No mother, wrote Roald Dahl in his childhood memoir Boy, would send her son off to prep school without, at the very least, the following in his tuck box: a home-made currant cake, a packet of squashed-fly biscuits, a couple of oranges, an apple, a banana, a pot of strawberry jam or Marmite, a bar of chocolate, a bag of Liquorice Allsorts, and a tin of Bassett’s lemonade powder. To these, a boy would add ‘all manner of treasures’, such as magnets, pocket knifes, balls of string, clockwork racing cars, lead soldiers, tiddlywinks, catapults, stink bombs and Mexican jumping beans. One boy in Dahl’s class at St Peter’s in Weston-super-Mare drilled an air hole in his pinewood tuck box and kept a pet frog, which he fed with slugs.
I never, not for a minute, not even in my most ardent Malory Towers phase, wanted to go away to boarding school. But, my goodness, I wanted a tuck box. With my initials stencilled on the lid and the key in my pocket. A school trunk, too. One solid enough to sit on at train stations, with brass corner covers and a cabin-lock lid. A tidy child, I had a passion for putting things in boxes, and the trunk and the tuck box were boxes on a grand scale. You might have thought that the wheelie suitcase had done for the heavy, unwieldy school trunk. But when it comes to the First Day of School, the trunk still beats the suitcase and rucksack. ‘They’re a bugger to carry, though,’ says one old Wykehamist, who boarded from eight to 18. He reports that the sport his boarding house excelled at was sledging down the stairs in a trunk, using the banisters to swing round corners and with spectacular crashes against the wall at the bottom.