Like most parents, I can only look on with admiration and pride as I watch my children making their way into the world of work and remember with amusement my own foray into London and that important first job. During my last year at school, I lived in Salisbury with my grandmother. She had to be admired as a single parent working for the Post Office and bringing up her only child, my mother. But as kind and nurturing as she was, it was quite clear in an unsaid way that she expected me to be self supporting as soon as I left school.
At sixteen, I remember sitting in a wood-panelled library, spring sunshine streaming through the window, meticulously sifting through a thick book, entitled “Careers for Girls”, pen and paper in hand. With no internet and no computer, I wrote my ‘filters’ at the top of the page. They were simple – travel and money – in that order. Then letters had to be written and a reply had to be waited for. Those were the days when the sound of the post plopping onto the mat was considered exciting.
My first ‘application’ was for a trainee position to be a purser on a P&O cruise liner. It was rejected out of hand. In 1968, the only positions the company offered women were those of chambermaids, and I had already worked out that I hated housework. The second application was for an ‘A’ level entry trainee to the Standard Bank.
Banking would never have been my first choice as I’d only scraped through my Maths O level, and neither had I achieved A levels. But the thought of a posting in a foreign country was motivation enough to apply. I was duly invited to interview in the City and travelled up by train in a scratchy, light beige tweed suit bought especially for the occasion. I don’t remember the interview, but the notes said it was obvious that I was a ‘nicely brought up girl’ and therefore could be considered a suitable applicant for the position of the bank’s first female management trainee.
With a job sorted out, the next stage was finding somewhere to live. Due to my mother’s wartime exploits in the WRAF, the RAF Benevolent Fund had paid for my school fees. I hoped that if I found somewhere ‘suitable’, they might consider paying my first months rent. The answer to ‘suitable’ appeared in the domestic advertisements of The Lady magazine – a women-only hostel in Queensgate; five pounds a week for a bed in a shared room with four other girls. It passed RAF scrutiny and my place was secured.
Next, I had to focus on what to do for the next two months until the bank traineeship started in September. The Lady again came up trumps and soon I was volunteering in a Dr. Barnardo’s Home, deep in the Sussex countryside. This wasn’t from any altruistic tendency on my part, just a way of being kept through the summer until work proper started. It also had the added advantage of five pounds a month for expenses – all of which I managed to save. This experience didn’t increase my liking of small children and my end of term report stated that my apparent lack of attention to detail when mopping the bathroom floors would inhibit me from succeeding greatly in life. Condemned at just seventeen!
Life began in earnest when I reached the grimy streets of South Kensington. My eleven pounds a week salary had to cover hostel rent, tube fares, clothing, and food. Breakfast was included in the rent. I never missed toast or cereal or both, slugged down with big cups of milky, sweet tea. Breakfast became and still is the most important meal of my day. The Bank provided employees with luncheon vouchers, but they were mostly saved for big blow outs at the end of the month in Lyons Corner House – the highlight of my swinging London. But like many girls of my age, I was ambivalent about food. It was necessary, but not something to be savoured. We’d been brought up that way. As children, we ate what was put in front of us, and if we didn’t eat it, we weren’t allowed anything else. At home, if spinach was on the menu it was cunningly followed by a fruit crumble. You ate the first and then you could eat the second. Simple.
So that first year of work, I was always trying to get by without spending money on food. I used the occasional luncheon voucher in the office canteen but jumped at any invitation out to lunch. I confess to the #MeToo generation that I would calculatedly accept invitations from married men at lunchtime but never in the evening. A very youthful John Major bought me my first light and lime at the Square Rigger pub; he wasn’t married at the time but was very earnest about his work for Lambeth council and his passion for cricket – neither of which interests I shared.
After work, I would spend many an evening in the pub with friends nursing a half pint. After payday, there were the occasional suppers; scorching curries following the pub; treats of three course meals at the Stockpot in Earls Court lit by candles stuck in Mateus Rose bottles; or best of all (for which I would give up anything more substantial), a chocolate nut sundae from my local Wimpy Bar in Gloucester Road. The thick glass dish scooped high with white, indeterminate ice cream, dripping with a thin dark chocolate sauce and sprinkled with toasted chopped nuts was my nirvana and I made it last as long as possible. The idea that a half pint of beer followed by an ice cream sundae could be a good night out is probably laughable today, but at least I never went to work with a hangover – that happened much later.
To this day, I’m still a Chocolate Nut Sundae aficionado, but a much fussier one and prefer to make my own. Much of the time I will buy the best quality, French vanilla ice cream I can find, but this time I decided to make my own, using the best of Cornish cream and milk, gold top all the way. As I had packets of macadamia nuts squirrelled away in the store cupboard from a Kenyan trip, I incorporated these after caramelising them into a nut brittle. Over time my family’s favourite chocolate sauce has been one made from ‘ Mars Bars ‘ so I cannot not include this, as it was my family who bought me the ice cream maker in the first place but as of yet, they haven’t reaped the benefits.
NB: I used the same quantities and method as I did for my coffee ice cream, as there seems little point in reinventing a wheel that worked.
Chocolate Macadamia Nut Sundae
Serves four to six, Preparation time approximately 60mins. This will depend greatly on which ice cream maker you are using. With the Kitchen Aid, the ice cream attachment has to sit in the freezer overnight to reach the required temperature.
600ml full fat cream milk – if you are American the equivalent is half and half.
6 medium egg yolks
60g golden caster sugar
600ml clotted cream
3 vanilla pods
80 grams macadamia nuts
80 grams caster sugar
Prepare the nuts first by heating the sugar in a thick bottomed saucepan until it melts into a golden brown liquid. Mix in the nuts well and lay out on a baking sheet covered with lightly oiled greaseproof paper. Leave to cool, then place the caramelised nuts in a thick plastic or paper bag and smash with a hammer/rolling pin into smaller pieces – not too small, you don’t want crumbs.
To Make the Ice Cream.
I use a Kitchen Aid attachment bowl for ice cream which needs to be left in the freezer, ready to roll until just before churning. Put a ceramic or glass bowl in the fridge to chill for 20 mins before you start (this will help prevent the custard from curdling).
Pour the milk into a jug and scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods into it. Heat in the microwave until warm, but don’t allow it to boil. Leave this for twenty minutes to take on the full vanilla flavour ( you can leave the pods in as well but I use them to make vanilla sugar by popping them in the caster sugar jar).
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Gradually whisk in the milk, then strain through a sieve into a heavy bottomed pan.
Cook over a low heat, stirring, until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon – again do not allow to boil.
Pour into the chilled bowl, place in fridge and leave to cool. Then beat the cream into the custard. At this point, I remove the KitchenAid’s ice cream bowl from the freezer, fit it onto the stand, run it on its lowest setting and carefully pour the custard/cream mix into the mixer and churn it for 15 mins.
Add in the broken nut brittle and keep churning for another two minutes. Manufacturer’s Instructions will vary on how to do this. I then turn it out into plastic boxes with a lid and place in the freezer to further firm up – this takes approximately 20 mins.
Mars Bar CHOCOLATE SAUCE
2 Mars bars chopped into small chunks
Place a bowl over a pan of simmering water, place the chunks of chocolate with a dessertspoonful of rum (you can add more or leave this out if you want). When melted, add and mix in enough double cream to make a thick, slightly lumpy sauce, it shouldn’t be completely smooth. Keep warm to serve.
Nibbed toasted nuts to taste
To serve. I don’t have coupe or sundae glasses, but these would be perfect, especially if you freeze them before serving. A couple of large scoops of ice cream in the bottom, topped with lukewarm chocolate sauce and a sprinkle or two of toasted nuts. If you really want to go for it, add a piping or two of whipped cream, but for my tastes that is a step too far.