Saturday, 9 May 2009

Takes the Biscuit!

On holiday Monday my wee boy and I decided to make some cakes to take into school the next day. A nice gesture I thought, especially when we added the finishing touch - the children's names spelled out in sugar letters. Now, I want to get this straight right from the beginning. I am a fairly strict mum when it comes to nutrition and dental hygiene (at 37 years of age I have no fillings -thanks Mum) However, I do believe that a little bit of everything in moderation is fine. So chocolate and crisps are not the equivalent of giving your child razor blades to chew on IF they are included in a healthy diet which includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and plenty of exercise. I was completely aware that the biscuits we made were not the healthiest items of food I had ever created - (Jamie Oliver put your fingers in your ears now) - two digestive biscuits sandwiched together with strawberry jam and topped with a thick layer of butter icing. Just to finish off the coronary waiting to happen they were nicely decorated with miniature marshmallows, smarties and a generous sprinkling of hundreds and thousands. Ok, I write this they sound a lot worse than they looked at the time. And at least the jam would contribute to the children's recommended daily intake of five fruit and veg. I don't feel so bad when I look at the above picture, taken from a parenting website (!) which makes Junior's cookies look positively macro-biotic! Anyway Junior was really excited about presenting his pals with their individual masterpieces, all neatly stacked in a box lined with tinfoil. So, off he skipped with his box of goodies and I thought nothing more about it.
At the end of the day Junior’s teacher headed straight for me at the school gate and handed me back my Tupperware box with an awkward smile. She seemed appreciative enough but I wondered why she kept looking over her shoulder anxiously. She bit her bottom lip worriedly and then whispered to me, with a tap to the side of her nose that the class had had a “secret picnic”. This conjured up the image in my mind of a huddle of guilty primary 1's hiding under a blanket in the story corner stuffing their faces with butter icing and marshmallows while their teacher kept watch at the door to see that nobody was going to shop her for giving the children in her care hideous confectionery.
Quick children, speed things up, I think the janitor’s coming!”
I think basically what she was trying to tell me, without hurting my feelings was that the gesture was fine as a one off but for health and safety reasons it was probably best not to repeat the kind deed. Health and safety gone mad again, I pondered? Of course, I was savvy enough to know that nobody in the class had any nut allergies or phobias of round, wheatmeal biscuits so what the heck was she worried about? Perhaps the children might have run amok with their iced digestives using them as Frisbees like a remake of “Lord of the Flies” with a sugar twist. Perhaps someone might have tripped on a mini marshmallow? Perhaps someone might have sued the school for jam stains on their child’s uniform. Maybe I might have had a group of horrified middle class mothers protesting outside my door that evening chanting cruel jibes and carrying banners emblazoned with slogans such as “Diabetes Giver” and “Tooth Destroyer
This all made me recall my own school days - in the same school as Junior attends I hasten to add. Health and Safety didn’t exist in the 1970’s and early 80’s. “British Bulldogs” - need I say more? It's a miracle that any of us managed to escape Mad Cow Disease after being forced to eat those horrific beef olives for school dinners (they looked like turds wrapped in boiled socks and cunningly disguised under a mound of thick, lumpy gravy).
I distinctly remember my P6 teacher clapping with glee as one of my fellow pupils stood up to show us all her party trick - shoving a liquorice lace up her nose and pulling it out of her mouth before yanking it backwards and forwards like she was drying her back with a towel. We all thought this was soooo cool and not one single member of staff intervened to tell us otherwise. Ah, those were the days!
The best example of 1970’s leniency regarding health and safety was my Dad’s generator. Intrigued? Sounds like something out of Doctor Who, eh? Well not far off. Any of my friends reading this will probably now be half grimacing/half chuckling with the memory of “The Generator” (it deserves capitals and should be pronounced in a deep, echoey voice like the voiceover guy in the cinema - “You can run, but you can’t hide from The Gen-er-a-torrrr!) It was one of a kind - I had never clapped eyes on one before 1981 and I have never seen one since. Basically, the Generator was a small, black plastic box with a handle on the side and two long wires which came out of it. One person was supposed to turn the handle SLOWLY while the victim (sorry, willing volunteer) held on to the two wires (one in each hand). If done correctly this produced a mild electric current not dissimilar to pins and needles. My Dad thought it would be a great idea to take this contraption into school and to use it to demonstrate the physics of electricity to a class of 9 and ten year olds. It actually was a super educational experiment, getting the entire class to stand in a circle and link hands while one person at the beginning of the circle held onto the wires - Ta-da! Everyone would feel the current flowing through their hands, hence grasping the important message that human beings were excellent conductors of electricity. Now, in a controlled environment with a sensible adult supervising this was a terrific lesson. But (and I still cannot believe that the teacher did not confiscate the Generator at playtimes and lunchtimes) in the wrong hands this small plastic box was a lethal weapon. It certainly gave kiss, cuddle and torture a whole new dimension! Only once did I agree to hold the wires when asked to do so by someone who will remain unnamed (I had a crush on him so was putty in his hands). He led me into a false sense of security by initially turning the handle very slowly but without warning his face suddenly changed and there was an evil glint in his eye as the rotations quickened. I didn't have time to let go of the wires. I can still remember with horrifying clarity the whirring noise of the generator and the hot, searing pain that shot up through my arms and neck and circulated around my screaming brain before making it’s way back down to my Clarks sandals. I’m quite sure there was a smell of singeing hair in the playground for days after. The whole experience had a nightmarish quality to it - the boy’s evil laugh as his cheeks reddened from the exertion of turning the handle at top speed and the horrific knowledge inside my melting brain that no matter how much I wanted to let go of the wires I simply could not open my hands. My fists were clenched in an involuntary spasm. When he eventually stopped (and believe me, it felt like a lifetime) I remember trying to smile to cover my pain and embarrassment but in truth I fought back the tears until I got home that afternoon. The Generator made me popular for a while. I think I took it into school a few times after that but we all got bored of it when no-one was willing to take a turn at the end with the wires. Can’t think why…
I understand why sugar laden biscuits were not the best thing to give to a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds. I’m not stupid, I know the basics of healthy eating even though I don’t always stick to them myself. But surely there were worst things I could have done. It wasn’t like I sneaked arsenic into their packed lunches when they weren't looking or sent Junior in with kitchen knives to practice juggling with! I can’t help thinking that in my day school was a much more dangerous place than it is now!


  1. I would rather have risked my life with a biscuit rather than that bloomin generator. I blame it for my incompatibility with most electrical goods!!

  2. As your older sister I am sure that the generator was tried on me first! Your blog made me laugh so hard. Dad did many crazy things and we are both still here.It may be worth supervising our children now though as we know what is in store. It was only the weekend past that I picked up my daughter to find her thumb safely packed in cottonwool and in a matchbox. Sx