The school picnic – a summer treat of 1972

Very few students eat lunch at school. They would rather nip to chippy down the end of the road and buy a bag of battered bits or get a 99 icecream from the Mr Whippy van, which belches fumes outside the school gates.

School meals are dismal, rushed affairs in a bleak dining room, and the walls ooze smells of cabbage and chips. Food is slopped onto scratched plastic plates which come in assorted shades of pink, orange and yellow, but the colours have long faded.

School dinners are only popular with students that like a mountain of chips submerged in tomato ketchup. Chips, ketchup, and spam fritters are always on the menu.

The CSE Cookery practical exam  asks us to make Packed Lunches.

We get tasks like:

Prepare a packed meal for two hungry school boys on a bicycle tour.


Prepare a packed meal for two schoolgirls to take on a long train journey.

Bah! I can’t imagine any of my students going on a bicycle or taking the train. They like to be driven around by car.

To make this lesson more fun, I have planned a surprise on this hot summer’s day.

‘We’re going to make this packed picnic and then take it out to the school field and eat together. I’ve got permission, so we’ll go at the lesson end.’

They look appalled. The school field! A picnic! With their teacher! In front of the rest of the school! I must be joking!

Cookery for Schools

Cookery for Schools

I read out loud from Cookery for Schools to quieten them. These are the packed lunch rules:

‘Packed meals are required by workers unable to obtain midday meals at their places of employment, by travellers and for picnics. Balance the packed meal as carefully as the main meal. There is always a danger of including too great a proportion of carbohydrates. The day of the traditional sandwich is now almost over – to avoid too much bread, open or Danish sandwiches are often used instead, with fillings laid on one slice of bread, but not covered.’

So no sandwiches for packed lunch unless it’s open sandwiches with topping that falls off in the sandwich box! I reckon this is a plot by the Danish Food Board who send coloured pamphlets into school with recipes for open sandwiches with twirls of Danish salami and Danish cheese.

How to pack the picnic food?

‘ Make fullest use of the large variety of plastic equipment now available. It is light to carry, easy to clean, cheap and unbreakable. Remember the importance of small accompaniments to meals such as seasonings and sugar. Portable cruets should be added to every picnic and always supply some sort of drink.’

We have no packaging for a picnic, although Jackie has said I can come and stock up at her auntie’s Tupperware party.

‘She’s got lots of gorgeous plastic things and a lovely thing with a swirly stick with plastic trays that hold cocktail nibbles.’

I can’t imagine Jackie’s family serving nibbles at a cocktail party in her large council flat nearby, but I’ve never held a cocktail party either.

‘Jackie, I have to buy everything from Central Supplies, so maybe another time. Get your auntie to send me a catalogue.’

I secretly wonder if I might get an invite to the naughtie nightie parties that I’ve heard are fun.

For our picnic they work in groups making Scotch eggs, potato salad, chunks of tomatoes and cucumber followed by rock cakes and freshly squeezed orange juice. Scotch eggs are wrapped in foil and roasted in the oven. I’ve banned the chip pan from their cooking experiences which saves it catching fire and adding to the classroom drama.

Potato salad is simple. Chunks of cooked potato mixed with salad cream and chopped chives. Another group is busy baking rock cakes and I get whiffs of spice and mixed peel as I patrol the ovens.

The boys help carry the rugs and tablecloths and the girls struggle with the heavy picnic baskets. Boys will not carry baskets, so there is no point asking. I find a quiet spot away from overlooking classrooms and lay out our feast.

The girls sit quietly tucking into the warm Scotch eggs. And the food is delicious. But even the hungriest of the boys is missing.

‘Where have they gone?’ I ask.

‘They said they wouldn’t be seen dead sitting here, miss. They’ve probably gone to the chip shop.’

The picnic has stood up to the packing test, but we trudge back with most of the food uneaten. I don’t tell anyone in the staffroom. Taking students out for a picnic!

Bah humbug. Stupid new teacher with stupid new ideas. Stay in the classroom and have done with it.

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