arrived.