01 January 2005

Over the last couple of years the British prisons have swapped all the canteen cutlery from metal to plastic. I would guess this was a cost cutting exercise as much as anything; less for the washing up machines or staff, no need for a couple of Officers to man the metal detectors at the canteen door, etc, but it must have had a knock on effect on the food provided, also. Who hasnt sat at a barbecue and snapped their plastic fork, trying to pick up something with pastry on it?
One grumble that quietly surfaced at the time was that a suitable quality of plastic knife could still inflict a wound and worse, be snapped off making the removal a bugger of a job.

This caused a lot of merriment to an adorable neighbour we have, a real East End barrow boy who has spent too many years saying that "Prisons aint prisons no more, they're bloody holiday camps". An ex incumbent himself, he looks with scorn at the provision of radios, TVs and electrical points and anything else that, in all honesty, was probably missing from most temprary housing in the real world during the era when he 'did his time'. But stories, does he have some stories, such as the magical disappearing dinner.

Once upon a time, in Pentonville Prison, a single officer would do the night rounds, when all the cells were locked. He had a station at the centre of the wings and would walk each wing, leaving his dinner at the centre, before coming back to have his meal. The meal was invariably gone when he got back, however, and no-one ever worked out how.

According to our nameless friend, it was his cell mate. The man had, he said, fashioned a key to their cell, from a metal dessert spoon. Every night, timing it perfectly, he would let himself out, walk to the centre, calmly consume the officer's meal and then silently return to lock himself back in.

Beat that, Ronnie Barker.

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