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A Shout From The Attic: Fruit And Custard And Bread And Butter

...But then they didnít know my Nanny. Besides being a cross between Napoleon on a bad day and the worst of Attila the Hun, she was my grandma. A charitable view is that of a woman who had to take control and who never relinquished it. I believe it was simply her nature to take command and give orders. Some people are like that....

Ronnie Bray recalls Sunday teas, presided over by his grandma - and the dreaded bread and butter ordeal.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's expansive life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

Donít ask me where the fruit came from. I know there was a war on, and that was the excuse given for everything that was in short supply or unobtainable. All I know is that every Sunday tea was topped off with a bowl of fruit and custard. Oh, yes, and bread and butter. Now, bread and butter does not spring readily to mind when fruit and custard is mentioned, even when the most benighted person is taking a word association test and the cue ďFruit and custardĒ is proffered, it has never been recorded that anyone has ever responded with ďBread and butter.Ē

But then they didnít know my Nanny. Besides being a cross between Napoleon on a bad day and the worst of Attila the Hun, she was my grandma. A charitable view is that of a woman who had to take control and who never relinquished it. I believe it was simply her nature to take command and give orders. Some people are like that. From my earliest recollections, she ruled like an oriental despot, holding the purse strings, the moral high ground, and the conversation. She slackened her grip on them only as she drew her final breath and went to worry the angels.

My sister Renť, Evelyn and Harry Mantonís son Brian, and me regularly ate Sunday tea together. I canít remember anything that was on that low, scrubbed, coverless table except basins with fruit in them, smothered with delicious yellow custard. On high days and holy days, we might have a spoonful of dark red jelly with the delicious repast, but there, in the centre of the table like the eye of the Cyclops was a huge pile of buttered bread.

We tried desperately to avoid the bread and butter because it was not dessert, and useful only for mopping gravy from a savoury meal or for making sandwiches. How it got on to our table, or why it was there, we had no idea. We had a tacit understanding that if we didnít look at it and totally ignored it, it might go away. Week after week, we applied the same failed plan with no more success than on any previous occasion.

After a few tentative mouthfuls, the Voice of Thunder would come from the Nannyís cavernous throat. Loud enough, I would say, to wake those longest dead lying in Holy Trinity graveyard. Shaming Stentor into a mere baritone: Get some bread and butter. Any fool can eat fruit and custard without bread and butter!

Three small right hands reached for the centre plate and off-loaded half slices of bread and butter with all the enthusiasm of taking rat poison. You will understand that we had nothing personal against bread and butter. In and of itself, Bread and butter played an important role in our lives. We spread jam on it and devoured it in packing case quantities. For a real treat, we spread beef dripping and mucky fat on it lashed it with salt and pepper and, while it lasted, spent a little time in paradise. But to put bread and butter into the same mouth as fruit and custard was a damnable heresy and added insult to the injury it would surely do to our sense of injustice.

Trembling lest a more tangible anathema followed the commandment, in went the bread and butter, and joy was fled from that table that same instant. Now we had fruit, custard, bread and butter, and the gloom of children when things donít go their way. So, we ate the bread and butter. Week after week we ate it, slice after slice, but never as volunteers, always under duress.

We werenít trying to get away with anything. We just had a sense of what was appropriate, but no voice to speak for us. Where was the NSPCC? Where was the Bread and Butter League when we needed them? Where were the lobbyists pressuring our legislators to leave fruit and custard alone? Where was TMAMFACWBAB (The Movement Against Mixing Fruit and Custard with Bread and Butter)? Nowhere to be seen! And so we ate, victims of a tyrant who either loved bread and butter more than anyone has the right to do, or else she disliked little children and sought every opportunity to make them eat totally unsuitable foods in unflattering combination. I still canít make my mind up which it was.

Needless to say, I never made my children eat anything they didnít want to. This often led to a direct challenge to my culinary skills, and I have been insulted on more than one occasion. When Matt was three, I asked him what he wanted for dinner, and he said he wanted to Ďeat at a manís house,í by which he meant he wanted to eat in a restaurant. But what was Nannyís purpose in making us eat the cursed combination?

Last night, I figured it out. Nothing in our lives need be meaningless. Everything can teach a lesson to those who are alive to the possibilities. I woke up at around 3.30 am, and thought about fruit and custard and bread and butter, and Nanny. Then, the revelation came.

Sometimes God asks us to do things that donít make sense to us. If we kick against the pricks because our finite minds donít understand Godís rationale, we may lose ourselves some necessary blessings. God never asks us to do anything that is going to harm us. He seeks only to bless us. It may be that Nanny had superior knowledge about bread and butter when taken with fruit and custard, and sought only to bless our lives. It may be that she, like our Father in Heaven, knows better than we do, what is best for us. Anyway, from now on, thatís what Iím going to believe.


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