… and what do they feed you in hospital? Do you recommend the cuisine?
The food’s quite good. I can’t complain. My bed’s just a few yards from the kitchen, so the smells keep me interested.
Do you get rice pudding?
Rice pudding! I haven’t had that for ages. Of course Mum used to make it for me and the family. Lots of rice, and custard to go on top. The trick was to boil the rice well — for ages — lots of it, and then top it off with a custard — nothing flash, just an egg beaten up, did the trick — that would tart it up. A good feed.
I remember that before you left Marriner Street, when Jean was ill, I sent you a carton of creamed rice to boost the larder, and …
Watties was a good brand, and ‘Aunt Betty’s’ Any rice is good if you tart it up a bit.
With blackberry jam?
No. You’ve remembered it wrong. I liked the Aunt Betty’s brand, that’s true, but I tarted it up with BLACKCURRANT jam. And those cans you sent actually brought back some memories about when I was out in the bush with Dad, logging for Cook’s Mill. Well, Dad and I needed feeding and I got to be the ‘Bush Cook’, and rice was the thing. I had to boil the Dickens out of it, and then we'd could tart it up — liven it, so to speak, with good old blackcurrant jam. That’s the flavour that took my fancy. Blackcurrant was good for rice, or on bread, or toast. What you need to understand is that you could get a slice of bread and toast it over the fire, and put a good smear of butter on it, then liven the whole thing up with a good smear of blackcurrant jam. You need to understand that we had an endless sort of appetite in those days. Bill and I were naughty boys, really piling into the jam — no stinting — or we'd be messing around with guns. It was all part of life. It’s what we did.
Was rice the ultimate pudding?
Well, not really, there was another favourite. Plum pudding. Of course plum pudding was good for the end of the meal and the end of the year, and no-one could make one better than Aunty Florrie. I remember our Christmas dinners in the old College Street house. After everyone had stuffed themselves on the roast, out would come her plum pud, and my grandfather — the old man — Old Phil — he’d hoe in — and then he’d ask for seconds! But that’s not all! He’d have a repeat of the repeat!
I’m like that — three or four helpings of dessert. Perhaps it’s a genetic tendency?
Nature or nurture. Who can tell? Perhaps it’s the ‘Leyland way’? I’ve never had much trouble eating. Of course, some things are essential. Porridge — the secret to a long life — but it must be exactly to your taste, and have salt in it, and be the way you like it. I remember reading about life on a sheep station.‘A River Rules My Life’. The workers were provided accommodation and food, and there was this old Scotsman, Jock or Jack or some-such, who got served his porridge by the cook, and he had a complaint about it. It was too runny, and to him, the essence of good porridge was that he should be able to stand his spoon up in it. So he calls out — shouts in a loud voice — ‘It’s nae porridge!’ So that was his idea of what was proper food. I go more by taste — the correct amount of salt.