School Dinners

Although I was unaware of it at the time, when I now reflect back on my early childhood in the 1940’s and  50’s, it is not difficult to see how society has changed in it’s attitude towards the education and development of young children. Today children are encouraged to develop their natural talents and self expression apart from the task of learning when at school. My experiences back in “the good old days” were totally different as a form of strict total compliance with the education system was the norm required.

This strict regime even filtered through to school dinners. When I was 7, I normally went home during the dinner break. We call it lunch break now but in my era it was known as the dinner break. There was a period of time however due to family circumstances when I was required to remain at school and eat their dinners.

My school like many others did not have the necessary canteen facilities to prepare food on site, it was cooked centrally elsewhere and transported in sealed steel containers to the school. It must be one of the unsolved riddles of science how food prepared  and transported in this way can undergo some form of catalytic reaction during the journey to make it totally inedible on arrival. Apart from the meat of the day, all vegetables were pre-boiled to destruction and the dessert, (afters as we used to call them), usually  consisting of semolina, (frogs spawn), or a thick pink blancmange. Even to this day pink is my least favourite colour. Most notable of all was the potatoes. These were never whole and boiled but always mashed and served with an ice-cream scoop. Normally at home my mother would remove the eyes from a potato when she prepared them, but the mass production line at the centralised kitchens meant this was never done. Consequently the mashed potato  apart from being tasteless was full of hard little lumps.

There is not much in life that I am squeamish about but little lumps in potatoes do make me violently sick if they touch the back of my throat. During my period of “enjoying” school dinners, I threw most of the food away, not because I was not hungry but because I found it totally inedible. The mashed potatoes I never made any attempt to eat.

One dinner time my own class teacher was supervising the school meal and spotted me throwing the untouched mashed potatoes away. This teacher, a female, possessed a domineering personality but had somehow clearly missed out on charm school and common sense classes during her own education. I was immediately made to retrieve the mashed potatoes and deliberately given a loud lecture for everyone else to hear about the starving people of Africa and there was I throwing away good food. With that I was ordered back to the table with no uncertain instructions to eat the mashed potato.

I just sat at the table doing nothing, not out of any form of rebelliousness but simply because I knew I could not eat this terrible food. Eventually the number of children in the dining room thinned out until I was the only one left remaining and a clear target for my teacher. Once again she ordered me to eat while beginning another sermon on wasting food. This stand-off went on for some time during which I was subject to many threats of punishment but all to no avail. I simply could not eat the food. Any attempt at an explanation was immediately cut short. Eventually the time to resume classes rapidly neared and my teacher clearly wanted to move on. I was finally told if I took one big mouthful of mashed potato, I could leave the rest. Summoning up all my willpower I eventually tried this. Sure enough, as soon as the lumps in the potato touched my throat I was violently sick. It was a completely involuntary reaction but I spewed all the contents of my stomach over the dress and jacket of my teacher who was sitting directly in front of me.

I last saw my reaching running out of the dining room screaming not to be seen for the remainder of the day. It wasn’t until later a rare feeling of self satisfaction of one-upmanship settled over me. Even to this day if I am ever served mashed potato from and ice-cream scoop I cannot eat it, lumpless as it may be. Never again was I made to eat mashed potato as school.

Strangely enough, there was always one day a year when the school dinners were delicious. For some reason this always on the same day that Government school inspectors made their annual check on the school. I however suspect this was pure co-incidence.

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