There are at least two things at which the British are very good: being jobsworths and complaining about jobsworths. Today’s example of this feature of British life comes courtesy of Martha Payne and Argyll & Bute Council.
Martha, as you may know if you’ve read the papers today, listened to the radio, or been on Twitter, is the nine year-old lassie from Lochgilphead who had, until today, published a blog — Never Seconds — cataloguing her school lunches. A suitably esoteric subject for the internet and an unlikely sensation but there you have it. Her blog, boosted by support from the likes of Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn, reached two million hits in just two months.
Each day she published a photograph of her lunch and awarded it marks out of ten for taste and nutrition. She was soon publishing correspondence received from other kids around the world who sent pictures of their school meals. (It must be said that their meals frequently looked more appetising than poor Martha’s.)
It was all rather charming and good fun. So clearly it had to be banned. Step forward Argyll & Bute Council who ordered that Martha cease photographing her luncheon. If this seemed unnecessarily draconian, the council’s defence was laughable:
‘Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs. The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing. In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.’
Oh dear (and not just because they mean ‘rebut’ not ‘refute’). Credit to local MSP (and Scottish government education minister) Mike Russell for accurately diagnosing all this as ‘daft’. Credit too to Twitter for seizing upon this and making Argyll & Bute Council a worldwide laughing-stock (at least amongst Twitterers.) It’s been ages since I last saw Twitter — in as much as it is a collective hive-mind — enjoy itself so much.
Bone-headed council decisions are as entertaining as they are vexing and everyone enjoys piling-on. This is as it should be. Happily some measure of common-sense eventually applied: the council’s Chief Executive was hauled onto Radio 4’s World At One during which appearance he reverse-ferreted the council’s decision. Social Media 1 Faceless Ninnies 0.
Best of all, however, Martha uses her blog to raise funds for Mary’s Meals, an Argyll-based charity that provides nutritious school lunches to children in countries such as Malawi, Liberia and Haiti. Before today’s stramash, Martha had raised a creditable £2,000 for the charity. She hoped one day to reach £7,000 — enough to build a new kitchen to feed an African school.
At the time of writing, today’s publicity has ensured she’s actually raised almost £23,000. You can donate, and I urge you to do so.
Bloggers are supposed to extrapolate large lessons from tiny events. But I don’t think there’s any need to do so in this case save to observe that the combination of Martha Payne and Argyll & Bute Council demonstrate some of the best and some of the most depressing things about modern Britain. It should not be difficult to ascertain which camp they each belong to.