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Lemn Sissay: ‘We sneaked into the larder one night and had a midnight food fight’

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The poet remembers a childhood with foster parents and in a children’s home, and how he now tries to give good food memories to other kids in care

My strict Baptist foster parents, who were white and based all their decisions on religion, lived in Atherton [in Lancashire], which I loved, with its Wednesday market, Mrs Jolly’s corner shop, Mr English’s Chippy and the butcher’s where I got my first Saturday job at 11, scraping clean the butcher’s block with a metal brush.

My foster mother was the food-maker and I remember a lot of stress in the kitchen. She guarded the hob with her stress. She’d often get burnt with spit from the frying pan and I didn’t like her getting hurt. I loved it when she offered the cake-making bowl to scrape clean. The height of sophistication was an arctic roll on Sunday, when no TV was allowed.

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