When I was a little girl I moved house from Bayswater to Chiswick, and so moved schools. Up until that time I’d been at Pembridge Hall where, at the time, lunch was a pack-your-own affair. The move to Bute House suddenly saw catered lunches, and of all the things I remember most about my time there, the food stands out most strongly in my mind.
We would sit along long trench tables which had been set up in the assembly hall, in form groups (in early years, later on you could choose whom you sat with), and a teacher would sit at the head of the table with two girls either side who would be their helpers. When we arrived there would be food set out on the table already, usually a big platter on the teacher’s setting, and two side dish bowls on the two girls’ settings. There would also be a stack of blue/grey plates. The two girls unlucky enough to be at the end of the table would be on clear up duty, which involved everybody passing their plates down to them, scraping the leftovers onto one plate and then taking all the plates (and leftovers) to the kitchen hatch. They would also then collect the pudding that was waiting, gently steaming at the hatch.
There were five options for asking for your portion – small-as-possible, small, medium, large and large-as-possible. You could ask for different sizes of everything, but the point was that you had to have one of everything on your plate. Don’t like peas? Ask for small-as-possible and get about four. This led to hilarious combinations of asking for food, such as, “Large-as-possible pie, medium gravy, and small-as-possible carrots, please”. Of course this was usually garbled very quickly by a fellow classmate as they started serving at the end of the trench table – either because they were eager to get their food or because they knew their food would go cold in the time it took to serve everybody else.
Lunches that particularly stand out in my mind were the Shepherd’s Pie and gravy (I’ve ALWAYS loved Shepherd’s Pie!), chicken vol-au-vents (I called them volleyballs), lamb curry and rice (not real curry, it wasn’t spicy and had raisins in it, but I loved it), vanilla ice-cream and toffee sauce, sponge cake and custard (it came as a giant dome in a big pyrex bowl), cheese, crackers and an apple (everybody got a slice of apple – that was the worst pudding choice at the time), and, of course, the ever-coveted Sunshine Tart.