Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Down All the Days - Too

Down All the Days - Too by Henry Marriott
In the fullness of time I transferred to Lewis House, Miss Dover was the Matron and Mr. Robinson, he of Robinson pitch was the House Master. Miss Dover was the main stay of the School Fete. She collected those cylindrical tins in which 50 cigarettes were packed and progressively she would dress them with coloured paper, there were also larger containers similarly decorated and close to the fete she would cook up a storm in her quarters producing great quantities of toffee, fudge and peanut brittle with which the containers were filled with my assistance. She also made guava jelly, I remember after the fruit was boiled down it was strained through a linen sheet, the lees left in the sheet was a delicious frothy substance which I was allowed to scrape up for my consumption. The liquid was poured into jars where they jelled. This was also well presented for sale at the fete Her stall was emptied of its stock very quickly. much to her satisfaction.
Mr Robinson was an alumni of MCC, he had many pencil sketches of college scenes, mostly trees and pillars from various angles. He said they were scenes of what could be seen during lectures .He also owned two bull terriers, the male Winston was a bad tempered brute. Mr Paul owned an Australian wire haired terrier which was no larger than a floor mop but was also evil tempered and on one occasion challenged Winston. The result was pitiful Mr Paul’s dog was reduced to a bloody pulp, but it did survive and its temper improved Mr Robinson suffered occasionally with bouts of rheumatism and had to be carried in a sort of palanquin fashioned of a rattan chair secured to two long poles which was carried by four of the bigger boys. This desirable vehicle was roofed with a large umbrella secured to the chair back.
This was during the war, so we were encouraged to rear chickens, a suitable run was constructed together with roosting quarters and a number of Leghorns were procured. I was the ‘chicken monitor’ , the duties of which was to clean out the hutches each morning, an extremely unpleasant job. One of the more senior boys called Nutall, who I’m sure modelled his legs for billiard table manufacturers, owned a broody hen which was sitting on 12 eggs. I was the keeper of the key to the chicken run so each recess he and I would run down to see if the eggs had hatched, eventually on the great day I was given one of the brood which was promptly named Henry, there was another chicken with a twisted neck which was also presented to me., and Nuttall who held that he was a trained chicken sexer, pronounced it to be a hen which was named Henrietta Early one morning Henrietta straightened its twisted neck as much as it could and attempted a weak crow and had to be renamed. However he didn’t get his evil way with the hens because Mr Robinson’s magnificent cock (I’m not being personal- how could I know?) was cock of the walk . Eventually, at wars end ,it was decided to bring to an end our chicken rearing venture . Most of the chickens were sold but Henry and Henrietta were slaughtered and a delicious curry was enjoyed by a number of us. Mr Robinson moved on to sunnier and drier climes and Mr Paul became our House Master.
My overall memory of school life was hunger. I was continuously hungry for 11 years . I remember the menu quite well. Breakfast, porridge sometimes of ragi, a slice of bread a banana and half a mug of tea. I’ve never eaten porridge or banana ever. This was unchanging except towards the end, on Sundays only, we had scrambled eggs made from egg powder which tasted distinctly ‘couchy’. Lunch was rice and a sort of gruel, you had to avoid the black rice grains, they were rat droppings. Sundays was yellow rice and a sort of rusum, this too was in my final year or so. Tea was always a slice of bread and half a cup of tea On Tuesdays and Saturdays we had stewed ox liver in a watery gravy. I never ever ate this I‘m sure very nourishing meal…Wednesdays was a suspicious looking salad, everything was cut up so finely it was difficult to spot the wild life. There was a pudding most days latterly, but again dumplings cooked in milk which stuck your teeth together was eminently missable. Sundays featured a stew with a piece of Madeira cake which was enjoyable. Some staff member made a study of the diet and pronounced it adequately nourishing, comment was not made as to taste or presentation. I detested ragi but when I was in the Ashram I mentioned previously, the Missionary ladies invited my sister and myself to lunch one day. We sat around a large ball of boiled ragi. Which we were advised to consume by pinching off morsels of the ragi and dipping it into a common curry and popping the morsel into the mouth without touching the lips. We were advised not to attempt to chew the ragi but merely to savour the flavour and swallow . The curry brought tears to my eyes but some butter milk was prescribed to douse the furnace. Does anyone know what this dish is called, apparently a gourmet dish from those parts.?

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