BL17 FINAL - Page 28



Eating
FROM TUCK SHOP TO TOP TABLE
A sentimental journey through the greasy snacks and sugary
treats of his Eton schooldays makes one writer misty-eyed
I
was the most unremarkable of
students. Distinctly average
in the classroom, and distinctly
awful on the playing fields, I
slipped between the gaps, a ghost in
the machine. I couldn’t paint a door,
let alone a picture, while my musical
skills would empty the room. In
short, my Eton career was markedly
inglorious; a drab thread in that most
rich and venerable of tapestries. One
thing I could do well, though, was
eat. Not so much in my house,
despite my housemaster being a
noted gourmand. Nor even in the
fast-food fleshpots of Windsor, where
I once saw a friend eat his weight in
the ‘All-You-Can-Eat-Tuesday’ Pizza
Hut special. No, it was within the
starkly utilitarian walls of Rowlands,
the school tuck shop, with its worn
lino floor, where I truly excelled.
Here – among the Milk Gums and
Fizzy Cola Bottles, the pear drops,
Wham Bars, Stingers, Black Jacks,
candy cigarettes and Fruit Salads –
I triumphed. Rowlands comprised
two rooms; the main one, where one
entered, had a gleaming, glass-fronted
counter – a barrier between greedy
boys and saintly staff. Behind it was
classic confectionery: chocolate bars,
Chewits, Fruit Pastilles and the like.
On shelves lining the walls were
rows of sweet-shop jars: Aniseed
Twists, Acid Drops, Sherbet Lemons,
Fizz Bombs, Pontefract Cake and
Kola Kubes, all bought by the quarter,
twisted neatly in a white paper bag.
Away from the sugary spectacle
were two plastic banquettes where
you could loiter with merry intent.
This was priority seating, based on
seniority and loyalty. The longer you
spent here, the more right you had to
sit down. I always had a seat.
To the right were two steps down
into the back room where there was
a racing game (was it OutRun?), and
T O M PA R K E R
B OW L E S
F o o d w r i t e r,
food critic and
a u t h o r o f s e ve n
cookbooks
a television where, on Saturdays,
we’d sit, glued to Baywatch. On the
dot of 6pm, the whole school fell
silent as 800 boys gazed, transfixed,
at Pamela Anderson and Erica
Eleniak bouncing down that beach.
Sweets and red swimsuits were
just the start, though. Rowlands also
offered Brown Cows – a block of
vanilla ice cream plonked into a pint
of Coke – and McCain Microwave
Chips, which seemed at the very
cutting edge of modern foodservice
technology. The microwave burger
was less satisfying – grim and stolid,
with a squelch of plastic cheese and
gritty meat. We loved it all the same.
Best of all, though, was the Rowlands
bacon roll. Forget madeleines, dear
reader, because this was the truly
evocative taste of my youth, available
for the briefest 15-minute window at
Chambers, a morning break between
the third and fourth lesson.
I often ran from the other side of
school to ensure I got my fix, where
I’d join the scrum, pushing, ducking
and diving my way to the front. Like
the half-time bar at a football match,
it was every man for himself and
could get dirty, with shoves, screams,
or even a fist fight. When we came
within earshot, “Bacon with, please,
28
BOISDALELIFE .COM
AUTUMN 2019
ISSUE 17
Mrs Cripps” was the cri de guerre,
meaning a bacon roll with ketchup,
picked from a great pile in the metal
warmer, and half-wrapped in a
napkin. Sure, there were sausage
sandwiches too, but crisp, smoked
back bacon on a thickly buttered,
slightly firm bun, was what mattered.
I would order two, sometimes
three. Oh! the joys of youth. As the
years went by, my affections moved
towards Tap, next door. This was the
school boozer, with an official limit
of two pints per boy per day. But we
didn’t go to Tap to drink. We weren’t
allowed to smoke, for a start, and far
more alluring were The Phene (an
entry-level pub for 14-years-olds,
miles away in deep Windsor – “Back
room only, lads”), The Two Brewers
(the next step up, around 16, at the
entrance to the Long Walk at
Windsor Great Park), and The
Donkey (the final-year option on the
other side of the bridge, by the river,
where being caught was not a worry).
No, Tap was all about Chambers.
We’d drop by Rowlands for just
one “bacon roll, with”, and wander
into Tap. It won no awards for
beauty: A row of beer taps lined the
wooden bar, laden with bowls of
crisps and pork scratchings. But at
Chambers, there were hot sausages,
plump, herby and burnished. We
bought them individually, dipped
into proper English mustard. Or a
prawn roll – sweet pink commas
drowned in Marie Rose sauce and
spilling out of pillow-soft dough. I
usually had both. Plus a few halves
of avocado. Yup, avocado – in 1990,
before all this “smashed” nonsense
– served with a splodge of mayo or
a squirt of vinaigrette. The only true
way. This was washed down with
a pint of orange and lemonade mix.
There were downsides to this
excess, of course. Having worked out
how to dodge any sporting exertion,
the glut of food and lack of exercise
meant my fairly lean build became
Buddha-like. But while others were
champions in the debating society or
Farrer Theatre, I earned my colours
in Tap and Rowlands. A true Victor
Ludorum or “winner of the games”.
I now realise it was all training for a
future life spent in food. Hindsight
never tasted so sweet.
G E TT Y
TABLE TALK





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