In the Gazette of November 12 I was appalled, not by reports of yet more crime or the prospect of yet more expensive, unnecessary roadworks but by the picture of what appears to be a school dinner (U-turn on Free Meals Day After MP’s Letter).

Is this really what our children are expected to eat at school – and their parents to pay for?

At my deeply rural primary school in the late 1950s (a time when most families had very little - no fitted carpets, no refrigerators, no washing machines, no double glazing, no central heating, even no televisions) we were served meat and two vegetables Monday to Thursday and fish, chips and peas on Friday.

The plates were china and the cutlery stainless steel. Remarkably, for the older children the vegetables were placed in a dish on each table of six and we were expected to serve ourselves and each other in a civilised way.

School dinner was seen as an occasion and an opportunity to develop manners amongst country girls and boys who would (and did) run wild if given the chance.

I remember there being very little food wasted apart from, surprisingly, the puddings. Even then, only the greediest would eat semolina, tapioca or prunes and custard. The past is not always better.

I do hope that picture is not representative of a modern school dinner at a Basingstoke school. If it is, then clearly the authorities wish to discourage school meals so as to have an excuse to abolish them.

Moreover, such appalling fare must encourage what other authorities or the NHS would like to eliminate - fast food. But anybody would rather have a tasty burger and fries than that bland mush casually thrown upon a bilious-green plastic plate.

School dinners may be literally a lifeline for some children but for each of them mealtimes are an opportunity to develop public manners through shared experience.

Communal school meals should be high quality and an occasion, an important part of a young person's socialisation, not a pesky nuisance to be endured.

Whatever - clearly the first thing to do is to provide better food and to serve it properly. And don’t let me hear anyone say we can’t afford it when, compared to the 1950s, we have wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

It’s only a question of priorities. Do we really need a mega-roundabout at Brighton Hill?

Alan Gwyer, Becket Court, Worting