When I was a little boy I was force fed religious dogma and idiom by my school. Of course, my grasp of the English language probably matched that of many of my peers and there were words I was unfamiliar with. One such word was “grace”.
I didn’t have a clue as to what it meant. Not being a shy type, I asked my learned friend Paul Midgley what grace was. He said he was unsure this, on reflection was probably because he was an Anglican. So, I thought about it. What could it mean? Well at school we said “Grace after meals” and usually after meals we had pudding. So perhaps that is what grace meant. Grace was a type of pudding. It seemed to figure because we also said something along the lines of “Hail Mary full of grace” and well, if Mary was like anybody normal she might have had too much grace after her meal so as to be full. This I suggested to Paul who agreed with my idea. He also agreed because it was just as plausible as my explanation of how when you died you went to a petrol station to lie under the petrol light (“May petrol light shine upon them” is what we said at school, at least that’s what I thought we said).
The grace theory also tallied when my Nan gave me some creamy Ambrosia rice pudding for my desserts one weekend. It was so yummy. What was this I asked? “Ambrosia!” she said. So, as any school boy would, I looked it up in a dictionary.
ambrosia [am-broh-zhuh] –noun
1. Classical Mythology. the food of the gods.
2. something especially delicious to taste or smell.
3. a fruit dessert made of oranges and shredded coconut and sometimes pineapple.
Of course, this wasn’t item 3. The Ambrosia in this case was the brand name [http://www.ambrosia.co.uk/]. But it seemed to tally. “The food of the Gods”. Perhaps this was grace. It made sense. Grace after meals. Being full of grace. Amazing grace. Sweet grace. Mmmmm grace….seemed in my imagination that grace was a Delicious yummy milky yummy pudding. Yummy.
Once I asked the dinner lady if we could have some grace for pudding. I can’t remember her reaction or answer but I imagine she probably thought I was a bit weird.
And so spin forward 30 years and whenever I hear the word “Grace” I think of this delicious pudding. Of course I know now that this is complete nonsense, but as a child it was completely plausible. When I hear or see the word, my mouth still salivates and my mind fills with images of this glowing creamy goodness in a bowl.
I don’t know the meaning of cold.
I do. It’s just that when people say to me “It’s bloody cold” that’s my stock answer.
It’s bloody cold.
Therefore I don’t know the meaning of cold.
I then usually go onto talk about my first flat and how I managed to try and keep warm during my days as an unemployed workless youth.
My first flat was above a fishing tackle shop on Smithdown Road in Liverpool. You can see the flat from the main road if you’re ever down that way.
In summer the flat was so hot you had to have all the doors and windows open so that you didn’t melt into a pool of flesh. Furthermore, the wearing of clothes during this time was seen as foolish as the heat would cause you to sweat buckets full of perspiration.
The flipside though was the winter. During the winter that flat was so cold, you would come home from work (or in my case, from somewhere warmer) to find polar bears sat round holes cut in the floor trying to catch fish, while Inuit tribesmen would try and barter cigarettes for blubber and animal furs.
The windows were those awful sash window jobbies. The sort that when the wind blew, it would come up between the top and bottom sashes and be like sheets of sharp cold steel piercing the air and stealing what little warmth you could generate. The window gaps soon got sealed with newspaper and the frames were shrinkwrapped with that double glazing plastic bobbins, you know the type that you heat with a hairdryer?
The mains electricity was delivered through an old 50 pence meter….and I mean old 50 pences. I had to buy the old coins off the landlord. With coin metered electricity you really don’t get a good deal. 50p would last you about an hour in cold weather.
To heat the flat, the landlord provided a calor gas heater and a two bar electric fire. The two bar electric fire only increased the temperature after I managed to procure 2 red bulbs to fit to the “Real flame effect” thingie that the fireplace had. So I think that was psychological heat anyway.
The single calor gas heater was as much use as a cigarette lighter and just made everything taste funny. Further fortune befell me however, when I managed to procure a second calor gas heater. That made it feel a bit cosier.
So with 2 calor gas fires and a two bar electric fire with real flame effect lighting you’d probably think you were nice and warm enough to hibernate for the winter. Well bollocks to that pal. It was still cold. More heat was generated by an electric fan heater (donated by the parents) and by switching the hot water boiler on. Yet it was still too cold.
So to further combat the chilly knives of doom the only line of defence was the clothing. Pyjamas were worn under everyday clothes and over underwear and a fleece coat was also employed in the “lets keep warm” fashion parade. The pyjama legs were tucked into socks and the sleeves were tucked into fingerless mittens. Gok Wan would have been so proud of my fashion statement.
So you’d think that you’d be nice and snug with all that going on….well you’d be wrong. On the couch I had a sleeping bag AND a spare duvet and in the bed I had an electric blanket and two more duvets. Honestly! It was so cold in that flat….Sleepwear consisted of two layers of pyjamas and the fleecy coat under a fluffy dressing gown.
Morning routine involved getting out of bed half an hour before you had to get up and switching on the shower so that it had time to heat up. With the shower switched on, the smaller calor gas heater would be moved to the sitting room (the bathroom adjoined the sitting room too) and switched on to heat both the sitting room and the bathroom.
The larger calor gas heater would then be switched on with the kettle, the electric blanket and the TV and a further half hour in bed was claimed while the shower heated up.
The dash to the bathroom helped generate some body heat and a long shower was often had because leaving the warmth of the hot water would often be too much. On finishing the shower, the body would be wrapped in two towels and the fluffy dressing gown, a further cup of tea was had and, money permitting, a bowl of microwaved porridge consumed in front of the small calor gas fire and the electric fire on one bar (to conserve electricity).
After dressing quickly (well as quick as you can when you wear 4 layers of clothing) the flat would be left to cool down and the day’s activities, whatever they were, were conducted, usually in the free warmth of someone else’s flat, the pub or in the city centre shops, cinema or library…..
And to think I moan about the cold now…..ha!
I have lived in a number of residences. Chronologically:-
In the late 80’s there was a type of crisp which you would get with no flavour. Instead you would be able to add your own flavour from a choice of a variety of different sachets of powdered flavouring. To be honest it was just a gimmick. Adding your own flavour is equivalent to “Just add Egg and Milk” batter mix. One particular flavour, fish and chips, was reminicent of what I imagine an old ladies unwashed private parts would smell like. Indeed if I ever got served fish and chips flavoured like that I’d probably go off fish and chips all together. Other flavours included smokey bacon, cheese and onion and salt and vinegar.
One lunch time in my third year in secondary school I opened my packed lunch to discover fish and chip flavour – flavour yourself crisps. 😦 I put the sachet in my pencil case and had the crisps with salt from the dining room table.
After lunch, Jon Phillips, now a presenter on Sky Sports I believe, was sat in front of me in Miss Gambadella’s English class. I was sat next to Nick Small, now something to do with something important, Jon was sat next to David Judge, now something to do with something. Nick saw my fish and chip flavouring in my orange pencil case and asked what it was. I told him. He opened the sachet and took a sniff. The smell was awful. Really it was. How anyone in crisp design thought that fish and chip flavouring was at all palatable is beyond comprehension. Nick then blew it all over Jon’s blazer.
“Ha! Now Jon smells like an ald granny” he giggled.
Oh how we laughed. Of course giggling being attention drawing we tried to stifle our giggles but to no avail. Judgey noticed the smell next then the kids in front of them. Being a sexually repressed all boys catholic school, crude comments about feminine hygeine started to pass around the room. Poor Miss Gambadella. She had a hell of a time trying to get the class back into order.
Me? Well my sides still bear the scars of having split that day. Of course, looking back now it was possibly the height of cruelty but at the time….the stuff of legend.
It was assembly. We were all in the assembly hall listening to Mr Deveraux discuss the current affairs of the school week. One of the fifth formers came into the hall late. The said fifth former was wearing a fashionable denim jacket. School uniform being strict at my school Mr Deveraux saw him immediately and his voice boomed across the hall.
“The only people that come to this school in denim jackets come to empty the bins lad”
The assembled school burst into peals of laughter. The fifth former fell into a pit of embarrassment never to be heard of again.
Some things during my school days became legendary amongst people in my year. Others became anecdotes for dining out on in later years. I thought it best I put pixel to webpage and tell you of seven of the most peculiar legendary occurrences before I get old and my mind fails.
Number 1: Paul Broughton and the Sausages
My high school, St Francis Xavier College, was an all boys comprehensive. Boys from a variety of areas of Liverpool and social backgrounds would attend. One such chap, Paul Broughton, came from one of the rougher parts of Wavertree. His social background I am unsure of.
On the day the legend formed, my friends and I were having dinner in the dining rooms. Paul arrived just as we were leaving having been kept behind for some reason. We left him there to dine and went out side to the playground. Less than two minutes had passed when Paul joined us outside. We questioned how he had managed to eat his dinner so quickly. In reply he smiled and fetched from out of the side pocket of his blazer, a handful of chips and started offering them around. We laughed and then watched in horror as he then took a sausage from his inside blazer pocket. We gawped in shock as he dipped the sausage into his top pocket and it emerged coated in gravy.
Someone jokingly asked him where his pudding was. In answer to this he produced a piece of jam roll from his trouser pockets. Mirth ensued. Legend was made.