I remember still its rubbery texture and its regular transferral, with a flick of the tongue, from one cheek pouch to the other. It was still installed when I returned home from school. My mother asked what I had in my mouth and I told her, “Meat”, more accurately it was a lump of gristle that had been served up in a stew some four hours previously in the school dining hall. She asked why I was still chewing it, I said it was too big to swallow and I knew it was wrong to spit out my food.
Schools are characterised by their rules, most of which suited a conformist as slavish as I. I remember one rule in particular, or perhaps it was a regulation or a procedure, that was in operation at the infant school where I chewed gristle, back in the early 1960s. Its implementation caused the poorest children to have differently coloured dinner tickets. To wit; a white ticket meant that your mid-day meal was free and that your father was probably out of work, a blue ticket meant that your parents were paying the standard fee (sixpence, I think). The fact that my father worked in a factory meant that I was privileged to have a blue ticket, employment rates were high at the time and those with white tickets were in the minority.
I wonder now who came up with the idea of colour-coding these scraps of paper, a mundane form of apartheid that must have evolved somewhere along the chain of command that laboriously translated an altruistic notion into a diktat that stigmatised the innocent.