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Does the Waitrose student exist?

PUBLISHED: 09:50 18 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:15 18 September 2018

Yes, chef! Lynne Mortimer doing midday service at a restaurant without the aid of cyder vinegar, rose harissa or swiss bouillon powder... Picture: Alex Fairfull

Yes, chef! Lynne Mortimer doing midday service at a restaurant without the aid of cyder vinegar, rose harissa or swiss bouillon powder... Picture: Alex Fairfull

A store cupboard with organic soya sauce and rose harissa doesn’t sound like an average student shop... pass the ketchup.

I love shopping at Waitrose.

Okay, I sometimes have to barge my way through a line of people queuing for their free coffees. Despite having my own Waitrose get-a-free-coffee card I do not avail myself of the beverage (a) because I can’t be bothered (b) because I don’t want to queue − I did enough of that when my nana and I used to shuffle along in line for hours to collect the Co-op divi − and (c) because I don’t want to walk around the store pushing a trolley with one hand and clutching a coffee cup in the other.

But I do really love it there. It never smells of over-ripe Camembert and the people who work there are truly helpful. The store recently caused some hilarity, however, with its suggestions of five essential food cupboard items for students to take to college with them.

These were: Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon Powder £2; Aspall Organic Cyder £1.70; Waitrose Organic Italian Seasoning £1.89; Belazu Rose Harissa £4.35, and Clearspring Organic Tamari Soya Sauce £3.15.

How did I survive three years at university without any of the above? It’s a miracle I’m still here.

Waitrose appears to have chosen these items for their longevity and general usefulness when, for example, rustling up a quick dinner party for the Bullingdon Club.

I also love shopping at Sainsbury (and Tesco and Asda and Aldi... I’m not proud).

This may be just me, stereotyping the student population but many students have never had to cook for themselves before this. Until the point they are dropped off at their student quarters, they have relied on their parents to provide food, ready prepared. They may have experience of reading and executing microwave instructions (remove sleeve, pierce film etc) from the back of ready meals but not so much in the way of preparing from scratch.

On a scale of one to 10 where one is making toast and 10 is a lemon soufflé, my kids were about a three when they went to college. At level three they are unlikely to be using organic cyder vinegar when eating their takeaway fish and chips − Asda malt vinegar is 29p for 568ml... or you can sprinkle it on for free at the chippie. As for soy sauce, you can get one (non-organic) brand for £1.30 in Tesco. A lifetime commitment to organic food can be temporarily suspended during the impoverished student years.

By contrast, Sainsbury’s list of student staples is as follows: Salt and pepper, dried pasta, rice, dried noodles, tea, coffee, sugar, long-life milk, condiments (ketchup/mayo/mustard/jam/honey), chopped tomatoes, oil, dried herbs/spices, vinegar, baked beans, tinned tuna, tinned soup, biscuits, stock cubes, pasta sauce, cereal. That is, if I may say so, more like it.

At a push, I could live without rose harissa but red ketchup? I don’t think so.

In 1973 my student flatmate, Nancy, was very into Welsh rustic and on her cooking days we would often “enjoy” a potato and leek bake with mixed herbs. Warming, filling and cheap - this was proper student fare and her dad was a bank manager.

Student essentials back then included a corkscrew with an attachment for getting into a tin of Watneys Party Seven and... no, that’s it. Occasionally one of the tutors or postgrad students would contribute a bottle of wine, something sophisticated like Mateus rosé or Blue Nun. Both of these are still available, I believe, with Blue Nun very big in Norway and the Mateus in most supermarkets for around £5.50 − still a student bargain although maybe not as sophisticated in 2018 as it was in 1973.

And now you must excuse me, I’m off to find out what the devil you’re supposed to do with rose harissa. I can no longer live without it.

n Maggy from Kedington got in touch after I wrote about getting bitten... by bugs. She writes: “I was most interest to read insects like the taste of you too - I get bitten regularly especially in bed. I imagine the spiders who patrol the bedroom when I am asleep look down and think ‘ah, the 
hot dinner has arrived’ and scramble up under my nightie for a feast as, many mornings, I wake up to find an itchy bite in the most awkward places, while my husband wakes up untouched. I think you and I must have particularly tasty blood!

In the continuing revelations about what makes people laugh, Maggy also adds that she doesn’t find John Cleese or Morecambe and Wise funny.

Mrs Rose of Bury St Edmunds wrote in to say she was also 
happy to discover she wasn’t the only person in Britain who didn’t find Monty Python or Fawlty Towers funny and regular correspondent Cherry, of Aylsham, who never much liked Harry Worth (younger readers will need to Google him), alleges she has a “funny sense of humour... I remember sitting through a Norman Wisdom 
film at the cinema with my brother and I was the only one 
not laughing.”

Cherry shares a story she once read in a humorous article that did make her laugh. “There was a story about a man who liked to play the harp but couldn’t, because of his long nose. This made me laugh but no one at work thought it was funny.”

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