Hell’s kitchen


I’ve not eaten semolina since 1962.

Even with a dollop of jam to hide the malevolence of this dish, if the Devil were to publish a recipe book, semolina would be on page one; if I were Prime Minister for a day, I’d put semolina up there with all the major Class A drugs as a banned substance.

In 1962, the year I started school, semolina was the staple dessert in my south-west London primary school. If ever there was a pudding which also acted as an emetic, it would have been the St Mary’s Primary School’s pudding from Hell!  If I’d have been War Minister, I’d have infected the remote Scottish island of Gruinard with it, rather than anthrax, which was chosen to deter invading Nazis.

However, living next door to the school meant I rarely attended school dinners. When I did, semolina would invariably be on the menu; this followed on nicely from the salad we were given, whose constituent parts were made up more of caterpillar than that of lettuce.

School custard had nothing going for it, either, unless you needed the skin to reinforce your wicketkeeping gloves. Leathery would have been a masterpiece of understatement.

Not only was the food frightful, the women serving it were just as bad. In our school, we had Mrs Roberts.  Mrs Roberts, we believed, had trained, as a dinner lady, at HMP Parkhurst.  Poor woman also had a dreadful limp – probably been involved in a custard-related accident during slopping out?

The only nourishing treat we’d be given was an annual slice of chocolate sponge, although I’ve probably eaten more edible carpet.

There were, back then, ostensibly, no such things as food allergies nor did the school ever entertain thoughts about giving us anything vaguely nutritional, as I assume there is in abundance these days within schools? No one was vegetarian and if you’d have asked a kid at my school what’s a vegan?, they’d have probably replied it was the character John Thaw played in The Sweeney?

And is there honey still for tea? I bloody hope so, but I’m not putting any of it on my semolina!