ACW

ACW

Friday, 6 May 2016

Poems for puddings - by Fran Hill


My first efforts at ‘writing for the public’ earned me extra pudding when I was nine and at Junior School. Now I usually get paid with cash, not treacle sponge, although I'm open to offers. 

School dinners were something consistent in my childhood, particularly the hot steamed or sponge puddings I looked forward to throughout morning lessons on times tables. They made up for the erratic nature of meals at home. My mother, an alcoholic, cooked fragrant, chicken dinners with pigs in blankets on beer days. On sherry days, I and my two younger sisters made fish paste or jam sandwiches ourselves while she slept.

I'd found a reason to use my nascent skills with words and rhymes, and get something in return. 

I began to bribe the school dinner ladies – they no doubt felt sorry for me as I wasn't the cleanest or most tidy-haired of children - by writing limericks for them in exchange for extra crumble or another brimming ladle of custard. I’d hand over a scribbled, clumsy verse on creased paper torn from an exercise book, and they’d re-load my dish and praise my penmanship while my classmates looked on, envious.

'That's not fair. Can we have extra?'

'Not until you write us a poem.'

This was in 1972, well before equality or Blair-ite ‘Every Child Matters’ policies.

The limericks went something like this. You’ll observe that my skills with poetry were in their infancy, but that my long-term relationship with Weightwatchers was already foreshadowed.

A lunch lady called Mrs Poole
was mean with the puds as a rule
but often she would
give Fran extra pud
just to get her through afternoon school.

Or

One day, Mrs Brown said I could
have a bit more of her toffee pud.
If I wrote like a dream,
she would even add cream,
‘cause she thought that my limericks were good.

My mum died when I was fourteen, and I was fostered. By then, I’d stopped writing in exchange for puddings. Instead, I wrote as a substitute for talking. I refused to speak to my foster parents often after rows about homework or whether a particular boyfriend and his roaring-black motorbike were suitable. I would write a poem, full of rage and intensity, threats to run away, and references to blackness, and pin it on a board in my room. They would read it while I was at school, and write a reply. 

We conversed like this for a week at a time until I ran out of metaphors for angst. 

My foster parents hung on. God helped them; they were committed Christians. At seventeen, I too began to believe, convinced by their steady witness and bloody-mindedness.

I was an over-zealous new Christian, binning my blue eyeshadows and giving away Osmonds albums because I discovered my pop idols were Mormons. And I burned hundreds of my poems, thinking that I had ‘heard God’ asking me to. They were badly-written outpourings from a troubled teenager’s psyche and some of the language and themes weren't pretty. But I regret it, and doubt that God had said anything of the sort.

Thus, not many of my early writings remain, unless, Mrs Poole, you’re out there, clutching custard-stained copies of my limericks and waiting, waiting, waiting for me to become famous.





If only I'd worked harder on my poetry, thought Oliver




Fran Hill is a writer and English teacher from Warwickshire. Her book 'Being Miss' is about a rollercoaster day in a teacher's life and will make you feel better about yourself. It's available from her website here as is other information about her life and writing. 


21 comments:

  1. I am impressed by your commitment to receiving more pudding. I was fortunate that my aunt was one of the dinner ladies. She gave me extra of anything I wanted. If this were not the case I would not have demonstrated your entrepreneurial spirit. Thanks for your honesty in sharing this.

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    1. Now that is a stroke of luck! A relative behind the counter!

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  2. Wish we'd had your dinner ladies, Fran. If there was extra, our's would say 'We'll let the girls have the extra this time, and the boys next time.' Except that it was never 'next time' and the girls always got the extra. I got into a lot of trouble once for pointing it out - the terrible injustice has scarred my life.

    Great post, Fran!

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    1. As I said, this was well before equality, and so was your childhood by the sound of it! That's so unfair. I hope you have made up for it since.

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    2. Oh, yes. I've ingested many a pudding over the years, and second helpings in plenty!

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  3. So much between the lines here, Fran. I admire your honesty and spirit. And for a kid, the limericks ween't half bad. I've seen worse from older people who obviously didn't actually know what a limerick is!

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    1. Thanks, Aggie. Bear in mind that I made up the limericks in order to write the post, being without copies of my 'early works'! That was a 54 year old trying to write like her 9 year old writing self. Though I say it myself, though, I could always do 'rhythm' from an early age, and that's often the key to a good limerick.

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  4. This is all fascinating information Fran; I felt moved and impressed in equal measure! I have kept a lot of my juvenilia:it fills out 2 drawers of my filing cabinet, tightly packed. I have had a couple of thinning-out sessions, though, in the past, getting rid of stuff that I deemed too embarrassing or dire. But do I trust my own censorship? I'm sorry you burned all your poems. No wonder you write verse to commission now with such enthusiasm!

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    1. Thanks so much, Sheila. I envy you your drawers, as it were. As for my writing to commission, spread the word. I get depressingly few requests, but it's something I love to do - take someone's scribbled notes about their friend and translate them into funny verse.

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  5. This is all fascinating information Fran; I felt moved and impressed in equal measure! I have kept a lot of my juvenilia:it fills out 2 drawers of my filing cabinet, tightly packed. I have had a couple of thinning-out sessions, though, in the past, getting rid of stuff that I deemed too embarrassing or dire. But do I trust my own censorship? I'm sorry you burned all your poems. No wonder you write verse to commission now with such enthusiasm!

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  6. What a difficult childhood you had. No wonder you have such a good sense of humour.

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    1. Some of it was hard, yes, Veronica, but there were compensations. Kind dinner ladies. Foster parents. Puddings!

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  7. I loved this. You write to move as well as you write to give mirth. An enviable combination. Great post.

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    1. Thanks, Debzybaby, for your comment on my combinations. x

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  8. We shall have to keep an eye on you in the dinner queue at Scargill...

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    1. I am coming equipped with fifty limericks to suit any mealtime occasion.

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    2. Ooh - can I be your new best friend?

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  9. Wow Fran. Many thanks for sharing this, very brave. You're an amazing woman - and an excellent writer x :)

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    1. Not brave at all, Mandy. I wish I were. I give up on hard challenges far too easily and crack open a rice pudding instead.

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  10. Fran, you are brilliant. x

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    1. Not quite! But thanks anyway. I guess that means you enjoyed the piece!

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