I stared at the pudding.
It sat there, shapeless and claggy in the bowl.
I poked my spoon into its white awfulness. Even more of its foul vapours sneaked through the air and clawed at the back of my throat, for this was Thursday, this was 1972 when Mrs Gunn, at the peak of her reign of tyranny as dinner lady, heaped misery as well as lumpy mashed potato onto the plates of helpless 9-year olds. This was school dinner semolina.
I looked at the delicious blob of jam, an atoll marooned in then cruel gruel. If I’d had a straw, I could have sucked the jam up in a moment of sweet delight; a condemned man’s last meal before he faces his killer. To remove the exquisite blob without the merest trace of semolina sticking to it, would have required the tools and steady hand of a surgeon, but I was armed only with a spoon and was shaking more than I had in our Music and Movement class earlier in the day.
The other kids on my table could not eat theirs quickly enough, almost seeming to enjoy the putrid pudding. I stared at the spoon sticking upright in the gunk, wishing it would all somehow disappear, leaving me just the ruby of jam.
I followed the kids taking their empty bowls back, hoping to scrape it unseen into the bowl kept back for the pigs. Poor pigs. Of course Mrs Gunn saw me.
“Martin, you’ve got to eat your pudding.”
“But me no buts. It’s good for you. Stir in the jam – it will make it taste even nicer.”
I knew it wouldn’t. I plodded back to the table, now cleared apart from the detritus and spills from my classmates, holding that menacing bowl of semolina.
I apologised to the jam and started to stir. I supposed that at least every 100 atoms of the vile semolina would now have 1 of jam to mollify the taste. Even at that age I knew 100:1 weren’t good odds. The jam objected by turning the gruesome contents a ghastly pink.
I thought of my classmates running, having fun out in the playground, and tried to keep this image in my head as I pinched my nose, grasped the spoon and shovelled the repellent gloop into my mouth.
It was disgusting. The slimy texture clung to my throat, grabbing at my tonsils as it resisted being swallowed as I spooned in more and more. I shuddered in revulsion and feared that the sweat I could feel on my brow was the malignant pink goo, already seeping out through every pore.
I forced in the final spoonful and tried again to swallow, but sensing oxygen deprivation from the sheer volume of this assault of pink, my body’s self-preservation reflex kicked in. The powerful spasm from deep inside of me forced the coagulant upwards and outwards, through my mouth to refill the bowl in front of me.
Desperate to get rid of the heaved-up monstrosity I took my bowl up and held it out to Mrs Gunn, the complete antithesis of Oliver Twist asking for more.
“Martin,” Mrs Gunn said firmly. “What did I tell you? You have to eat it.”
I looked at the bowl. I had to admit that its journey through the early stages of my digestive system had made no discernible difference to its appearance. ‘Yaaah,’ the regurgitated dessert seemed to sneer, as another cold shiver passed through me.
“But…” I whimpered.
“I’ve already told you to but me no buts. Now, go back and eat it or I will get cross.”
What happened in the next few minutes of my young life demonstrated the utter fear that Mrs Gunn’s regime held over a timid 9-year old. I went back and sat down, beaten as a tortured KGB prisoner, and proceeded to eat my own puke… mouthful by abhorrent mouthful.
I shoved the empty bowl at Mrs Gunn the empty bowl and ran out of the dining hall to freedom, my life changed forever.
Today I still have a phobia of milk-based puddings. I revile against custard and rice pudding. I baulk at tapioca, trifle and sago pudding. I cannot be in the same room as a blancmange. They are all my arch enemies. Even writing their names here is making me quivery. I know these desserts are the heritage and delight of all Anglo Saxons, but I can’t stomach them.
So what became of Mrs Gunn? She’s probably still locked up in Spandau Prison I’d imagine, but my chance for revenge was reaped one evening some 10 years or so after semolina-gate. Having partaken in refreshing ales with my good friend Andrew, I made to leapfrog a bollard in the middle of a traffic island on the long stagger home from the pub. Finding the bollard unlit and magnificently detached from the ground in any way, there was only one outcome for it that my alcohol-fuelled brain could contemplate.
I still wonder what Mrs Gunn thought when she opened her curtains next morning to see a traffic bollard squat in the middle of her front lawn. Maybe it was just one of a number of minor acts of drunken terrorism from similarly abused ex-school children. If accused, the authorities would have caught me more black than red–handed as the tar that had coated the bottom edges of the bollard had adhered itself more effectively to me than it had to the road. What’s more the weight of the thing (it was very heavy, and we had carried it over a mile) had dug a groove across my palms that was still visible several days later.
Revenge is certainly a dish served cold – with a blob of jam in the middle.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this story then contact the TASTER (Tapioca And Semolina Total Eradication Resistance) Hotline.