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Free dinners

School remained a nightmare. The teachers’ attitudes worsened as I grew older and, due to my persistent truancy, I stood out as being unable to read. The only times that I would attend school happened when the lure of free school dinners outweighed the embarrassment and humiliation that I’d suffer by being there. School was a mixture of pain and frustration. The pain came because of the treatment I received from everyone, and the frustration because the more I tried, the more sneeringly I was treated.

Free school dinners began after my dad died. The dinner lady would come around with two sets of tickets, and those who’d paid would be issued one colour while those who hadn’t would be handed the other. That way everyone could see who was and who wasn’t receiving ’charity’.

The system used to work like this. The dinner ladies would set aside the best cuts of meat and the choicest veg for themselves, to take home for themselves and their families. Next the teachers would be served. After this came those with blue tickets -- the paying customers, of course. And last… those of us with pink tickets who ended up with the gristle and blackened potatoes and suchlike.

By the time that we were allowed to start eating, the food was really unappetising, but eating it was better than going hungry. I managed to get some of the better food by volunteering to help the dinner ladies wash the dishes. Then they would give me a little of what they had saved for themselves.

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