Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sitting at the Headmistress's Table -- jcarolek

"Bangers and smash" was one of my favorite meals served in school when I lived in England.  A major fan of potatoes of any variety or preparation, I found the British school menu quite palatable.  I attended two schools in the three years I lived there, and the one thing they had in common was the school lunch fare. 

At ten years old, new in a "strange" land and worried I would give my country a black eye, should I misbehave, I was eager to blend in.  Within a couple of months, other students had stopped asking me if I was American, and had started asking me where I was from.  My American accent was being overrun by my interpretation of the local British accent.... the result was something different from what they were accustomed to, but not blatantly American.  Still, I was different and didn't want to draw close scrutiny to my less-than-British self.

Lunchtime at New Court, the first school I attended, was typical of the school lunch experience of that time.  We ate at tables as assigned and every day a group of students was "invited" to eat at the head mistress's table (in another room).  One day it was my turn and I was a little nervous.  I was not long into my time there and the head mistress was VERY old (80's) and VERY "proper."  I was happy to discover we were having bangers and smash for lunch that day.  I knew I could eat that meal, English style, turning my fork upside down and loading the mashed potatoes, peas and "banger" onto it, before lifting it to my mouth and savoring the taste.

Miss P sat at the head of the table and engaged her lunch "guests" in stimulating conversation.  To be honest, I recall nothing about what was discussed, just happily chewed my way through the main course as the other girls pushed and poked at their food. When the dessert arrived, I was again happy. Suet pudding with custard was another of my favorites.  So far I had escaped direct questions from Miss P and the food was good.  I had not embarrassed myself and life was good.

For those unfamiliar with suet pudding with custard, it was a hard little biscuit-like thing covered/swimming in yellow custard, the consistency of gravy.  Just as I set into my portion, carefully cutting a small, bite-size, bit from the "pudding," Miss P directed her attention at me.  I honestly DON'T recall what she asked.  I'm sure it was something as mundane as, "Judy, how are you enjoying your classes?"  But I was caught off guard, having been lulled into banger and smash comfort.  When I heard my name uttered from that waivery, old voice, I looked up from my current task to answer and watched, mortified, as my "bite-sized" bit of suet pudding took flight down the table toward Miss P. 

Now, I'm certain this was nothing new for this old lady, but it was quite funny to the other "invited lunch guests" and they did their best not to bust out laughing.  I reached to retrieve the dessert escapee, hoping against hope it would not have been noticed by the old woman.  My reach across the table proved to be a bigger indiscretion than the inadvertent food volley had been in the first place.  Sure, I'd picked up the suet pudding nugget, but could not retrieve the custard tracks from the white linen table cloth.  And, according to Miss P, "ladies do not reach across the table." I do not remember whether I ate the rest of that dessert... I suspect I did, though I'm certain I was careful not to let another piece escape the plate.  What I DO remember is the feeling of flush that invaded my face when Miss P witnessed at my suet pudding and my goalie reach across the table.  I'm certain everyone at the table knew I was embarrassed.

I never was invited back to sit at the head mistress's table.  I never missed being invited.  I'd rather keep a low profile and eat with the rest of the students and really enjoy my bangers and smash, and suet pudding.  But I learned a few valuable lessons that day. 
  • Always anticipate the obvious.
  • When someone has their eye on you, it's a good idea to keep your eye on the task.
  • There is NO WAY I will ever be able to hide my embarrassment... my face turns beet red.
I suppose it could have been worse.  Still, I prefer to eat with friends and family and let others enjoy those "power lunches" with the bigwigs. 

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