Hungry for the school dinners

24th February 2006 at 00:00
My lunchtime is a daily battle with the hungry. And their finest warrior is Ashley. Ours is a war of attrition, constant skirmishing. But there can only ever be one winner - Ashley.

The best I can do is to hold him in check. I need to maintain some semblance of order - we must queue, not push in. We must wait our turn, be polite.

None of this means anything to Ashley. To stand between him and his food is to stand in front of a rhino. There is an obsessive light in his eye. And he will do anything, commit any unspeakable crime, to get to the front of the queue.

He needs his dinner and he is not prepared to wait. The food we serve is vital to him. Forget niceties. He would rip out your throat for a sausage.

He is not a particularly nice young man. He is sullen, argumentative and prone to spectacular eruptions of temper. The children are wary of him.

There is cruelty in his relationships with others. School dinner motivates him, and it is why he comes to school.

Nothing must come between him and his plate. So he will usually behave in the mornings. This does not reflect a sustained commitment to study, rather that he needs to avoid lunchtime detention. It is a strategy that staff are ready to exploit.

That school lunch is so important to him is enough for you to picture his life. Mealtimes do not exist for him in the same way that you and I might know them. It is not family time. There are no shared moments. There is no celebration.

Sunday dinner is pizza and chips from the microwave. Mother holds down three unskilled jobs to provide for her family. She has no time between shifts for anything else.

So Ashley is left to his own devices. He will invest his dinner ticket in curry and chips. He is fuelled. He survives. He moves on to his next carbohydrate hit. He deals with his basic needs in the way that our ancestors must have done, moving from feed to feed.

He eats hurriedly, like a fugitive, frightened that someone might steal it from him. Just as he has been known to steal from others in the past.

For me lunch duty is just a tiresome little job. I supervise the dining hall. I speak to the children. I go away to be a manager. Then I go home to my family. But there is nothing else in Ashley's day that is as important as his greasy plate of chips and a flaky sausage roll.

Ian Roe is a teacher in north Wales

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