Memories from the playground

That was the sound of the 10:15am or it could have been the 10:30am bell going off. I can’t describe the sound, it was a continuous drone of what um… I can only describe as an excited one, the sound might have been the same that was used as the fire drill, again the same excitement was enthused, not to be confused with the yasssssss of when there was a power cut or the oooohhhhhsss that were let out if it came back on too soon. I think this excitement was shown as we might have been under the impression that we would have to be sent home since the school had no heating.


Cross School – I’m in the front row, 6th from the left

The hardship that we must have thought we were going through in the late eighties/early nineties when we thought we had it bad walking to school – which was just down the hill from us, or that day we decided to cycle to school on the day we had the big wind of ’89 with the bicycle accompaniments that if I remember correctly, came from a box of cornflakes. 1 type of cereal which included bicycle reflectors and other paraphernalia related to one of the top hobbies we had growing up. That is if I was lucky enough for it to be my turn for the free gift inside. There were four of us after all, for our mother to explain time after time again the importance of waiting ones turn to the morning blaring of “That’s not fair!!!”

Now any parent not quick enough not witnessing a child opening the cereal box correctly in saving the tabs to be able to re-close the box for freshness and then pulling the whole bag of cereal out of the cardboard box, thus creating a whole moment in the universe where certain stars and planets would have to realign for the said bag to re-sit comfortably in the cardboard box, with the excitement of the new found treasure taking over any other concern or care.

The same can be said when it was comic day. Of course, for us it was The Dandy and The Beano which ran with our imaginations. With me, getting the second read obviously with very little chance of getting the freebie or ploy for sales marketing that sometime was also attached with said item being tried out in the playground.

Now with the second sound of the bell, the first being at 9am to scramble all of us to class meant that it was time for morning break, or playtime as it was commonly known as. With playtime obviously came play piece. This usually consisted of a packet of crisps that seemed to last longer then than they do now. It’s amazing actually how many crisps you can actually get out of half a potato using a mandolin. If anyone is unsure of the use of a mandolin it is an instrument used in the preparation of vegetables to slice in varying degrees of thickness and shape; noun, to take your eye from job at hand and slicing your finger off clean open resulting in urgent medical treatment. This has been an action that I have seen on a number of occasions but have been fortunate enough to have just come close.

Anyway, play piece could have been the classic bag of Monster Munch, a packet of Discos, Saver Shopper crisps, Fish and Chips shape and flavour, any potato flavoured puff really which were 95 percent air, Salt and Shake bags were, well, you know or a crisp packet that would catch eyes from the other side of the playground, Thunder Cat crisps, thus leading to the biggest deals going down in a playground which coined the phrase “one for one” a deal that could only go down no more than three times maximum, after all there were few crisps in a pack but in the end it really depended on the new crisp on the block.

On rare occasions, a couple of trays of baked delights which might have been leftover from a parents evening would be carried into the play ground by Kirsty Morrison and Anna Phiaraidh now this is how there military style operation went down with one taking a tray out the front door and the other through the back, genius! Regardless of where you were in the play ground you had to be fast, it was all good stuff but if it was gone that was it, crumbs from some of the duff is all you were left with, from what was a varying selection of not just duff, but butterfly cakes or iced fairy cakes garnished with the little sugar, half orange or lemon slices, tray bake selections and a biscuit of sorts that had marshmallows cherries and coconut which seemed to disappear first, along with the thought of what had actually happened in that 35 seconds of pandemonium diminishing from mind. The understanding of this this biscuit was soon to become apparent or so we thought, we would get the name of it but that’s as far as it was to go for that moment in time, the significance of this biscuit for me would come years later.

By the time we got into primary five or six we were presented with the maths book for the next year. Now it had been rumoured that in this book was a maths lesson which was taught by cooking, which would become one of the biggest maths lessons to come my way, I just didn’t know it. Now I don’t think, in fact I know I wasn’t great at maths but this lesson to come caught my attention. Soon enough this lesson was taught to the year ahead and years previous. I know this because I seen it once through the open door and has been one of the clearest memory of primary school.

So with a little research being made by flicking forward in the maths book we found the lesson and we couldn’t wait, It was to be called Number 15 Cake. Already we learnt four things, months before the lesson even started, even by my standard this was quick. First of all we had a name, second was the fact that it was classed as a cake not a biscuit. It is believed that this is how McVities had the debacle debate about there Jaffa product, Thirdly this cake recipe has 15 of each ingredient and number four was probably the realisation of the importance of not wishing your youth away.

The lesson was a couple of pages away and we couldn’t wait, then one day out of nowhere we were instructed to skip over a few pages which included 15 Cake. I think I can speak for all of us in the class now about our sheer disappointment and disbelief at what we all witnessed, never before instructed to skip maths lessons until now, although I think the lesson we did learn from not having the lesson was how everything can change in an instant, everything, then there is only before and after. As individuals we would only understand and learn this at different rates as life goes on.

Number 15 Cake to me was a very important life lesson. I was asked to demonstrate to some pupils not so long ago about careers and about our little business, Stramash. They were a good bunch of pupils with the lesson being held in the Commun Eachdraidh, in that same class room where we longed to be taught maths in a fun way, mixing it up with some cooking, this was the morning that I was not only teaching a group how to make Number 15 Cake but also the first time that I would be making it, but with having the advantage of time to read over the recipe.

This is fun and simple to make with no actual baking involved to make this “cake”. It is simple to make and perfect to capture imaginations.

Number 15 Cake

15 Digestive biscuits
15 Marshmallows, cut into quarters
15 Glace cherries, cut into halves
200ml Condensed milk
Sprinkle of Coconut

Place digestive biscuits in a freezer bag and crush with a rolling pin into chunks.

Place crushed digestives into a bowl with the marshmallows and cherries. Add the condensed milk and mix until it comes together.

Dust some coconut over a large sheet of grease-proof paper. Pour the mixture onto the paper and roll the grease-proof paper and mould into a sausage shape, twisting the ends. Refrigerate for a few hours or pop in the freezer. Once set, slice and serve.

Now for the leftover condensed milk:
1. Decide who gets to lick the spoon.
2. Use the leftovers in a indulgent cup of tea of coffee.
3. Does anyone remember condensed milk sandwiches…?

I’d love to see what you create! Upload a picture to Instagram and tag me at @TheNiseachChef or use the hashtag #TheNiseachChef

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