When the rest of us were frequenting the tuck shop for a Taz or Freddo, somewhere in Berkshire there was a queue for Eton Mess.
Yes, they really did sell it in the tuck shop. And yes, a Freddo was 10 pence in my day. And no, I’m not sure “my day” was that long ago yet that I can really call it “my day”.
Eton Mess is the poshest way possible to eat strawberries. It makes the bowls at Wimbledon look lamentably lower-class, and their devourers downright destitute.
It’s a simple combination of strawberries, broken meringue, and whipped cream, but it is so much more than merely the sum of its parts. It’s a class thing. You wouldn’t understand.
First referenced in print in 1893, Eton Mess is a classic English dessert, and like its pals Trifle, Victoria Sponge, and Summer Pudding, Eton Mess’ winning formula is its simplicity.
Being called Eton Mess kind of helps too. Who’s up for some smashed up pavlova in a glass? No? But let me guess, it’s a yes to Eton Mess? Oh bless. But not cress. Or Jess in a dress playing chess, but I digress.
Lancing College wanted in on the act because they’re posh compared to common people, so they created a Lancing Mess. It’s the same as Eton Mess, but with bananas. I don’t know why that sounds so pathetic, it just does.
Eton College is not just responsible for a Mess with a capital M, but it also educated nineteen British Prime Ministers.
At over £12k a term (and there are three a year), it’s not surprising that so many Old Etonians are well known.
Politicians have rubbed schoolboy shoulders with the likes of George Orwell, Ian Fleming, and Aldous Huxley. Royals have passed notes in class with Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, and Damian Lewis. And Boris Johnson also attended.
Captain Hook is an Old Etonian, as is James Bond, and arguably the best author of all time - John Le Carré (runners up include Len Deighton and Martin Cruz Smith. Honourable mention for Mark Forsyth) - was a teacher of French and German at Eton before he joined MI5.
Notable Old Reigations, excluding myself, include Keir Starmer, Ray Mears, and Fatboy Slim. David Walliams also went there, but there’s always one who slips through the net. I think they’re called scholarships.
There’s no Reigate Mess though - not even like the Lancing version but with grapes or something. We southern ruffians had to make do with a Wagon Wheel and a Sunny Delight. That is until the school decided the annual photo would be ruined if we all got fat, and your mum read that article about the kid who drank so much Sunny D that they turned yellow, so the tuck shop was shut down, the Cadbury machine was removed, and the school canteen went heavy on the yoghurt and fruit combos.
That was “my day”. And it was so much better than today.