In posting this, I don’t want to make kitsch of hunger, the haunting reality of which lies beneath the fabulous staging, filming and ingenious rhyming of “question” with “indigestion” in this scene from the musical film “Oliver!” This was a major movie in my childhood, so of course I think of it when “gruel” comes up in conversation.
Cooking dinner a few nights ago, I heard on the radio Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg referring to Cameron’s suggested EU reforms as “pretty thin gruel.”
I guess this phrase means meager, and a mockery of something that could be proferred in better form. I don’t know about the EU reforms, I have all sorts of different opinions, but I’d never heard this expression before. I’m going to start using it whenever I can.
(Also just learned the phrase “the pips will squeak” as in “We will squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeak.” Will try to use find uses for this figure of speech too.)
I do associate gruel with Victorian workhouses (the “Oliver!” brainwash), but of course it would go way back as a grain soup thinned as far as necessitated by scarcity or poverty. And it can be make thicker as in a porridge, and dolled up with butter, and dried fruits, and perhaps sweetened or made savoury as seems to be a chef-trend these days, in which the well-off eat well yet food insecurity in UK households and child poverty is increasing. The “thin gruel” Cameron should be called up on is his government’s pretentious effort to claim to be concerned about children and poverty. Austerity policies mean the pips are really going to squeak as kids go to bed and school squeezed by that feeling of not-enough and under-nutrition. That’s called hunger. Our mental images of Oliver Twist asking “Please Sir, I want some more” are a nostalgic version of a clear, documented need now, if we choose to see and respond to that hunger.