Sunday, April 10, 2011

Home is where the chocolate is

Last week St Paul's School had its annual International Day.

Most schools have something similar. It's an opportunity for the children to learn about some other countries, maybe make some models of famous landmarks or native animals or whatever. They spend a couple of weeks doing in-depth research on their chosen country, making posters, writing information sheets and Powerpoint presentations. And on the day itself, there are usually some national foods to try as well. This is exactly what they did at James' first school, back in Cambridge, but then it was hardly surprising they made such a big thing of it when you consider the fact that there were a good twenty or so nationalities represented at the school - it being one where a lot of the foreign visitors to Cambridge University would send their children.

But at St Paul's, International Day is nothing like that. What we get is basically a huge fete, organised by the PTA, with the aim of making a lot of money for charity. There was a large play area for the kids which contained various rides and bouncy castles, and a few other activity areas dotted about the place, but the main focus of the event was in the playground where there was a collection of stalls set out, each one representing a particular country. And the main function of the stalls was to sell things - food and drink primarily, but also various items associated with that country.

As a money-making venture the day was clearly a huge success. I don't actually know how much was raised, but judging by the startlingly high levels of consumption (culinary and financial) I witnessed, I'd say it would have to an awful lot. I think it's a shame the school doesn't make more of the day, getting the children involved and actually teaching them something about the countries whose produce their parents are so eagerly consuming, but that's a matter for another day, and a different soapbox, perhaps.

I actually volunteered to help out on the day. Our friend Richard - who saved us from spending our first New Year's Eve in Brazil sitting at home on our own - was running the UK stall and as we haven't yet managed to invite him and his family round to our house, I thought the least I could do was offer my services for International Day. What I ended up doing was spending most of the day at the back of the stall helping young children make paper crowns covered in colourful jewels and far too much glue. This was actually quite fun - or at least it was for the first few hours. But nine hours without a proper sit down, much of it spent in the baking sunshine, was enough to challenge even my enthusiasm. Still, I did get to wear a fabulously British apron for most of the day - and I got to make my own crown as well!

What I also got to do was eat a fair bit of English food - especially chocolate. There was a lot of it on sale and it seemed like as good a way as any for me to support the cause. English chocolate is nowhere near the best in the world - as the Swiss and Germans will readily tell you - but there's only so much Toblerone you can eat before it starts to get a bit boring (apparently) and sometimes it's nice to slum it a bit and eat something simply because it reminds you of home. So I did. Cadbury's Caramel Eggs, Mini Eggs, Flakes, Chocolate Fingers and proper Jaffa Cakes. I also ate my fair share of Twiglets, but so far their manufacturers have (perhaps wisely) failed to see the charm of coating them in chocolate, so they don't count.

It didn't make me homesick as such - a little sick, perhaps, but not homesick - but it did feel nice eating something so familiar. And it made me make a mental note to bring back a lot more of these kinds of things next time I go back to the UK. Last Christmas I was still a bit nervous about the whole business of getting stuff past Customs (technically you're not supposed to import food of any sort) but I've already started making my list for the next trip and I'll just have to rely on the fact that most Customs officials will tend to ignore stressed-looking parents with tired and grumpy children.

Anyway, that's all for this week and sorry for the lack of photos as well - I forgot to take my camera to International Day and the one photo I did manage to get is still on my iPod - which is with Helen who's up in the North-East on business all this week. I'll add it when I can because I think seeing me in an apron and paper crown is probably worth the wait. In the meantime, here's the top shelf of our fridge.

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