Porridge Time

The memory came back to me, I don’t know why, as I was driving back home from Galway one afternoon. I remembered an incident from a long time ago – a long-forgotten incident, trivial enough in its own way – from my time spent in HMP Wandsworth, in South London. I was in ‘C’ wing, sharing a cell with a guy whose name I can’t remember now. It was early morning, six o’clock and we’d just been let out of the cells to ‘slop out’. ‘Slopping-out’ being the first event of the day, the event which initiated the unvarying daily routine of prison life. We were back in the cell after slopping out waiting for the arrival of the breakfast trolley, which was the second event of the day. We could hear the trolley, attended by two breakfast screws, coming down the landing, delivering tea, porridge, fried eggs, sausages and white bread on a cell-by-cell basis. All part of the unvarying routine of prison life, as I was saying. The cell doors were left unlocked for this purpose. Just before the trolley reached us there was a loud commotion, a scuffle and muffled shouts, and then the sound of screws running across the metal grill of the landing to lend assistance. The way they always do when there’s an incident. Then we were all locked down in a hurry and breakfast was delayed for a good hour. Later we found out what had happened, the news slowly spreading out across the landing, the way news does in a prison – cell to cell. The bloke in the cell next to us (I forget his name too but we’ll say it was ‘Larry’, just for the sake of the argument) had committed some kind of a strange and unusual act, for want of any better way of putting it. Timing it perfectly, the moment the stainless steel breakfast trolley had reached the door of his cell Larry dashed out, stark bollock-naked, his erect dick in his hand, and promptly ejaculated into the porridge. I presume this eventuality had not been anticipated by the breakfast screws and for this reason they were unable to react effectively in time to prevent it. Quite possibly they were unwilling to get in Larry’s way to do something about it, faced with his evident determination. I can’t really blame them, now that I think about it. I am tempted to make the comment that the screws ‘never saw him coming’ but – strictly speaking – this wasn’t of course true. They did see him coming – with unerring accuracy too – right into God knows how many gallons of turgid lukewarm prison porridge. At the time I remember wondering if this had not perhaps been some kind of grand ironic statement on his part, given the fact that ‘porridge’ – back then – had of course been prison slang for ‘doing time’. Probably there is a different term for it now. Maybe Larry had been a radical ‘social-activist artist’ of sorts, something like a Situationalist or a Dadaist perhaps, and this was him ‘hijacking prison routine’ to make a well thought-out statement. Maybe he was an anarchist and this was an example of what the old-school Situationalists called ‘détournement’. Maybe this was Larry’s inspired way of subverting authority. If this were the case then I take my hat off to him. But on the other hand maybe poor Larry, who was shipped out to another wing later that day, had simply cracked up (like so many do) under the strain of prison life. Either way, the one thing that I can remember is that no one in ‘C’-wing was particularly keen on sampling the porridge when the breakfast trolley finally came around again, about an hour later…






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