It is July 1981. A breezy, chill morning in a bleak field somewhere unpronounceable in Wales.
A group of exhausted Girl Guides is sitting on home-made foil-and-plastic mats staring at the pot on the fire at the centre of the circle. Their guide leader, a stout woman with hair the colour of burnt marmalade, is stirring it for all she is worth.
It is 5.30am. A drama has preceded this scene which is why the girls look dazed and shell shocked and why most of them are still in their pyjamas.
Two hours previously their sleep, (such sleep as can be had under damp canvas already rejected by the British Army), had been rudely interrupted by a herd of bullocks hitherto penned in the field next door.
The bullocks, like any young males, were excitable and eager to explore a new environment. Snorting and braying they trampled across the guy ropes pegging the Girl Guides’ tents to the ground.
Fortunately, Bluebird, our Guider, had ears like a bat – probably from keeping them tuned into the sound of Guides slipping out of tents for a crafty fag – and had leapt into action immediately.
There can be few things more traumatising to a twelve year old than to see a flame haired, middle aged woman in a see-through nightdress running full pelt at an agitated bullock.
But that is what we witnessed. Bluebird and Raven, her side-kick in an equally flimsy nightie, charging around the field in an attempt to usher the cows back to their designated area.
It took a while, but eventually the Girl Guide instinct for order and control took over. We were instructed to join hands and make a line to herd the cattle and the potential crisis of the wholesale destruction of the toilet tent was averted.
What do you give a crowd of adolescent girls after an experience like that? (Clue: it’s not the cigarettes you’ve confiscated from them.)
If you’ve pledged your life to the Guides, you give them porridge.
That Guide Camp was where I tasted – alongside fear and panic – porridge for the first time.
And how I detested it.
Bland, lumpen and flecked with ash, I had eaten few less appetising dishes. What the hell was Oliver Twist thinking when he said he wanted more? I silently vowed never to go near the stuff again.
Which just goes to show how little twelve year olds know.
These days, I bloody love porridge.
Porridge is a great friend to the Executive Youth; we hear about it all the time in the media.
I have memorised its benefits:
- Rich in fibre, low in calories it can help you feel fuller for longer. (It won’t however, take away the urge to lower your face onto the Fox’s Assorted Biscuits in your cupboard, it’s not that good.)
- It’ll stabilise your blood sugar levels. (Something to do with Diabetes.)
- Lots of essential nutrients. (License to feel smug and to balance with generous amounts of alcohol later.)
- IT’S REALLY CHEAP.
I rediscovered porridge about a decade ago as I embarked on another healthy living kick.
I have never liked milk.
As a child I felt nauseous just looking at the crate of milk, slowly reaching room temperature in the corner of the classroom.I dreaded the moment the milk monitor would thrust a bottle upon me.
I must have been the only infant pupil looking forward to Junior School simply because, thanks to Mrs Thatcher, it had become a milk-free zone.
So I made my porridge with water and congratulated myself on my spartan living. With this level of sacrifice I reckoned I deserved a half stone weight loss in a week!
And then my friend Karen introduced me to alternative ‘milks’ which, heretofore, I had eschewed on the grounds that only try-hards, vegans and those people at the gym who’re always trying to flog you expensive powdered stuff, drank them.
Porridge with almond milk is delicious. Porridge with soya milk is heaven.
Either with a fruit topping and the merest hint of maple syrup will have you subscribing to that Deliciously Ella’s food blog and toying with adopting a plant-based diet for life. (Lower your face onto the biscuits and get over it.)
Porridge is good for you. It’s easy. It’s cheap. I’ll eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
I actually am Goldilocks.