Since I've taken over running a department, one of my new watchwords is 'fast'. Another is 'convenience'

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Gemma Those of you who are kind enough to read this column regularly will know I'm rather proud of my household management skills. I was a domestic goddess long before the phrase was invented. For me, housework has always been a wonderful stress relief from the pressures of teaching.

Gemma text = I know it sounds crazy, but scrubbing floors has a pleasantly exhausting effect and, hey, you can't worry about your threshold application when you're crashed out on the sofa, dribbling in front of EastEnders. Making misshapen fairy cakes gives a sense of self-satisfaction you just can't get from completing a set of marking, knowing that another one is on the way once the Year 11 exam guilt sets in.

Unfortunately, all this has changed since I took over running a department.

Now one of my new watchwords is "fast". Another is "convenience". But my favourite, taken from a brilliant new cookbook I've just discovered, is "no-cook". Don't ask me how "no-cook" relates to cookery, because I haven't had time to read the book yet; they need to bullet point it for me. It's not so much that being a head of department has meant I have too little time to do the things I love. It's just that my limited free time has become even more precious, and I've finally realised that furiously defrosting the freezer at unnecessarily regular intervals shouldn't take top priority.

I must admit, I always looked down on the whole concept of convenience cooking. There were certain aisles I didn't deign to visit when I was pushing my trolley around Tesco on a Thursday night. The lanes marked "frozen pizzas" and "convenience meals" seemed to be the domain of the permanently frazzled who obviously didn't prioritise sufficiently to have seven neatly packaged and labelled meals in the freezer ready to unload on cue. But I'm expanding into new territories. Now, no one is more eager to find out what exciting surprises Tesco's Finest has to offer. I'm constantly fascinated by the variety of complex meals you can fit into a plastic tray or foil tin, ready for those nights when your meetings seem to last that little bit too long. I've realised that the people who use convenience foods aren't blind to the joys of cordon bleu; they've just woken up to the pleasures of someone doing it for them. And OK, maybe a four-cheeses pizza out of a packet ain't exactly The Ivy, but what it lacks in nourishment, it makes up for in cost-effectiveness.

There's the guilt of course. As I'm merrily whacking yet another tray into the oven that looks suspiciously like it would feel at home in the galley of a jumbo jet, I worry that maybe, as the woman of the house, I should be providing something that looks as if I've taken that extra bit of care. I'm sure my male head of department colleagues don't feel this way. I actually ended a presentation the other week by saying I had to finish quickly because I couldn't concentrate until I'd gone out and bought something for my husband's supper. I don't think it added much to my professional reputation, but nothing much does these days.

I did a bit of tentative prodding with my other half to see if he'd noticed anything about our household routine that had changed over the past few months. "Yes," he said, "you've changed your cooking." I felt the divorce lawyers circling overhead. He continued. "I like it. Much better than what you used to do before." Fantastic. Here's to the death of the domestic goddess.

Gemma Warren is head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email:

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