Day 91

More blancmange, anyone?

Things, as Uncle Bob points out in this song, have changed.

When you and I were young, Horatio, twas not as it is now, and twill never be again. {What’s with the Horatio bit, PointyHead?} (You again! Did you just call me PointyHead?) {Yeah, you were a bit full-on in the Comments there the other day.} (I don’t do the Comments – that’s one of the PhD students, on a rota basis.)

Horatio, for the benefit of Miss Onimous and other ignorami, is the correct answer to the following examination question:

Finish off this well-known quotation from Shakespeare: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him …”

11+, second paper, 1978

Now, 83.4% of respondents surveyed will stick in the word ‘well’ to finish off that quotation, and march off into the sunset very pleased with themselves and with the obvious quality of the education they ingested from an outdated system. They will never know that their answer is wrong as they will be too smug and self-satisfied to actually check the results.

Speaking of ingesting dubious matter from an outdated system, when I was young, school dinners were a thing to be endured rather than enjoyed. There was a certain intellectual challenge to them, certainly, in the shape of victims trying to work out exactly what they were being asked to eat: the shape, smell and colour of the blob of ‘meat’ on the plate usually gave very little clue as to the animal from whence it had come. Then there was the system of table servers at our school which meant that – although said servers were tasked with dishing out the gruel in equal proportions to the other eight pupils at their table – there was always an element of surprise pertaining to the amount of the almost inedible stuff that would end up on your plate. None of this individual queuing and choosing your own dish of the day at my old school, you see. As in any prison, when the food hatches opened, the warders (usually a couple of Christian Brothers) would direct the two servers from a row of tables to come forward, collect two steel containers of ‘food’ from the hatch and bring them back down to their tables for distribution. It was only when they arrived back at the table and took the lids from the containers that the inmates found out what the day’s punishment was to be. Depending on the content thereof, sometimes it was quite the bonus to be ‘starved’ by the servers.

I was an infrequent attendee at school dinners, and therefore a much sought-after table guest and not likely to be starved. Because, should there be too many absentees at any table on any given day, one of the CBs would break up the table, leaving all the seatees – servers included – to scramble around the canteen trying to find an empty seat at a different table, preferably one at which they would actually be offered some food by the resident, malignant servers. Wandering servers were maliciously, and deliciously, treated very badly under this system, and serves them right [Oh, well done there! – Ed.] for their behaviour when in dictatorial control of their own tables. So, on the odd occasion when I would dander into the canteen for a school dinner, there was usually a plethora of offers from servers at tables with an empty seat at them, and an abundance of promises that I would not be starved should I choose their particular table. So I could pick and choose, and was not normally subjected to the parsimonious distribution of food meted out to resident seatees.

Even so, the fare on offer was poor stuff. Particularly the desserts. Blancmange is a near cognate of blandness in my book, but it was the slop called rice pudding that took me to the fair. Actually it took me out the door early for my post-meal smoke, and I would graciously donate my share of the cold, wallpaper paste to the table – which usually meant both servers got 47.3% of it each. I blame my Ma: the food served at home was of such high quality that I could not really stomach more than the very occasional visit to the canteen. Even her sandwiches in the packed lunches she prepared were of much higher nutritional, aesthetic and educational value that the hot(ish) meal provided at an extortionate price by the institution.

But all of that is out the window now, apparently. From what I can glean from a quick glance at the News, school dinners are now of such high quality, and so sought after, that pupils are demanding them – get this – even when they are not at school. Can you fathom that? Even though they have been at home for three months or so now, modern pupils refuse to be denied the delights of modern school dinners and have demanded that the service continue during the Kerfuffle.

Yesterday their campaign went one step further, and incidentally added to the absurd illogicality of this brave, new world. The pupils, in what can only be described as an imaginative revolutionary gesture, have demanded school dinners when they are off school during the Summer. You have to admire their balls. [That’s enough about the Christian Brothers thanks – Ed.] What will they ask for next? Homework during the Christmas holidays? Maths lessons at the weekends? Detention on Sundays? There is no telling where this campaign will end up, given that it has started from such an improbable place.

Boris danced about a bit like the circus bear he is before giving in to this demand for school dinners when there is no school on. He had no choice, really, because of the colour of the skin of the spokesman the hungry pupils elected on their behalf. Marcus Rashford is black, you see, and in the current climate, black people can do no wrong and are all latter-day saints. Which is actually a racist attitude, as those of you paying attention will recognise.

The fact that Mr Rashford could afford to pay for the Summer school dinners out of his own ridiculous salary as a soccer player seems to have escaped the notice of the government, which has instead decided to meet the cost with my money. And yours, if you pay taxes.

But I really must try one of these new school dinners that are in such demand. I just hope it is not rice pudding for dessert.