First day back at school. We were all rather gleeful. Three weeks trapped in British homes in British weather over the festive season is a tad too much familial familiarity for anyone.
Well, after carrying out the usual school-bag search at tea time. I found a letter. Addressed to me. From the dinner lady (or Lunchtime Fuhrer – or Technician. Or whatever they call them these days). It was with reference to my daughter. And a dinner-time incident: *
“Just to let you know. She didn’t drink much of the cooking oil. We gave her two cups of water straightaway and then she said she didn’t feel very sick anymore after that.”
Yes, on the first morning back – I had made a big blooper. Neither of my kids will drink fruit juice of any kind (no – not because I am on some mission for purified water or something – the odd little blighters will only drink milk, or water from a tap). Anyway. They don’t like to feel different – so I give them both delicious and FREE tap water (or ‘Corporation Pop’ as dear old Auntie Millie used to call it). This finest Yorkshire beverage is lovingly siphoned into an old ‘Fruit Shoot’ bottle every morning.
Only this morning I screwed up. I grabbed what I (foolishly thought) was a full bottle of water already filled by the father of the gang. ‘Blimey’ I was thinking ‘He’s ahead of the game this morning’…. So I seized the butty box from the fridge and stuffed it into my lassie’s schoolbag.
Turned out that it wasn’t water. It was cooking oil. On our wee self-catering trip away over the New Year, I had been (unusually organised) and had made up a small bottle of cooking oil. In an old Fruit Shoot bottle. I had even put a big label on it that said ‘COOKING OIL’.
So who was the daftest brush? Me for grabbing the bottle anyway – regardless of the genius labelling? Or my daughter for drinking the damned thing? (because she CAN read those words now. But her excuse was ‘I was talking to my friends mummy! We do DO that at dinner-time!!’)
Either way, I confess that I felt rather embarrassed and guilty at making such a bizarre mistake. But it could have been worse I suppose (like the time when I myself was 7 – at a family ‘do’ – and Auntie Janet ‘forgot’ that she had mixed a whole load of vodka in with a family sized bottle of Coca Cola and all of the adults present kept saying to me ‘Oh stop bloody moaning and being so fussy. Of course things taste different sometimes at other peoples’ houses! Don’t be so ungrateful!’)
After he had managed to stop choking on his Sherbet Dib-Dab (don’t ask) my husband suggested that we write back to the dinner lady, pretending to be offended and telling her that ‘As our daughter was born in Africa, we have always tried to bring her up using the customs and practices that we embraced whilst living there. Consequently our children drink cooking oil on weekdays and at weekends they are allowed beer as a special treat. So please do not impose your western cultural so-called ‘superior’ values on my family’s chosen dietary habits. Thank you.’ **
However, on reflection, I felt that it might be best not to employ our usual sarcastic sense of humour on this occasion. After all, the school are still struggling to get their heads around the fact that our daughter’s use of the term ‘Coloured’ – to describe some of her pals in southern Africa – was not actually a result of our family looking up to Alf Garnet as some kind of role model. In fact, the school clearly found it difficult to believe that there actually IS a defined ethnic group who are known as ‘Coloured’ in that region. ***
(NB – this part of the conversation between the two of us was generated by the recollection that – hey, yeah – we DID give her cooking oil as a toddler when we lived in Africa. This was on the advice of our African friends – to cure chronic constipation. And yes – it did help actually.)
But I digress. I hold my hands up! I was rushing about like a madwoman. The fallout was highly embarrassing. But I bet the dinner ladies had a good old laugh at my expense. And why not? It’s a crappy time of year after all. And we need more laughter in the world. Especially if you are a dinner lady and you’re paid sod all in comparison to the teachers. Plus you don’t get paid out of term-time…
So. Parents. If you are responsible for sending your kids to school with packed lunches – set yourself a challenge once a week and see if you can get away with packing something a little ‘bit different’. Or something that may just cause chronic childhood obesity in the space of 20 minutes. And if the dinner ladies don’t notice your neglectful/abusive packed lunch – threaten to sue the school. You never know. They might offer YOU a week of free school meals or something as compensation! The horrific experience may well politicise you as it did that lovely Jamie Oliver bloke…
* Note to all Southerners – Up North many of us still refer to the meal between the hours of 12 noon and 2pm as ‘dinner’. Always have – always will. Get over it.
** African chums – of course, I am joking about you lot drinking cooking oil and giving beer to the kiddies. But I am following the rather wonderful African tradition of making up a load of hillarious fibs that I witnessed many an indigenous peoples’ group relating to unsuspecting (and annoying) western anthropologists who would truck up for a few days and ask them some stupid questions…. YOURS is the kind of sense of humour I appreciate the most (i.e. ‘Oh yes! Every 3rd Tuesday we always swap huts – and husbands. That way we all appreciate our own things a bit more’). How many PhDs have been awarded, based on complete and utter made-up tosh eh? Eh? Plenty. Believe me.
*** And DON’T get me onto what happened when my daughter was trying to tell her class about the ethnic group in Namibia called ‘The Basters’. The teachers are still in denial about that one..