I suppose now's a good a time as any to tell you about the time that I refused to go to school for a year when I was eight.
I hated school – I mean really hated it. It was a total chore and twice a day they shoved you into a freezing cold playground and at lunchtime you had to eat some gross cling-film tasting cheese and pickle sandwiches you’d brought with you, which had been festering in a warm corner of the lunch room all day.
Lunchtimes, in fact, were the worst of the worst. It was the smell of the lunchroom, for a start. All the kids who had a hot lunch went first and they always made such a giant, disgusting mess. Whenever you went to sit down, there was always a big smear of gravy somewhere, or a little puddle of mashed potato. It made me feel utterly sick. And then there were my own gross packed lunches.
It was always cheese and pickle sandwiches and a box of sour own brand orange juice and, like, a Penguin or something. Once when I was trying to get the gross smell of cheese and pickle out of my lunchbox, I thought it would be a good idea to spray some perfume inside it, so I sprayed some of my mother’s Anais Anais into it. It totally didn’t work. But instead of saying to my mum, oops – please can I have another lunchbox? I just kept using it, day after day, this gross, perfume-smelling lunchbox rather than telling her. And so my sandwiches were not only gross cheese and pickle, but they also tasted of perfume. If I close my eyes and think hard I can smell it now.
I don’t know why I didn’t tell my mum. It’s not like she was scary and horrible or anything – she is mostly a total pushover. Perhaps that’s just what you’re like when you’re little, you just don’t think to tell people things. Like those kids that you always get at school who’d rather wee in their knickers that ask the teacher if they can go to the loo.
So it all got too much and I started throwing up every day before I was supposed to go to school. I can’t remember if I made myself sick or I genuinely vomited with fear and anxiety each day, but I remember knowing that I wasn’t really ill. I remember knowing that I was faking it. Most of all, I remember feeling envious of those lucky little shits who got nosebleeds. Imagine! Imagine having something so real and obvious wrong with you! Something that people absolutely could not dispute – actual blood coming out of your head! Undisputable.
Eventually the battle to get me to go to school got too much for my mother and she and dad decided that I ought to be taken out of school and taught at home.
And so for a year, I didn’t have to go. I had a tutor, three times a week. It must have been terrible for my parents, and annoying for my sisters, who were twelve and fifteen at the time, who both had to go to school as normal. But I loved it. I was in heaven. And I did pretty well at home with the tutor, who was nice to me and patient and taught me everything I needed to know about everything.
For that whole year, I knew that there wasn’t really anything wrong with me. I just didn’t want to go to school and no-one was inclined to force me.
But ever since then, I’ve been fearful that people might think I’m faking it when I’m ill because I spent a whole year faking it. I assume everyone knows all about that episode on my life – that I would make myself sick and refuse to go to school just because I didn’t want to go.
And it means that even when I’m ill – really, really, ill – I feel like I don’t deserve to be ill. I’ve used up all my ill allowance. And on top of that ever since then I've been off-kilter, the weirdo, the one who doesn't fit in. I was the girl who didn't go to school.
But rather than trying to make myself as normal as possible and blend in with the crowd (not easy when you've got red hair and teeth the size of tombstones) I decided to say Fuck You Yeah so what, Yeah, I'm the weirdo, what of it?
This was a mistake. And I've only learnt too late in life that most of the time, you just want to be taken for another face in the crowd.
My general recalcitrance has extended to certain foodstuffs. For example, I have always refused to make moules mariniere because everyone bangs on about how easy and marvellous it is, which has always made me think "Well then, I will not make what it is you scumbags are having. I will make a PORK PIE because I am that special and cool."
But I decided the other day that I reallly ought to give it a go. And I did and it worked very well and it is now pretty much our Sunday night dinner staple. You do need very fresh mussels though, do try and avoid anything shrink-wrapped or anything that smells suspiciously bad. Like, say, cheese and pickle sandwiches with a hint of Anais Anais.
Moules Mariniere for 2
Enough mussels for 2 - a good fishmonger, which is where I hope you will purchase your mussels, ought to be able to guide you.
1 medium onion or 2 shallots
butter, about 50g
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large glass shitty white wine
1 handful parsley
a sloop of cream, if you want
1 Scrub and de-beard your mussels, discarding any that are open. [NB mussels open when they are warm, so make sure you apply your Is This Open? technique to cold mussels.] WHAT a tedious fucking job scrubbing them is. Hateful. Get someone else to do it if you can. The "beard" is that feathery bit of grossness that emerges from between the two halves of mussels I suppose that attaches the thing to its rock. Anyway, pull it off, give the whole thing a scrub and dump it in a bowl. *Clang*
2 In a pan on the hob, large enough to hold all your mussels, melt 25g of the butter and some veg or olive oil sautee very gently the onion and garlic for about 10 minutes. Then pour in your large glass of shitty wine and bring to the boil.
3 Sling in the mussels then put a lid on and cook on a high heat for a good 4-5 minutes. If you are very daring you can cook them for less long and just scoop them out as they open. But I like my seafood cooked properly, so I do them for 5. Discard any that have remained closed. [You know, I think it might be this open/closed discarding thing that's always put me off mussels. Just too confusing.] Put the mussels somewhere to keep warm.
4 Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve into another pan. Giles always thinks this is unneccessary but I think it is nicer not to have chunks of onion everywhere. You can do what you like. Boil the cooking liquid hard until it has reduced by about a third. Keep tasting it until it turns from winey and gross to tasting like something you might find in the bottom of a bowl of moules mariniere. Take off the heat and stir in some cream if using.
5 Scoop out some mussels into a bowl, pour over some of the cooking liquid and scatter with parsley. Eat with bread and butter and dread Monday morning.