At the end of the corridor beyond my cookery rooms is the school flat. In the past, it’s been a storeroom, a sick room, and then SHE WHO RAN AWAY reclaimed it as part of her empire. Some years ago the government decided that housecraft and domestic science were useful subjects to make girls into good housewives and learn to run a home so thousands of housecraft flats were built in schools around the country.
No one lives in my school flat so it is never really dirty.
No one bathes in the turquoise bath, or flushes the turquoise toilet or sleeps in the hard single bed.
No one reads by the electric bar fire, puts their clothes in the bedside cupboard, or skids on the rug on the lino floor.
My school flat is like a tiny home. The one large room has a dining and sitting area, a bed, a small kitchen and a separate bathroom with toilet. It’s bigger than my bedsit and there’s times on stormy winter evenings when I’m tempted to stay and not take the long drive back but it feels a bit spooky to be alone in a locked up school.
Furniture and china suppliers in the 1950s must have rubbed their hands with glee when the housecraft flats needed stocking as they’re all equipped with the same stuff. My flat is furnished with thrifty, imitation G-Plan-style furniture, a sideboard with tapered spindly legs, a foldaway dining table, a set of six thin-legged chairs and plenty of place mats to protect the precious, overpolished, veneered wood surfaces from stains. The narrow single bed has one pillow, a thin mattress topped with precisely mitred, tucked in sheets, and is covered with a pastel green cellular blanket and dark green woven cotton throw.
Someone has customised my school flat with a saggy, red upholstered armchair with broken seat springs, and hung a Boot’s print of the Chinese Girl – her pale turquoise face gazes out into the gloom. The single bar electric fire emits so little heat it is no wonder the Chinese Girl has turned blue.
Whenever I visit the room I want to sing a verse from Pete Seeger’s song Little Boxes.
‘There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same’
The flat is used by my students for Housecraft CSE to learn how to clean a bathroom, polish furniture, Hoover carpets, lay a table and make a bed. I send the girls off in pairs to scrub and clean and discuss the merits of Vim and Johnson’s furniture polish, and learn the famous toilet cleaning ditty –
‘Flush, brush, flush the brush and flush. Altogether now…Flush, brush.. ‘
The trouble is, I’m teaching boys and girls, and cleaning a school flat in the 1970’s does not appeal to any of us. And anyway, the boys can’t be trusted in the flat – out of sight, down a corridor, in a room with a bed. It just spells trouble – in our enforced sex education lessons they say they know it all.
The sooner we get away from this stupid Housecraft exam and study something sensible, the better.
Meantime we must follow our gospel, Cookery for Schools and use the flat to serve a meal and lay the table with freshly ironed tablecloths, napkins, mats and cutlery. And use the stuff in the sideboard which is stacked with dark blue Denby serving dishes and pale green Beryl Ware cups, saucers and plates.
As part of the task, the quiet girls in the class write invitations for lunch to their favourite teachers, send them a copy of the menu, the price and wait for a reply.
This is a summer time lunch menu which the girls prepare in the flat kitchen.
Melon boats, served with a twist of orange, glace cherry and sprinkled with powdered ginger
Quiche Lorraine with coleslaw and piped Duchess potatoes
Fruit salad with a jug of cream
Fresh coffee (made with instant Maxwell House) or tea.
Teachers rather like getting invitations for this lunch and some bring along a bottle of wine to celebrate. The girls make attentive waitresses – water and wine are poured, napkins spread, plates served, cleared and washed. The teachers’ lunch money helps to eke out my paltry food funds and we end up with extra ingredients like double cream to use in our cooking! Kind teachers send a thankyou note and remember to pay for the meal. Forgetful ones don’t get invited again.