Home' LOTL : October 2009 Contents 20 LOTL Magazine • lotl.com
our mother came to me not even
knowing how to boil an egg!”
was something my dad liked to
say. So when, at 11, I was offered a choice of
high school cou rses you’ll not be surprised to
learn that he chose Needlework & Housewif-
ery for me.
In the grey, stainless steel of the school
kitche ns I learnt such fascinating stuff as ho w
to make starch (instead of buying it in a can
from the supermarket), how to spend hours
making a vegetable stock (instead of having it
in ready-to-use cubes o n the pantry sh elf) and
hundreds of other useless hints and tips that
I’ve never used from that day to this.
Unsurprisingly our Domestic Science
teacher had a difficult time holding our at-
tention and when she was particularly hard-
pressed she’d say with an unattractive leer,
“Remember, girls, the way to a man ’s h eart is
through his stomach.”
Now ... if she’d told me that boiling fish
heads for hours to make the finest stock for a
bouillab aisse would blow my girlfriend’s hair
back, well then it might have been a different
story. And I might well have become a do-
But sadly in 1963 there was so much het-
erosexism around, so much focus on women
pleasing men, and girls pleasing boys, that us
lesbians were simply left to find our own way
forward in the housewifery dep artment.
I remember my first practical exam as if it
were yesterday. We’d all drawn “lots” (men-
us) and from them we had to write up a time-
table of preparation ensuring that everything
came on the table at the same time.
The exam was three hours long and the
timetable went something like 9:00 – 9:06
Trim fl ower stalks and arrange in v ase; 9:06
9:08 Throw away trimmed stalks and wash
down surface; 9:08 – 9:10 Measure out ingre-
dients for bread; 9:10 – 9:13 Mix bre ad dough
and set aside to prove; and on and on it went.
I have wh at’s known as a “lazy eye” which,
in my case, is a right eye 10 times as long-
sighted as the left. Going undetected and un-
corrected for years, it simply gave up trying
to work in unison with the left eye, effectively
leaving me with one working eye.
Never having had twenty-twenty vision it
really wasn’t too bad except when it came to
judging distance s or measuring p erceptions.
I often over- or un der-filled cup s of tea, cut
too-thick slices of b read o r too-thin slices of
So on looking at my practical exam menu
of “Tea for four con sisting of tea, savoury
mousse, bread rolls, anchovy toast and but-
termilk sp onge with chocolate icing” I knew
that probably the most tricky thing for me
would be cutting the slices of bread for the
anchovy toast to the right thickness.
It worried me en ormously. And I sliced my
way through all the bread I could find with
ne’er two slices coming out at the same thick-
ness. And never once, un fo rtunately, did I
practice making a perfect mousse or a superb
On the day of the exam I started off okay
beginning on the dot of 9:00am but then I cut
my thumb badly when trying to pare down
a slice of bread that was way too thick. It
wasn’t the pain so much as the bloody mess
it’d left on my one decent bread-slice. I
hoped that, in toasting, the blood might
blend but it didn’t. So the best I could do
was disguise it in whirls and curls of crea-
tively spread anchovy paste.
And then there was the buttermilk sponge
debacle. It hadn’t risen one iota in the oven.
And, although baked through, the two halves
were still as flat as when I’d put them in. Un-
daunted, and ever creative, I slapped a ton of
apricot jam on the bottom, placed the other
half on top and smothered the whole in a
thick layer of magnificently made chocolate
icing. It looked stupendous!
The trick, of course, lay in preventing the
invigilator from cutting it. Not a problem
for one such as me who, apart from being
a young lesbian and well versed in the art
of deception, was gifted with the gab. And
her hand was stayed when I told her, through
tears, that I had promised the cake to my
mother and her bridge-playing friends. And
how rude, how unacceptable in mum’s up-
per-class bridge circle, to serve a cake with
a slice removed!
The cake remained un-sliced and my ef-
forts rewarded with a higher grade p ass and
four more years of drudgery in the school
The upshot of that training was a lifelong
aversio n to housework, a horror of chapped
hands and a complete inability to make starch.
And, of course, I’ve never really cared at all
about the way to a man’s heart.
But sadly in 1963
there was so much
much focus on
men, and girls
pleasing boys, that
us lesbians were
left to find our own
way forward ...
High school home economics prepared Barbara Castle-Farmer for a career as a lesbian.
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