Back in the seventies the shopping chain Woolworth’s in my home town of Epsom used to have an open cheese counter. One Saturday my mother sent my sister and I with my dad shopping. A rare event in itself. He wanted maggots for bait for his fishing trip on the following Sunday and mum had asked for him to buy some cheese for a cauliflower cheese dish. Knowing that we would be going to Woolworth’s my sister and I had already cajoled dad for a bag of pick and mix sweets on the way out.
Dad purchased the maggots from the fishing shop that used to be at the bottom of the high street. And then we walked in to Woolworths. My sister and I both eying the pick and mix counter with high anticipation of a bag of specially selected sweets on the way out.
Once at the cheese counter my father handed the box of maggots to my sister Karen to hold. Karen with a squeal of disgust flipped the box towards me with the back of her hand saying “No, I don’t want them, you have them” as I put my hand up to deflect the oncoming box my hand hit the lid off and the box rose high into the air. Slowly the contents of maggots swirled like snow flakes down to their resting place on the slabs of uncovered cheese.
Our father meanwhile had sighed with resignation as he had watched the maggots flying through the air. Without a word he walked round the side of the counter, picked the box up that had landed with a clink on the floor and began to pick the maggots up from the buttercup coloured slabs of cheese. The assistant who had stood spellbound by the sight began to assist him, both remained silent as they completed the task.
Meanwhile several customers with their mouth’s open in bemusement stood watching the scene.
My father showed no flicker of embarrassment at all.
When it was apparent that there were no more grubs to be rescued, dad secured the lid on the box, walked back round to stand along side us two girls and then politely said to the assistant. “ Can I have a pound of the extra mature cheddar please?”
Both my sister and I wrinkled our nose’s up and grimaced repulsed at the fact he still bought the cheese that the offending maggots had been resting on, but we remained silent. At the same time knowing all hope of our pick and mix bag was disappearing rapidly.
As if it had been a perfectly normal turn of events the sales assistant cut the cheese and wrapped it in the paper and handed it across the counter to my Dad. With a polite thank you the three of us turned round and walked out of the shop. I glanced mournfully at the sweet counter as we passed. The sweets shone in pretty coloured wrappers like jewels, purple, orange, green , bright red, all dazzling hues protecting the chocolate and sweets hidden within.
That evening my mother cooked dad his favourite meal of cauliflower cheese which he ate with enthusiasm. My dad was half French , of course a few maggots would never put him off eating cheese. Now as an adult I am so glad it was a selection of English hard cheeses that were on display, the sight of a juicy runny camembert with maggots settling in would have been just too much. Neither my sister or I could even stomach the smell let alone taste it. And even today the sight and smell of cauliflower cheese has us both wrinkling our noses’ up and brings back to me the incongruous sight of maggots falling down like fat snowflakes on yellow cheese.