Mushy peas made my life hell. Words cannot describe my hatred for mushy peas. They’re not natural, obviously the result of some sort of evil scientific experiment involving nuclear waste pre-dating genetic modification by several decades, and there seems to be an endless supply. Mrs Scary loves mushy peas, and she accuses me of being strange. She might have a point there, come to think of it. Dissolve to 1972....
I still remember her today. Blue-rinsed perm, horn-rimmed glasses, scowling face, monstrous sheepskin coat. Mrs Green the dinner lady. The harridan of Melcombe Infants School on the Fulham Palace Road. I was six, she was evil, the battle was lost before it even started.
Let’s clear up one misconception. The six year old Scary was by no means naughty. Slightly adventurous, maybe, but not bad. He just wanted to be A Good Boy and stay out of trouble. And by and large, I suceeded, it was Mrs Green who brought me down.
I actually liked school dinners. Those were those pre-Thatcher days when you actually got free milk and a decent sized, balanced meal, usually with a rather yummy pudding to finish the whole thing off. Naturally, Thatch came along in 1979 and murdered school meals - my kids’ school doesn’t even have a kitchen. The cow.
The only problem was Thursdays. Thursdays promised the best evening TV (Blue Peter, Tomorrow’s World and Top of the Pops), but first you had to negotiate school and mushy peas at school dinners. Torture.
In order to get your hands on your pudding and your route out to the playground, you had to first finish your dinner, show your plate to the dinner lady, who would then allow you to join the queue of duff. Four days a week, I had no problems with this. Thursdays, though, meant mushy peas and the wrath of Mrs Green. It was no good. I couldn’t even force a single mouthful down myself, and my attempts to get to the slops bucket without her seeing me always ended with failure.
And when you were caught, you weren’t sent back to your table. Oh no! You were sent to the Naughty Table, where you had to stand and finish your meal in front of the entire school. And because it was right next to the playground window, your humiliation was completed by older kids coming up and giving you “spacker” faces from the other side of the glass.
Entire Thursday lunchbreaks - a whole hour and a half could be spent at this table while Mrs Green glowered at me and my fellow mushy pea dissenters. “Waste not, want not” she told us. Too bloody right - it was nuclear waste.
Revenge was not long in coming. It was a particularly rainy day in the London Borough of Hammersmith, and mushy peas were on the menu again. True to form, as all my friends tucked into a rather lovely looking sponge pudding with pink custard, yours truly was at the naughty table again, trying to outstare a pile of green goo on my plate, and losing. It came to my attention that there was something under the table that I hadn’t noticed before - a pair of Dunlop’s finest wellington boots. Mrs Green’s wellington boots, which she had worn to work, and changed into a pair of carpet slippers once she got there. Dear reader, I simply don’t know what came over me...
An experimental forkful of peas found their way under the table and into a boot. Then another, and another. No evidence, just forkful after forkful of those cursed peas surreptitiously disappearing off my plate, and as far as everybody else was concerned, into me. My plate empty, I was able to strut to the front of the school hall and present my plate - completely wiped clean - to a jubilant Mrs Green who gave me a smile, the like of which I never want to see in my life again. She was so pleased with me, I was allowed extra pink custard.
I shall spare you the sordid details, but I was called to the headmistress’s office later that afternoon to confront a grimacing Mrs Green, and my mother who had been called out of work (no big deal - all she had to do was cross the road). Head bowed, I apologised to her, the head, Mrs Green and anyone who happened to be in earshot, and dammit she would make me like mushy peas in future. She didn’t fight a war for children like me to waste perfectly good food, you know.
But a plan had formed in my head. Every Thursday, I would slip a greaseproof paper bag - lifted from the kitchen drawer at home - into the pocket of my shorts, and with Mrs Green’s attention elsewhere, I’d load the bag up, stuff it back in my pocket and furnish an empty plate to the old bag, convincing her that I was a reformed character. However, this presented me with the same problem with the tunnellers from The Great Escape - what to do with a pocket of crap once I’d left the confines of the prison hut.
Flushing it down the bog didn’t seem to work. For starters the toilets just didn’t seem to have the power to take a bag of shite round the U-bend, and secondly, you had to run a gauntlet of juveniles chanting “Who’s in the bog, then?” as soon as you entered the cubicle. And most tellingly, living in a third-world inner city, these were outside toilets, and my classmates were masters at the art of “highest mark on the wall”, or in this case “over the door.” I was soaked in piss and still had the evidence, sopping wet in my pocket.
There was only one other place I could think of, and here I must blame my father for regaling me with stories of how they used to ping their rock-hard peas at the school trophy cabinet at his school in Greys. The trophy cabinet with its sole trophy was just round the corner from the boys cloakrooms. I waited for a quiet moment, opened the cabinet and slipped my package into the house cup, and pushed down the lid until it stuck. And there it remained, forgotten, festering, until the last day of term.
I shall spare you the sordid details... all I am saying is give peas a chance.