TODAY a very talented Churchfields Academy chef called Ian Bevan is in a cooking competition for the South West School Chef of the Year title.

By all accounts he deserves to win and I hope he does, but I can’t help wondering whether tasty, nutritious school meals are going to erode school spirit. Like any form of horrific adversity, school meals used to be a major unifying force.

If you’re a parent aged, say, 32 or over, here’s an experiment to try on your kids when they’re with a group of friends: approach them and sing “School dinners, school dinners” to the tune of the first line of Frere Jacques.

In years gone by, the response would have been a joyful, word perfect: “Concrete chips, concrete chips/Sloppy semolina, sloppy semolina/I feel sick, toilet quick.”

Nowadays, though, the chances are that your children’s friends will gaze at you blankly, while your children themselves will squirm in mortification and consider phoning social services and demanding to be adopted.

It’s this rampant pampering and individualism that makes children spend too much of their spare time on social media and not socialising enough in person. Admittedly they’re less likely to come down with botulism and ptomaine poisoning, but that’s not the point.

We’re forever hearing about schools running special themed days on the Victorian era, but I reckon we should replace them with themed days on the last two or three decades of the 20th century. It’d be a lot more relevant because all the Victorians are dead but people who grew up in the late 20th century are very much alive.

In any case, it’s impossible to have a truly accurate Victorian day. You can dress them in maid’s caps and granddad shirts, but you’re not allowed to batter the children into unconsciousness with big sticks, and you’re not allowed to inspect them for lice and then shave their heads and paint their scalps with arsenic-based purple ointment if you find any.

You’re also not allowed to impart Victorian teaching on other cultures, what with doing so having rightly been a crime under race relations laws for about 40 years.

There’s nothing illegal about making kids wear flared trousers or a teeshirt with a picture of Adam Ant or Peter Purves, though. Nor is there anything illegal about turning the heating off in the canteen and having the children line up to be served slop from enormous, dented aluminium vessels by specially-chosen women who look like the cast of a prison drama.

If some of them have Woodbines on the go while serving, so much the better.

To hell with a balanced diet: on Theme Day let’s give the kids some sort of stew made of whatever happened to be left on the floor of a nearby abattoir the previous Friday; let’s give ’em an alleged curry laced with sultanas and Ski yoghurt; let’s give ’em battered fritters that look like something last seen trying to catch Tom Baker before he could make it to the Tardis.

Each child must only be permitted a small beaker of stagnant water from a big bowl at one end of the canteen with a ladle chained to it. Also, no child should be permitted to leave until they’ve eaten the whole meal.

Naturally, this will cause at least one child to be nicknamed ‘Sicklet’ or ‘Spew’ for the rest of their schooldays and quite possibly the rest of their life unless they leave town.

As a final touch of authenticity, a small number of children should be allowed to bring packed lunches instead, and wait outside the canteen to sell their crisps and Penguin biscuits at about five times the shop price.

  • FEATHERS are all a-ruffle down at the council over a Labour leaflet mentioning the future of Lydiard House and Park.

Those naughty Tories, say Labour, might sell these precious local assets for some ready cash.

Those naughty Labour persons, say the Tories, are just being mischievous in order to frighten people, and there are no plans for any such sale.

Rather than batting allegations back and forth, I have a great suggestion for clearing the air. Let’s invite every leader of every party to make a public pledge that no sale of Lydiard House and Park will take place during any administration run by them now or in the future.

Let them further pledge that any such sale would be a disgusting betrayal of the people of the borough, and that they will resign from the council if their party ever puts such a move on the table.

In fact, let them sign some sort of treaty to that effect and invite the media along to witness the occasion.

  •  FIRST Great Western, the beloved train company serving Swindon, has come up with some new adverts.

Hiding behind – sorry, I mean ‘celebrating’ – frontline staff, the bosses briefly tell the workers’ stories, describing them as Great Westerners.

While I don’t deny for a second that the people at the sharp end are hard-working, often in the face of terrible adversity, I reckon in the interests of fairness there should be some adverts featuring stories of those other Great Westerners: the customers.

For example, one might say: “This is John. He works in London but lives in Swindon. In spite of having his season ticket go up in price every year for as long as he can remember, John’s just learned, yet again, that his morning train has been delayed and he’ll be late for another meeting.

“That means he’ll have to work late and get a later train home, so this evening will be one of the many when he won’t even be back in time to kiss his children goodnight. Sometimes his youngest seems frightened of him, as if she’s forgotten who he is.

“There are thousands of stories like John’s. John is a Great Westerner.”

  • THANKS to the weather, sinkholes are opening here and there across the borough.

As a glass half-full sort of person, if one opens in my street I intend to treat is as an opportunity rather than a catastrophe.

I’ll go round the neighbourhood, gathering the green waste that we’d otherwise have to burn because we’re not paying 40 damned quid each to have it collected, and then I’ll stuff it in the hole.

As a finishing touch, I’ll add a road surface at least as robust as the one which seems to be popular for repairs around here at the moment.

There’ll be no shortage now my elderly cat prefers to use a litter tray.