LATELY — 9 August 2001

Milly-Molly-Mandy

Joyce Lankester Brisley, Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories (1928): “And when they got near home it did seem queer for Milly-Molly-Mandy and little-friend-Susan to go straight past the Moggs’ cottage and not have to stop and say good-bye to each other. They squeezed each other’s hand all the rest of the way home to the nice white cottage with the thatched roof, because they felt so pleased.

“When bedtime drew near they had their baths together, just as if they were sisters. And then Milly-Molly-Mandy in her red dressing-gown, and little-friend-Susan in Grandma’s red shawl, sat in front of the fire on little stools (with Toby the dog on one side, and Topsy the cat on the other), while Mother made them each a lid-potato for their suppers.

“First Mother took two well-baked potatoes out of the oven. Then she nearly cut the tops off them–but not quite. Then she scooped all the potato out of the skins and mashed it up with a little salt and a little pepper and a lot of butter. And then she pushed it back into the two potato-skins, and shut the tops like little lids.

“Then Milly-Molly-Mandy and little-friend-Susan were given a mug of milk and a plate of bread-and-butter, and one of the nice warm lid-potatoes. And they opened the potato-lids and ate out of them with little spoons.

“They did enjoy their suppers.”

Out of all the things I read as a kid, this passage was the most mouth-watering. (Our potatoes never seemed to have the right sort of skin for making lids.) It’s still mouth-watering, but now I can’t believe my parents got it for me to read. I also can’t believe that this sort of thing was written, ever. My grandmother was around in 1928, and she’s alive now. But written it indisputably was (and I suppose that for the time this sort of fluff was quite unremarkable) so I suppose I should try for understanding instead of settling at disbelief.

Once upon a time everyone was white, life was uncomplicated, and every day you took to school a lunch box filled with an apple, a ham sandwich, and a slice of chocolate cake. Your parents got married before you were born, and stayed married after it. Milk was delivered to your doorstep, and you could go out leaving your house unlocked. On Sundays there was a roast: that was then, and this is now.

The best meal I ate overseas was one I had at “Dynamo” in Prague. I wrote down what I ate on some cigarette packet foil: Pork Medallions with “Prague” champignons, ham, cream sauce, and “potatoe” pancakes. Apple Juice. Hot Raspberries with vanilla ice-cream. Apricot Brandy. It was so fucking brilliant. I’m not often moved by food, but I do have particularly vivid memories of this meal–and of the raspberries in particular. The address seems to be Pstrossova 220/29. I can’t remember how to interpret the 220/29, and the first “s” in Pstrossova has a wiggle over it.