I don't often visit the school canteen, but if I do, it is usually out of desperation for food, or to seek out an elusive student.
Today, was out of desperation for food.
As I was fighting my way through the queue to hand over my ID and pay for the cheese and pickle sandwich I had selected (it was either that or egg mayonnaise!), I clocked one of my year group flicking pieces of potato across the canteen, and, she clocked me, clocking her! Brilliant! Try to argue that one then!
So, whilst I was waiting for the student to follow my request to 'now go and pick up that piece of food you have just catapulted on to the floor' and give her the lecture about starving children and 'would you do that at home?' I began to notice what the other, much amused, students were eating, in particular, those with packed lunches.
The average packed lunch, apparently, no longer consists of a sandwich, crisps and an apple. Oh no! Packed lunches these days are far more interesting! Cheese strings, peperami, sausage rolls, apple slices with a toffee dip, haribo, yogurt covered raisins, sushi, hummus and pitta bread, sundried tomatoes and feta cheese, strawberry trifle, white chocolate mousse. I was astonished and, to be honest, a little envious.
Moments before my trip to the canteen, I had been thinking about childhood memories, mainly due to a conversation (if you can describe communication via text as a conversation) with a friend. I do not remember my packed lunch being as interesting, exciting or varied. And I don't think any of my friends were particularly enthusiastic about their packed lunches either.
Egg curry is the reason I refused to eat school dinners throughout Primary School. I can see, smell and taste it still to this day. A long silver metal tray with a handle at each end and a metal spoon half covered with this brown sludge with lumps. Hard boiled eggs, sliced in half, decorated this brown sludge. I cannot describe the smell, because, there are no words to describe it! The taste was horrific. I am gagging slightly at the memory. So I and three of my friends, which all happened to endure this experience, had a packed lunch for nearly four years, every day, from then on in.
Although the egg curry incident was not something, that 26 years later, I thought I would still remember, it was the foundation for fonder memories. My mum bought me a red lunchbox. No pattern, no pictures, no fancy system to open and close it, no compartments. I loved it!! I decorated it in stickers of rabbits, puppies, kittens and flowers. It saw me through 4 years of Primary school.
Every evening my mum would ask me and my sister what we wanted in our sandwiches for lunch the next day. Every evening my reply was cheese & marmite and my sisters was peanut butter. 9 times out of 10, I would get cheese & marmite sandwiches and my sister would get peanut butter.
At least three times a week, my mum would add slices of cucumber or tomato into my perfect cheese & marmite sandwich, making it soggy. And of course I just removed it and left it in my lunchbox. My sister was not as lucky as me. My mum couldn't try to disguise cucumber and tomato in a peanut butter sandwich. My sister just got a completely different sandwich altogether, much to my amusement. We also got the most random of sandwiches occassionally. Grated carrot and grated cheese. What was that all about??
Anyway, apart from sandwiches, I had a packet of crisps, a yogurt (resulting in many an argument between my sister and I over who got the strawberry one) and an apple, or a couple of dried apricots, or a box of rasins. If we were lucky, a chocolate chip tracker bar or harvest crunch bar. This was pretty much the standard packed lunch to every child in the school, although some lucky children got a real funsize chocolate bar or a chocolate mousse.
This is most definitely not the case these days... the exotic packed lunches that I witnessed being gobbled up in the canteen today would never have entered my mind. And although I am slightly envious, packed lunches are a fond childhood memory and even fonder are the memories of my mum, making our packed lunches without fail, every evening. Making sure we were well fed and healthy.
If she was still around today, I am pretty certain she would not be happy with my packet of mixed nuts and cranberries which I chuck down my throat if I have time and the occassional trip to the canteen to grab a sandwich. What I wouldn't give, to be able to open the fridge in the morning, have a red lunchbox waiting for me, with cheese & marmite sandwiches, hedgehog crisps (yes, hedgehog crisps) and strawberry yogurt and a box of raisins....
However, I would probably forget to look in the fridge and leave it at home.