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School Dinners
Ron Moss (June 2002)
It is hard for anyone other than a schoolboy to really understand the primeval forces caused by hunger.  The craving is constant with a respite only whilst asleep.  The all pervading obsession with food continues way into adolescence when it is eventually replaced by other equally consuming forces; football and girls or anything sexual.  Lunch was the last opportunity to re-fuel until school had finished.  Even then food could only be obtained if one had some money left from the earlier visits to the tuck shop.  Normally, there was no food until one staggered into the home kitchen and with reducing strength, through malnutrition, managed to open the fridge and raid whatever was left in there.  On rare occasions a stroke of luck happened if the girls had domestic science and had cooked something vaguely edible that could be stolen or coerced away from them - an infrequent event.

Choosing your table
The school dinner ritual began on the first day of the new school year.  The dining hall was set out with tables seating ten people.  Each table had a Table Head.  This was a senior pupil, a prefect or occasionally a member of staff.  The form was that on the first day one would chose a table on which to sit and the resulting location would be one's place for the rest of the school year.  The choice of seating was  critical.  The main strategic criteria were proximity, (to the serving hatch and the tap), visibility, (inverse proximity to the Staff Table) and composition (the others who sat with you).  A position close to the serving hatch meant that there was less distance to travel to collect food, it was likely you would be selected early to collect your food, and you were near to the water tap to facilitate the speedy filling of water jugs, important for the perpetual water drinking competitions.  Being too near the head table was bad as you were easily scrutinised by the staff on duty.  Being invisible to staff was important.  Only too often it was at lunch time that a prefect or teacher seeing you at your table remembered the green paper or homework that you had not handed in or chose you as a volunteer they needed for some mundane errand which spoiled the rest of your lunch break.  The only downside of inverse proximity was the very occasional  time that a young attractive say exchange French Mistress sat on the raised head table and adopted an ungainly gait showing a glimpse of thigh or underwear.  As this only happened about once a year it seldom persuaded anyone to take the chance.  There were four tables that were located by the entrance door, behind the side wall of the serving hatch, and were completely concealed from the head table.  These tables were much sought after and unless you were large or very early into the room unobtainable.

Composition was probably the leading criteria.  The choice of Table Head was important but often difficult as the 'heads' would await everyone getting their seats before choosing their table.  Bearing in mind that each table was given the same volume of food irrespective of its constituency it was important to chose table mates that did not eat too much.  Of course it would be nice to sit with ones friends but, a table full of starving boys meant less food for all.  The ideal was to have one friend for company and the rest of the places to be filled with first form girls. First form girls eat very little and generally do what they are told.  A downside of this strategy was that during the water drinking contests a table full of girls did not help.  The competition was to see who could drink the most number of jugs full of water in a lunch break.  This had to be carried out subtly so as not to draw the attention of the staff.  It also required an amenable or 'naive' table head.  Sadly the girls would often not participate and even when they did their capacity for H2O was restricted.

The noise
Even after all the years I can still remember the noise levels over lunch.  Hundreds of youngsters make a lot of noise.  I recall, however, that the noise levels would depend on what food was being served.  Some dishes restrict noise.  Stews, cottage pie and other dishes of a viscous nature were noisy.  Salads, anything with chips and macaroni cheese were quiet.

The food
I can not recall if the food was good or bad.  I suspect that it was probably quite good for institutional food.  I do recall though that there was never enough of it.  Some of the dishes I remember were Bakewell tart and watery custard, rice pudding with a dollop of jam, Toad in the Hole and corned beef and or Spam fritters.

John Calvert (July 2002)
School Dinners, 6 bob a week to enjoy the cabbage, some days we didn't even have cabbage but the succulent aroma wafted up the front stairwell and down the Gym corridor. No packed lunches permitted and "zones"
for those going home for lunch. Solution...... pay the money, get on second sitting, grab a first sitting first year and grill them for the day's menu, IF appealing into the dining hall, if not sneak the sandwiches out of the pocket whilst enjoying the second pickup football in the playground ( before balls were banned by VJ.)


06 November, 2004         Ron Moss