First published: June12, 2009 6:16 PM
by MoannieA bottle of salad cream is a metaphor for my attitude to life. It has to be Heinz original, none of this low-calorie stuff in a squeezy bottle. Not that I use it anymore; in this house it has to be a dressing of mustard, vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil on our salads, or home made mayonnaise on our hard boiled eggs.
When I was a child, and in the growing season, before expensive imports and intensive farming, Sunday tea consisted of a salad of lettuce, cucumber, spring onions, radishes, tomato and or boiled beetroot. Each plate would contain a pile of these ingredients and a slice of ham or corned beef, cheese or hard boiled eggs. There would be slices of bread and butter [after the war] and a tinned fruit salad [also after the war] with evaporated milk. Mum would carefully pour a blob of salad cream on each plate, about the size of an old penny, not nearly enough to coat the salad or to allow one to dip the corner of each forkful in. So what I would do was to eat the entire plate of food without touching the salad cream, leaving just one piece of tomato, then, with mouth watering in anticipation, spread the entire blob onto the tomato and eat it. Harry would glare at me, but there was nothing he could attack me for, I had eaten all my salad and if I wanted to eat it dry and save the cream for the final bite, even he kept quiet. My brothers jeered and mother looked scared, as she always did when she thought Harry was angry. One day I did some calculations, asking mum how long she thought the bottle would last... ‘About a month of Sundays’ she answered. Tony was still a baby so that left four of us and the bottle was three quarters full. ‘Could I have my share all in one go?’ I asked; Harry must have been elsewhere or I would not have dared. She looked scared again but had the grace to ask ‘Why?’
‘Well, the way we do it now there is not enough to even taste it properly.’
She thought about it then said ‘No.’ and that was that.
In the Orphanage we would be served thin porridge with a sprinkling of brown sugar. When it was a newly opened bag and the sugar dry the small spoonful would settle and quickly melt like snow on a wet road and it was never enough to sweeten the gruel that cook always over salted. But, once the bag was opened, it quickly hardened and had to be smashed with a rolling pin before being shunted into a bowl for the sister to dole out. If I was in luck I would have a lump of the brown sweet delight, sitting in the middle of my plate like a virgin island surround by a grey sea. Taking up my spoon I would eat the salty gruel as quickly as I could, fighting down the nausea that haunted my daily life, my eyes fixed on the island of delight, determined to eat the ocean before the land melted away. At last I would spoon the sugar and close my mouth and eyes as its delicious sweetness righted my stomach and prickled my eyes with tears of happiness.
I love to anticipate delights. I used to buy my clothes on the “layaway plan”. There was a coat I coveted in a shop in Ramsgate where I was nursing in the fifties. It was a ‘shortie’ and it was yellow and cost £5, a lot of money when you consider my monthly salary was £7. The shopkeeper took the coat out of the window and put my name on it. It took me five months to pay for it at half a crown a week. Had there been such a thing as a credit card I would have taken it away that day, worn it and discarded it well before the five months were up.
I will not buy cheap steak, except for a casserole. We don’t eat it very often but when we do it is a joint of the best sirloin, T-bone steak for a BBQ or fillet for frying. Why buy off cuts of fish unless it is for a pie, or farmed Salmon that is pale pink and wormy from eating its own excrement. Alaskan wild Salmon for us or it is fish fingers.
And I love the same way, unconditionally and wholly. I can’t be doing with half measures. I prefer to be in close physical contact with my children, but if that cannot be then I know that when we are together we will reiterate, shore up, and bask in touch and hugs and smiles and when they go I hope that they take that warmth with them that they felt as babes, in my arms and next to my heart