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Heading back to school to award an A for effort

Published 25 July 2010
News Review
888th article

Michael Winner with pupils of St Barnabas and St Philip's school in Kensington (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Skye Harris, 7, wrote asking me to sample a meal from her school's new kitchen. Geraldine and I went down Earl's Court Road. Opposite the police station was St Barnabas and St Philip's, a Church of England primary school. Red, white and blue balloons fluttered from a railing. No "Welcome, Michael" sign. Although Skye observed later, "It's like a royal visit."

As we approached the locked gate a pretty blonde girl in a red gingham dress appeared. I screamed, "Let me in." It was Skye, who rushed to press the button releasing the door. With her was an elegant young pupil, Junsang.

"Don't you need a cardigan? You're going to be cold," Geraldine said to Skye.

"No, I'm boiling," replied Skye.

A teacher called us back: "You have to sign in and take a badge."

"I'm always getting something wrong," sighed Skye.

They gave me a yellow badge saying Visitor. "I don't think they'll mistake me for a student," I observed.

The head teacher, Chris Doyle, appeared. Very tall, smart, no jacket. "I can go and get a jacket if you'd like me to wear one. It's been very hot recently," he offered.

"Cold today," I pointed out.

Junsang asked how old I was. "Nearly 75," I replied. That got a laugh. A notice board in the corridor read: "Learn to write a letter to a famous person and get them to respond." Replies were displayed from Buckingham Palace, signed by a lady-in-waiting with an unreadable signature; from Downing Street, signed by some nonentity; Blah, on behalf of Jamie Oliver. Genuinely signed letters from JK Rowling, Gordon Ramsay and me.

Amanda Vasey, Skye's teacher, explained, "One wanted to write to Samuel Pepys, another to Michael Jackson."

"Take a while for them to answer," I observed.

Then to the classroom. In our photo Skye is on my left, Junsang on my right, the head teacher and Amanda at the back. "They're all very polite," said Geraldine.

It's an ethnically diverse school, no fees to pay, incredibly friendly atmosphere. Everyone seemed to like everyone. All immaculately turned out in red uniforms.

In the high-ceilinged dining room was a large mural of a tree. Self-service lunch, dished out by the cook, Hawa Jayah-Mansaray, offered roast beef, roast potatoes, yorkshire pudding, beans, carrots, macaroni and gravy.

"Is the food good?" I asked Skye. "Yes," she said.

"Good as your mother's?" I continued.

"Not really," responded Skye.

I sat on a low bench at a shiny-topped table. The supervisor suggested, "Sit over there - the chairs are higher."

The head teacher said, "Don't worry - he's all right. Leave him there." I was practically squatting on the floor.

They didn't have napkins. "Major de-merit," I announced. "Should have brought my own."

Junsang wanted to be an inventor when he grew up. I thought Skye said she wanted to be a food critic so I suggested she write a review of meals she ate out. Later Geraldine pointed out she'd said film critic. Ignore what I advised, Skye. Write a review of every film you see. If it's one of mine, praise it.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, Skye, how much did the food improve when you got the new kitchen?" I asked.

"Lots," she replied. "It was always freezing; now it's hot."

Two girls appeared. One wore a badge reading: "Have you had a drink today?" The other girl was labelled Water Monitor.

"They're encouraging the children to drink more water," explained Amanda. "It's very good for their energy levels and their brains."

The main course was pretty good. This is Kensington's first school to serve only organic food. The dessert, fruit and a custard tart, I liked very much.

Amanda said she had 15 languages in her class. When there's a birthday the children sing in different languages, including Latin. "A lot of children go to Latin classes after school," she revealed.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because they want to," was the reply.

Skye told me she did ballet at school and, out of school, Irish dancing and swimming. She was very composed, a marvellous host. After lunch we toured the playgrounds - lovely murals, happy children everywhere. No one knifing the teacher or beating up fellow students. What is the world coming to?

"We believe in community," stated Amanda.

"Have I done all right?" I asked Skye. She made an open arm gesture as if she wasn't sure. Then she rushed for the gate-release button to let us out.

That's the sort of school I never went to. Organised, cheerful, orderly. I won't go into my education. You might cry.

  • At last I can operate my new Leica X1 camera. Anything more than an on/off button confuses me. The image quality is extraordinary. It's the first digital compact camera approved by the prestigious Getty Images library, which supplies photos to the media.

    Boots was fine printing negative film. Not much good with digital. I now email pix to Lee Gribbin of Harrison Cameras in Sheffield. Takes for ever. You should be able to email a photo in a second. By the time that happens I'll be photographing Marilyn Monroe with the Almighty.

    Michael's missives

    I hope Sonny's wasn't just serving spring chickens; if so you'd have left very hungry. I note the waitress was armed with lots of pens and notepads for your next order, and practising her stranglehold!
    Geoff Tabor, North Yorkshire

    You should go to the magnificent Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como. No confusion there between still and sparkling water. Guests drinking sparkling have a tiny mat under their glasses - the ultimate attention to detail.
    Miles Clark, Cheshire

    I'm a 69-year-old truck driver. When my wife and I visit America we order one meal on two plates. Are you turning into an American trucker with a voracious appetite?
    Henry Carroll, Lincolnshire

    It's wonderful the way Winner's Dinners takes us to the USA, Croatia, the south of France, Italy, Switzerland and Morocco. One thing I don't understand: who is the white-haired, ill-dressed tramp in all the photos? Is it some poor old dear backpacking round the world before he kicks the bucket?
    Lillian Simpson, London

    At the Village hotel in Ashton-under-Lyne I told the staff the soup was only lukewarm. The manager and chef said it was 62F, room temperature. To make the soup warmer would probably breach the Health and Safety at Work Act. I was speechless!
    Peter Connolly, Lancashire

    Please write to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk