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Why I went off Nan's dinner left-overs

PUBLISHED: 16:42 16 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:25 03 July 2010

WE of the older generation are maligned by those who accuse us of steadfastly resisting change. No, we are not all dinosaurs fighting progress at all costs, and our regular enjoyable bouts of nostalgia must not be confused with opposition to all things new.

WE of the older generation are maligned by those who accuse us of steadfastly resisting change. No, we are not all dinosaurs fighting progress at all costs, and our regular enjoyable bouts of nostalgia must not be confused with opposition to all things new.

After all, we oldies enjoy our flat-screen televisions, computers, sat-navs and mobile phones, for example, as much as anyone else and would miss not having them. Pensioners reluctant to embrace progress are in the minority.

Lately I read two features in a national newspaper intended for us OAPs, and both succeeded in making me look back to that rose-tinted spectacles past. The first asked: “Can you recall the smell when you walked into your grandparents' home on a Sunday lunchtime?”

It intended to bring back memories of roast beef and Yorkshire puddings (followed by apple pie and custard), chintz curtains, lavender, comfortable armchairs in front of a blazing fire, and family informality. But for me, it took me back not to long-ago Sundays but to Mondays.

Let me explain.

My family home was at the southern end of Gorleston, and from the age of 11, I attended Great Yarmouth Grammar School at the opposite end of the borough. As I resolutely refused to eat school dinners, with their cabbage and other unappetising fare dictated by the scarcity of still-rationed essential food, I walked to my maternal grandma's terrace cottage in Newtown for my midday meal.

On Mondays it was sometimes reheated meat left from Sunday, plus batter pudding and vegetables (not cabbage!). The gravy tin in which the tiny Sunday joint had roasted stayed on her scullery table's oilcloth cover overnight, ready to be used for me on Monday.

That occasional Monday roast sometimes had a distinctive flavour that was hard to classify. The gravy itself was thick, full of little bits - rather like brisket of beef that shreds into the liquid if not cut with a keen knife. But it was infinitely superior to school dinners and I had no complaints.

One day I was early because a school period had been cancelled, and stood in her scullery, fascinatedly watching her at work. Nan was a beatster, not employed in a net chamber but one of the many freelances who mended damaged and holed herring nets at home for a drifter owner.

A net, 35 yards wide and very deep, was suspended from a hook on the inside of her back door, and her know-how prevented it from persistently tangling. Her hands were lightning quick as she deftly repaired gaping holes, inserting spare bits of mesh where necessary, her beating needle (shale) laden with its dark-tanned twine.

Then I noticed that when she trimmed off spare twine to neaten the knots, the bits flew all over the place...some landing in that open gravy tin on the table waiting to be popped in the oven! And I realised that sometimes I had been eating tanned twine snippets in the gravy, not shreds of meat.

I wonder if she was puzzled by my insistence the next Monday that something like egg and chips would be nice because I no longer fancied her roast dinners.

The other Press feature was headlined: “Ah, such sweet memories. A make-over for sherbet fountains? They're messing with our heritage.” It stemmed from the news that sherbet fountains were to be packaged in plastic instead of the traditional paper.

It led me to ponder on some of the confectionery around in my childhood, when rationing ensured that the most popular ranges were probably under the counter for regular customers only, with the less exciting varieties on display, often barely enough to fill a jar or glass cabinet.

I was never partial to plain chocolate, but as Cadbury's Milk Chocolate was hard to come by, a bar of Fry's Sandwich (milk chocolate between two layers of plain) had to suffice. Mrs Peggotty, raised in Sheffield near Bertie Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts factory, was an early lover of Fry's Cream bars because plain chocolate encased the delicious white interior.

Aero was plain, and I believe Kit-Kat was plain too, until milk supplies improved. A Mars or Milky Way was a rare treat, requiring slicing into many pieces to make it last longer.

Rowntree's Gums and Pastilles were about and so, thank goodness, were liquorice all-sorts. I liked Swizzel's Original Thirst Quenchers, tangy tablets looking like today's denture tablets!

Dolly Mixture was also one of the early ones to return. When Smarties came back on the market, some colours like red and brown had plain chocolate inside, not milk, I recall. As the situation improved, sherbet lemons and Rolos and Mackintosh's Quality Street and other goodies became available.

Strange, is it not, that many of the above are still popular but now have new makers' names, with brands like Fry, Mackintosh and Caley having been ousted by takeovers from the wrappers and boxes.

In my infant/junior school days we were occasional recipients of presents sent by well-wishers in the United States. The teachers organised a ballot so we could not pick and choose, and one year at Stradbroke Road School in Gorleston I “won” a huge box of candy - beautifully wrapped and presented sweets that were a delight in an era of stringent rationing but probably made the school dentist despair for our tooth enamel.

In my teens, as I have reported in the past, I worked as an errand boy at Fred Mitchell's greengrocery, fruit and general shop in Bells Road. I once feared the humiliation of being sacked when a customer asked Fred why there were never any raspberry creams in her Jamieson's Gaiety Assortment bought from him although there were always some in the same variety bought elsewhere.

I had to confess that I found them irresistible and regularly sneaked one from the tin, not realising that I had scoffed every raspberry cream...

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