Virginia Barton

21 February 2016: Pobs


21 February 2016


Porridge is the fashionable breakfast these days. Smart London eats it, and stick thin models, and celebs. Also quite ordinary people like my children.

After the war my father had porridge oats sent to London from Sparket Mill way up on the fells of Ullswater in Cumberland. The oats brought with them gusts of nostalgia; the raw article having the most delicious smell, far more tempting than the taste of cooked version. It arrived in a sack to be kept on bricks on the floor of the freezing cold larder which was too cold even for mice.

jailhouse-mugOf course there were mice, everyone had mice. You don’t see them nowadays – rats yes, but not dear little brown mice; I remember discovering a snug nest-full in the spare room mattress.

The porridge oats lasted for weeks in that sack, scooped out as needed with an old enamel mug – also an “on trend” item these days.


My mother, wisely, never got up for breakfast (unless we were abroad) and NEVER had porridge. Repeated cups of freshly-made tea and slices of white bread and butter nicely arranged on a tray were carried up to her room.

We children were obliged to have porridge for breakfast every day before going to school. Daddy referred to it as “Pobs”, and made it himself. He soaked the oats overnight, then cooked them very slowly in a double boiler next morning. He was always experimenting, sometimes cooking them all night instead of soaking them; sometimes using milk instead of water. What a palaver for such a dreary dish; and what a beastly pan to clean afterwards, specially if it “caught”.

My father had been through two world wars and never wasted a thing, from tiny lengths of string, miscellaneous screws, nuts, paper clips, old envelopes, and rubber bands. He boiled his own glue and could strip a car engine or a clock and put it together again. He was a dab hand with a camping Calor gas stove and made superb tea on one, in a howling gale, in the lea of Hadrian’s Wall.


At this late stage (57 years married) I feel guilty that BH has never had porridge for HIS breakfast. Who knows what ills might have been avoided with a daily bowl of the stuff?

Who can suggest a tip-top porridge recipe, quick but nutritious — and please, not that grey powdery dust you mix with water and cook in the micro for 20 secs. It is symptomatic of 2016 that everything must be done at lightning speed. Yes my Dad would have embraced technology but not to the extent of sacrificing taste, texture, scent and yes, “the old ways.”

I think I’m a chip off the old block, although I have given up keeping lengths of string shorter than 10 inches.






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