There are lots of stories about hungry London children, told as tales of hardship or neglect. One concerns a very young child on a school trip. All schools provide free school meals to pupils of this one’s age, but not, it seems, packed lunches in this case.
As is traditional on such excursions across town, the travelling infant learners made in-roads into their supplies on the morning outward journey, leaving them depleted on arrival – depleted, but not wholly devoured. When lunchtime came, they sat together to finish what was left, though not the child in question, who had had less to begin with and now had none at all. And so, the child mimed eating instead. Appearances matter, even when you’re only five.
That, at any rate, is the story that reached me through the grapevine. Another is more firmly sourced. Again, it concerns a school trip and packed lunches, but in this case the child was older – nine or ten. In this case, the school provided for those who qualify for free school meals, and when lunch time was over it emerged that more had been prepared than were required.
“Does anyone want those?” the child inquired. It seemed not. “Can I take it home for my family?”
You can’t be sure you’ve got the whole story. You can’t be sure that back at home there were hungry mouths to feed. Perhaps the packed lunches had been so delicious the child wanted more. Perhaps disapproval of waste had been firmly instilled. But these possibilities were thought doubtful by the source for the story, who knows something of the child concerned.
Other such tales that are not hard to find: children who turn up having had no breakfast; staff bringing in their own food to compensate. Some may be exaggerations, some rooted in mistaken assumptions, but they don’t seem to declining in number.
John Vane writes word sketches of London and bits about its past. Sometimes he makes things up. Follow John on Twitter.
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