Monday, August 11, 2008

Toast: the story of a Boy's Hunger

Nigel Slater chronicled his childhood culinary angst in Toast, 247 pages worth of yolked torment, chocolate pleasures and way, way too many initiations into the other camp. It is bittersweet in some places, weird in others while remaining extremely engaging from cover to cover. I found the part about his family most riveting, from his railing at his ailing mother that he hoped she would die not knowing that she would do so a few days after that during Christmas, his father marrying a working class woman and ultimately being killed by her excellent cooking.

Milk (Excerpt from Toast, pg 61)
My first glass of milk, in truth just two mouthfuls, had ended with my being violently sick over my new sandals. There had been odd attempts to encourage me to try it again, but none had succeeded in getting me to do more than dip my finger in it and shudder. If it looked as if I might be pushed further, a mock heave usually brought the matter to a close. At break times, Miss Poole, our mild-mannered, grey-skinned, grey-clothered form teacher allowed any unopened bottles of the compulsory milk to go to the first to finish.
One cold, flat morning in September I moved up a class. My teacher was now to be Mrs Walker, a woman so stern-faced, so unwaveringly strict as to be used as a threat by the other teachers. She was a stout bulldog of a woman, her unwashed hair pressed tight to her head, dressed as always in a knee-length black skirt and grey twinset. As I picked up my pencil case, my set of twenty Caran d' Ache crayons in their flat tin, my English books with their spelling tests and essays entitled 'An Autumn Day' and 'My Ten Favourite things', to move up to Mrs Walker's class, someone whispered, ' She makes everyone drink their milk'.
One week after milk had yet to pass my lips. I started offering my small bottle of milk to any girl who would show me her knickers. After getting ripped off a couple of times by girls who failed to keep their part of the bargain, I worried I might have to start paying people to drink my unwanted white stuff.
'Can I have your milk if you don't want it?' asked Peter Marshall one morning break. So I said, 'Show me your dick first', and with that set a precedent for the whole term. None of the girls wanted an extra bottle enough to give me a quick flash, but the other boys were queuing up for it and perfectly happy with the deal. I think this was the first time I realised food could be a bargaining tool.
Nothing prepared me for how ill a bottle of milk could make a boy. Mrs Walker caught me pretending to drink my ration while waiting for someone to finish theirs. 'Come and stand at the front.' I put my milk on the desk and walked towards her. 'No, bring your milk with you. I've been watching you for days and now you are going to drink it in front of everyone'. Uncertain of just how much of the milk game she had seen, I half wondered whether she was going to make the girls show their knickers to the entire class.
I stood in front of the class, head bent down, my stomach flipping and diving. I worried not about the shame of being caught but simply that I was going to to have to swallow the wretched, wretched milk. Please God, don't let me have to drink this stuff. He didn't answer. 'Drink it all,' said Mrs Walker, her eyes narrowing like a lizard's in bright sunlight. I put the straw to my lips and sucked, sticking my tongue over the open end. 'We will sit here all day until you have finished every drop'.
It was a warm day, mid-September. The milk had been standing in its crate in the sun for a good hour before she sent Robin Matthews to drag it into the classroom. The tinkle of the bottles and scrape of the metal crate always filled me with fear. I sucked. A great bubble of warm, creaming milk hit my tongue, then filled my mouth. It was like vomiting backwards. I tried to swallow slowly but my throat closed tight and then something acid, almondy, welled up from my stomach.
The vomit came so quickly I didn't have time to move the milk bottle. The straw shot out across the floor the bottle fell with a clatter and I closed my eyes. Partly to block out the horror of it all and partly because I always close my eyes when I throw up. The puke spluttered down my green school pullover and onto the floor , it splashed the bottom half of the bookcase with its Conan Doyles and Kiplings, Sylvia Mountsey's satchel and a marrow on the harvest festival display. At least it missed my bare legs. When I opened my eyes there was milk over the floor, running under the radiator and Mrs Walker's desk. There was thin, milky-yellow vomit over my shoes and the bottle, whole and unbroken, had rolled under Peter Marshall's desk. 'Go and sit down,' she yelled, ignoring the fact that one of her students had just been violently ill down himself. She evidently intended to leave me to stew.
I skulked towards my chair, surrounded by a sea of shy smirks and dropped heads. I bent down to pick up the stray bottle. I got down on all fours and crouched under the table. As I stretched to reach the bottle, something moving caught my eye. It was a flash of three pairs of green knickers and Peter Marshall's dick, fully erect and waving back and froth like a child's flag at a royal walkabout.
PS. Nesquik was my parents' last ditch attempt to make me drink milk. Orange, strawberry, chocolate. The only thing that changed was the colour of my puke.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails