Thursday, May 19, 2011

Biometric scan, you chaps? What a wizard wheeze!

Extraordinary news from a Bath secondary school, which has announced that it intends to do away with lunch money and instead identify and charge young diners by means of a biometric scan.

From early June, students at Beechen Cliff School will have their fingerprints digitised and converted into alpha-numeric data (it says here). The aforesaid data will be held in a database (because that’s what you do with data, innit?) and will be used to determine who gets to eat how much of what.

As the lads queue up for lunch they’ll pass their fingertips over a detector which will work out who they are, calculate how much their ever-willing parents have coughed up this week, and - all being well - begrudgingly let them into the dining hall to enjoy a hearty luncheon.

Gone at last will be the traditional method of paying for your lunch by dragging a Year Seven round behind the bike sheds, holding them up by their ankles and shaking them until the money falls out.

The idea of this new technological advance is, of course, to reduce fraud and cut down on cash handling. An excellent plan: the less cash schoolkids have the better. After all, they only spend it – what do they think money’s for, anyway?

And you’d have to be pretty inventive if you wanted to cheat the system. Rather than shaking down a Year Seven (literally or metaphorically), you’d have to transfer a precise copy of the whorls, loops and arches of his fingerprints on to the tips of your own, no doubt inky, digits. Quite a project for the budding biochemist.

Of course, in the good old days of Greyfriars School things would have turned out rather differently. Let’s put our collective ear to the door of The Remove.

“I say, chaps,” said Billy Bunter. “Old Quelchy’s come up with a wizard wheeze. The whole Remove has been told to queue up in the San to have our dabs taken. Then he’ll find out who ate all the pies!”

“Cheese it, Bunter, you burbling chump,” piped up Harry Wharton. “Everyone knows who ate all the pies: it was you!”

“You bally rotter, Wharton,” groaned the Fat Owl. “That’s a jolly unsporting thing to say about a fellow! But what do you think Quelchy will do if he catches me?”

“Six of the best at the very least, I should say,” chimed in Bob Cherry.

“Yarooh!” yelped Billy.

(Which is "Hooray!" backwards, fact fans. Never let it be said this stuff isn't educational.)

To cut a long story short, Billy and chums escape with a jaw from the head, Coker the bully is dunked in the fountain and Mossoo the French master lays on a banquet of buns.

Weekly for many years, The Magnet comic ran a Bunter story, usually penned by the inimitable Frank Richards. The characters really did say things like “Cheese it!” and “Yarooh”, and graphic descriptions of corporal punishment featured heavily.

Real life wasn’t a great deal better: along with the public school antics in an edition of 1929 are printed adverts for free passages to Ontario for “approved boy farm learners aged 15 to 19”. Licensed slavery, by the sound of it.

Not, of course, that anything like that would ever happen at Beechen Cliff. But digital prevention is certainly better than cure.

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