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1:32pm on Saturday, 29th October, 2011:

The Red Light is On


When I was at primary school, there used to be this red light hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the canteen where we had lunch. Usually, the red light was off. However, if we got too noisy the (what are now called mid-day assistants but back then were called) dinner ladies would put the red light on. When the red light was on, we all had to be quiet or Suffer the Consequences,

The red light wasn't put on very often — maybe once a week at most — but it was annoying. We could be chatting away normally at our table but if some other table got rowdy we'd all have to be quiet. Worst, though, some dinner ladies were meaner than others. One in particular would put the red light on at the slightest provocation, until it got to the stage that as soon as she entered the canteen, on went the red light. She didn't care about our wanting to talk to our friends over dinner, she just wanted an easier time of it herself. Damned petty functionaries...

Sometimes, a dinner lady would switch on the red light but it wouldn't shine. Normally, this meant the bulb had gone. Those days were good, because we could be as noisy as we liked and they couldn't tell us all to shut up at once. Once, though, I noticed it wasn''t working for a different reason.

See, the red light dangled from a cable, which ran across the roof and down the wall and ended in a plug that went into a socket. You switched on the socket and on came the light. Except if someone had used the socket for something else and hadn't plugged it back in, then it wouldn't come on. You'd have to plug it in. I noticed that the dinner lady we all disliked didn't seem to have sufficient observational powers to spot that the plug was out. She tried to switch the red light on and it didn't come on, then she got cross and gave up.

So, when it was that dinner lady's time in charge again, I queued up early and got into the canteen before her. Once there, I unplugged the red light. Sure enough, she came in, went straight for the switch, turned it on, and nothing happened. She tried it a few more times but it didn't come on, so that was that. We could talk all dinner time and she couldn't stop us. She was livid!

As she was when I did it the next week, and the next, and the next. I must have done it half a dozen times. Then, I guess one of the other dinner ladies told her what was wrong, because she learned to put the plug back. Oh well.

She lost her job eventually, I think because kids were stopping having school dinners on the day she was in charge and the teachers made the connection.

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).