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A Shout From The Attic: Yes We Have No Bananas

Ronnie Bray recalls wartime privations.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's autobiography please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page. Read also his invigorating Letter From America columns.

A boy in our class had a brother in the Navy. During the war years the boy turned up at school with a banana. It was a small green thing. We knew bananas mostly by reputation since they had acquired the status of a legend due to their scarcity. We followed him around the playground to get a look at the banana. I don’t know if he ate it. If he did, he is probably still suffering from the stomach ache.

I asked him if I could have the empty skin so that I could fill it with wood or something and pretend that it was real.

Wartime meant doing without a lot of things. That we managed to do without them very well bears testimony to the resilience and humour of the gritty Yorkshire people that populated my home town, Huddersfield.

We, who were young during the war years, had heard of pineapples, pomegranates, and grapes. Some of us had actually seen them. However, the missing fruit that everyone seemed to know about was the humble banana. I had vague recollections of bananas being cut into round slices then dropped into sweet hot custard for Sunday tea. I can still taste them, deliciously warmed by the sweet yellow gloop, with the added enchantment of a frugal dusting of Tate & Lyle’s sugar. It is the taste and texture that always carries me back to the small round table that was the meal station for little ones on special days, such as Sunday.

Then, no more bananas. "There’s a war on!” How often those words rang in our ears as the final explanation for absence or shortage. It became one of the major catchphrases of the war, easily equalling the unfair "because I say so'' in its high irritation and low satisfaction value.

Shortly after the war ended, packets of dried bananas were sold by a local health food store. For thruppence, a cellophane wrapped packet of sludgy, not quite dry stuff supplied something of a banana flavour, and that was better than nothing. In between the plentiful supply of pre-war days and the sticky bundles of early post-war years, there was nothing.

Apart from that green banana in the school yard.

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