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the first word.


COOKERY lessons in school took on an almost magical importance for me.

It was like being introduced to the finer points of alchemy, only with cheese.

I say cheese with a big dollop of awe there because, until said lessons in mixing and weighing and learning how to control my fear of not dropping those great big brown mixing bowls when washing up (you know the ones I mean), I didn't know you could actually put it in things.

Honestly, I thought it just came with bread and pickled onions. Until that point, I'd never heard of pizza, lasagne or cheesy scones. But make them we did, and I promptly took them home for my grandfather to pretend to nibble at before they were thrown over the fence for the horses to do their worst with.

I've never been much of a cook, but those lessons were certainly more enjoyable than double maths or single geography - until you dropped the brown bowl or, worse still, set yourself on fire.

Both of which happened to me, and I felt the full wrath of the formidable cookery teacher - the Master Baker and first nerve ending stirrer of my educational life.

I stupidly tied my apron at the front, a definite no-no in a class of safety reprobates who liked to make a meal out of our hour at the hobs.

I was there, enthusiastically stirring chewing gum-white sauce, when I felt warm.

That I remember very clearly. Thinking no more about it, but guilelessly wondering who'd shut the windows when I could clearly see they were open, I got on with the task at hand.

Then I saw smoke. I stirred some more.

Then I started to cough. I stirred again.

Then Julia Kelly started to scream and the next thing I knew I'm standing there dripping wet, spatula still in hand, after she'd thrown a big brown bowl full of water over me and my flaming apron.

Apparently I'm still lauded as an example of how not to do it in introduction to cookery lessons in schools across Blaenau Gwent - tie aprons that is.

My other abiding memory of those lessons came shortly afterwards.

We were often asked to take the most ridiculous and often costly ingredients in. One day, however, a friend told the teacher she wouldn't be doing cookery any more.

She said her father, a miner, was on strike and the family didn't really have any spare money to spend on buying rubbish like grenadine and soy sauce that week.

It certainly wouldn't have fed a family of five who were struggling to make ends meet as it was.

I've never forgotten that day when my friend, a shy and polite child, stood up and attempted to be counted, conducting her own campaign of solidarity with her father and a small mining community in the Valleys.

It made us all ask some tough questions at home that night.

Elsewhere, of course, other women were doing what they could to support the miners' strike of 1984, and you can read some of their stories on page 4.

Those stories are nothing short of inspirational - just like that of a wise 11-year-old girl who did what she could to make a stand in the harshest of times.


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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 7, 2009
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