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Listen to English podcasts are written and produced by Peter Carter, Birmingham, England.
Listen to English podcasts are distributed under a Creative Commons attribution-non-commercial-no-derivatives licence.

School dinners

Today we visit Scotland, to find out what a Scottish schoolgirl thinks of her school meals. And because the European Cup Football matches have reached an interesting stage, and poor old England have been knocked out by Italy, this might be a good time to learn a new football expression.

Martha Payne is 9 years old. She lives in a small community in Scotland called Lochgilphead. Like many British schoolchildren, Martha has a meal at school in the middle of the day. In English, we often call these meals “school dinners”. Everyone remembers the school dinners at their school – perhaps they loved their school dinners, or they hated them, or they remember funny things about them. At my school, way back in the 1950s, we sometimes got bilberry tart and custard for dessert. I remember that the bilberries made our tongues blue. We used to go around sticking our blue tongues out at each other.

Martha is interested in the food at her school. She is interested in how good it tastes, and how healthy it is, and whether it contains any hairs! A few months ago, she started to write a blog about her school dinners. She took her camera into school, to photograph her school dinner, and then she posted the picture in her blog and told us what she thought about the food. Most days, she thought the food was OK, and on some days she thought it was really good.

Children in other schools, and in other countries, started to read Martha’s blog. Some of them left comments to say what they thought about Martha’s school dinners. And some sent Martha pictures of their own school dinners, and Martha published these on her blog. Then Martha started to use her blog to raise money for a charity called Mary’s Meals, which provides school meals for children in poor communities in developing countries.

And at this point, the bureaucrats who run the education system in the part of Scotland where Martha lives became aware of her blog. And they did not like it. They did not want publicity about the food in their schools. Perhaps they were afraid that people would start to criticise their school dinners and say that they were unhealthy. They decided that Martha’s blog had to stop.

Martha’s headteacher told Martha the bad news, and Martha was sad and wrote a final blog post to say goodbye to her many readers.

At this point, we will make a little diversion to talk about football. In football, you try to kick the ball into the other team’s goal. It is a big mistake to kick the ball into your own goal. Of course, sometimes, by accident, footballers do put the ball into their own goal. When this happens, we call it an “own goal”. We can use this expression outside football as well. Imagine that you do something, and it goes spectacularly wrong. It has completely the opposite effect of what you intended. You hoped that it would make things better, but actually it makes things a lot worse. We call that an “own goal”.

Well, the bureaucrats who decided that Martha had to stop her blog did not want people talking about the school dinners in their schools. But you can imagine what actually happened. The newspapers, the radio and the television all carried stories about Martha’s blog. People wrote about it in Facebook, and sent tweets about it in Twitter. This was not at all what the bureaucrats wanted. Banning Martha’s blog was an “own goal”. A day later, after everyone had told them what idiots they were, they decided that – after all, and now they had thought about it a bit more – Martha could continue writing her blog about her school dinners, and taking pictures of them. You can find Martha’s blog at You could tell her about the meals in your school if you like, and contribute to Mary’s Meals to help provide meals for school children in poor communities throughout the world.

I like stories with a happy ending. Don’t you?