The Tom Diaries

Rosebery, 1937

Tom thinks he’d quite like to be a dog as he sprawls on the spiky grass next to Blackie drinking from his old tin dish. The water’s murky and warm with little floaties in it, but the dog’s not bothered, so Tom keeps lapping. Ants nip at his toes and his bum itches from his woollen pants.

‘Piss off ants,’ he says, slapping at his feet.

Buzzing cicadas remind him of his hunt for the prized Black Prince, a cicada so rare he can trade it for lollies or ice cream—two of the little buggers earns him a peek at Jack’s sister Dorothy in the bath. She’s twelve and already has boobs, only small ones, but still.

So far this summer Tom’s only found the greeny-brown cicadas, stupid Green Grocers. They were everywhere before Christmas but they’ve disappeared now, leaving their crispy shells behind, like ghost insects clinging to the bark.

‘Thomas John O’Malley! Get your face out of the dog’s bowl right this minute!’ his mother yells from the back door.

She waits, hands on hips, for Tom to move. She’s wearing her cotton housedress, no stocking and no shoes. Her cheeks are flushed and a lock of dark hair sticks to her forehead. Blackie sits up and scratches behind his ear. Tom pushes back from the bowl and spits a mouthful of water onto the grass.

‘Come inside and wash your face and hands.’

Ettie’s halfway through a batch of puftaloons; Tom watches as she drops the doughy blobs into hot oil, then out on to baking paper to cool. He drowns them in golden syrup and shovels them in two at a time, gulping milk to cool his tongue.

‘They’re good mum,’ he says with his mouth full of food, ‘can I take some over to Jack’s?’ He empties his glass and belches a long melodic burp, earning himself a clip over the ear from his mother.

‘Alright, but only two, leave the rest for your father’s tea.’


Puftaloons (Fried Scones)

1 cup self-raising flour
pinch salt
1/2 cup milk
clarified fat


Sift flour and salt.  Add milk nearly all at once, and make into a soft dough. Turn onto a floured board and knead slightly.  Press out about 1/s inch thick. Cut with a small round cutter. Make a small quantity of clarified fat moderately hot in a small frying pan.  Put the puftaloons in and fry gently until golden brown underneath, then turn with a knife and cook till the other side is browned,  Drain on absorbent paper.  Serve hot with honey, syrup or jam.


Source: Commonsense Cookery Book, first published in 1914.




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