The tumbler had a familiar shape, a retro design, or perhaps a glass that had somehow endured four or even five decades. Finishing the milk, the name of the French manufacturer could be read, as it must have been hundreds of times in childhood years. Such glasses were used at dinnertime in the Church of England Primary School in our village, school dinner each day was a two course meal served with water to drink (perhaps at Christmas orange squash was allowed). School dinners were predictable, meat potatoes and vegetable, followed by a pudding that usually consisted of sponge or tart covered in custard.
Having school dinners in our primary school meant having a school kitchen and having a school kitchen meant that our school had a telephone. Someone in authority must at some time have decreed that telephones were not a necessary item for the education or pastoral care of children but were necessary to feeding them. There was no such thing as a school office, the telephone was mounted on the wall of the dining room and seemed rarely used. Perhaps the school cook who arrived each day on her Honda 50, telephoned her order for the ingredients of meals to whoever supplied such thing, though a telephone would have been a great expense in times when it would have been simple to have written everything on a postcard and sent it to the supplier. Perhaps the telephone was for safety, perhaps having a kitchen attached to the school brought with it the risk of fire and the telephone was to allow the summoning of the necessary appliances from Somerton, though if the school caught fire it seems unlikely anyone would have lingered in the dining room when there was a phone box on the adjacent village green.
There were times when a fire would have seemed a better prospect than facing the dinner. The principle of school meals, ensuring everyone received a proper diet, was not a bad one, it was just that keeping the price low meant that the cook had to make the best of less than ideal ingredients. Among the less appetising things, there was beef with which one might have resoled one’s shoes, liver which gave me an abiding aversion to even the smell of it, and salad served with a thick, stodgy salad cream that the boys who knew claimed was made from unused custard. We all knew that it wasn’t the cook’s doing, there was an excellent Christmas dinner every year, and mostly the food, if unexciting, wasn’t bad.
The drinking glasses always seemed odd, though, why did we have French drinking glasses? It wasn’t as though Britain in the 1960s didn’t still make stuff. Perhaps the person who had taken the decision about the telephone had also determined the supplier of the school’s glasses. Perhaps there was someone who knew about such things and who decided that those of who ate school dinners should have a daily reminder of a country where cooking was different.