Drink your milk

“Then there was the matter of the milk, a drink I detested however it was served, and at whatever temperature. It made me gag. There was no allowance for such distastes in the home’s régime. This resulted in a great deal of time spent in the dining room, with its sour odours of curds and rotting dishcloths, long after meals had ended and the other children had been liberated to play outside. Matron sat at the head of the table, and I some way down, with the ghastly bluish pillar of milk in a glass in front of me. “Drink your milk”, she would repeat at intervals, in a voice made all the more threatening by its controlled softness. In the end, but only after more than token resistance, I did. “There now. Wasn’t that silly?” What was really silly was my slowness to realise that she didnt want to be there any more than I did. Once this dawned on me, I put it to the test by deliberately knocking over the glassful of milk. It spread widely, in the way that spilt liquid always does, and dripped from the table edge onto the bench. Equally rewarding was the displacement of the soft voice in favour of trembling anger. I was made to clear up the mess and say sorry. But the glass was not refilled and I was not kept in again.”

From “Sift”, a memoir of growing up in my home town of Exeter in the postwar years, written by the poet Lawrence Sail, who was my French teacher at school for four years.