School Dinners! By Luke Martin-Jones

Mrs Brooks class was a hive of activity; each table had their own projects to complete. Paints, Crayola crayons and multicoloured pencils were laying haphazardly across the desks; all of us chatting with each other. I was in a mischievous mood, flicking paint at the girl sat next to me. By the end of the lesson, we were both covered in an assortment of acrylic, not even the plastic aprons would save us. Mrs Brooks walked over, she looked angry, the frown on her face revealing. Taking us both to one side, she gave us a good telling off and a smack on the back of the legs. I’d been spanked before, standing outside the headmistresses office for the rest of the day; I was an old pro, so hardly reacted; the young lass shed a few tears and we were both ordered to the toilets to clean up before lunch. By the time I had finished, I was in a worse state than before, soaking wet, dripping all over the floor. Cautiously I walked back into class, hoping to avoid catching Mrs Brooks eye. Sheepishly, I sat down at my desk, looking away from her gaze. My friend sat next to me facing the other way, so I did the same; friends no more!

It was dinner time, the bell sounded in the hall. Everyone started to tidy their desks. ‘Quietly, do it quietly!’ shouted Mrs Brooks, trying to make herself heard over the commotion in class. ‘I said quietly!’ she repeated once again. Suitably calm and composed, sitting in our seats, we always said a little prayer before dinner. ‘Close your eyes, hands together,’ shouted Mrs B:

‘Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.’

Everyone queued in two neat lines, boys one side, girls the other, holding hands as we made our way to the hall. We were on the last sitting today, the canteen was running a little later than usual; the queue unusually ending outside the door. Children jostled for pole position, pushing in front of their peers, wanting to get their food first. I was leant up against the wall, patiently waiting my turn. Mum had always taught me how to behave and never to bulldoze my way to the front; it wasn’t the right thing to do.

My new Clark’s sandals were rubbing the heals of my feet; lifting each one up in turn, I tried to ease the pain. Someone kicked me in the back of the legs. The procession of school children was so long, I didn’t see who it was. Turning, I faced the front, standing up straight, arms folded in protest. Scuffing my shoes, backwards and forwards (The mark of a petulant child, Mrs Brooks always said.) Trying to pass the time, I eventually reached the front of the calvalcade; picking up my mint green coloured plate. Today, soggy roast potatoes, lots and lots of cabbage, boiled to within an inch of its life and minced meat in gravy. Funny enough, I still cook this today; comfort food if you like. For desert, chocolate pudding with thick, lumpy pink blancmange; another dish I look back on with fondness.

The noise in the hall was deafening as I hesitantly walked to the table at the back of the hall, where my friends were already sat. I took the chair at the end, leant back and waited for the Dinner Lady to appear. I can’t remember her name now, but she always came over and helped me cut up my food into bite sized pieces and filled the large metal water jugs on the table, that needed two hands to lift. I precariously charged my glass, most of it spilling over, quickly wiped away by another monitor; dressed in a pink and white tabard, wearing a small white hat and hairnet, that really did nothing to stop hair falling into the food. Part of the course when you ate school meals.

Dinner over it was time to return to class, each of us waiting in turn, to be escorted back for an afternoon of ‘Drama and Dance,’ my favourite lesson. ‘Time to work off all that extra energy after lunch,’ said Mrs B! ‘Time to get big and strong!’

I always have fond memories of school lunches; plain, basic filling food, typical of the time; in contrast the lunches of today. As a product of the 70s, we appreciated the simpler things in life; as children we had very little, none of us any more than anyone else. School Dinners are a reminder of the happy times, spent with friends, enjoying those first steps into childhood; a period when peoples values were different; a time of innocence in a changing World!

(First Published in Roaming Brit on 28th March, 2018)

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