The episode does not open in the usual studio, but inside a vast marquee. The audience are standing, not seated, and a sizable proportion of them are teenagers in blue and brown blazers. Located at one end of the marquee is a stage, upon which the Mucky Dip proudly stands, steaming with dry ice. Suspended from a crane, the chair of terror dangles over the vat.
The assembled crowd whoop and whistle as Sian bounds onto the stage, glamorously attired as is standard, but with an atypical piece of headgear.
Sian: Oh wow!! What a crowd! What a welcome! Good evening, St Noel’s Secondary School in Barrow-in-Furness!!
The crowd respond with a huge roar.
Sian: [cupping ear] I said good evening, St Noel’s High School in Barrow-in-Furness!!
The crowd fire back an even huger roar.
Sian: Amazing! I’m Sian Welby, this is Comeuppance, and yes, we have hit the road! We received some strange looks transporting the Mucky Dip up the M6, but we made it, and delighted we are to be in this Cumbrian coastal town.
More cheering from the audience.
Sian: And we’ve come here with good reason: tonight’s contestants are all staff members from this very school. And infamous staff members they are too! They’re used to stalking the corridors, striking terror and dismay into every pupil’s heart, but now it’s their turn to sweat in detention, while you the public mark their exercise books! And what punishment awaits the one who gets the most black marks? A punishment worse than lines, worse than litter duty, worse even than being sent to the head. It is of course a school trip to our rank and reeking Mucky Dip!
The crowds cheer with gusto as a high-mounted camera encircles the dreaded tank.
Sian: Oh, these kids like the sound of that! Let’s get started, shall we?
The maths teacher
Sian: First up for detention is Mrs Pascal, who has taught maths here for over a decade. She doesn’t want to reveal her age, so let’s call it x.
The guards wheel on Mrs Pascal to impassioned booing. Instead of standing in a cage, she is sat at a Victorian-style wooden desk, to which she is cuffed by one wrist. Reveling in her villainous status, she grins and waves her free fist in response to the hostile reception.
Sian: Ughhh. Maths!
More boos ensue.
Sian: Yep, that’s all I need to say, isn’t it? Double maths on a Friday afternoon! Now Mrs Pascal, I don’t want any complex arguments, hyperbolic tangents or obtuse angles, cos your sins are too manifold for us to log even a fraction of them. So let’s integrate the key factors, discard the remainder, and find the root of this problem. Isn’t it the case, that for anyone who isn’t irrational or a square, maths equals infinite boredom?!
Mrs Pascal: Not at all – mathematics is for everyone. Not only is it extremely beautiful in its own right, it’s indispensable in pretty much every area of life.
Sian: Now there I disagree with you. I spent years in primary school doing sums with pen and paper – long addition, long subtraction, [looking increasingly weary] long multiplication, long division – only to be told at the end it can all be done on a calculator! And then in secondary school we did all this stuff about calculating the angles of triangles. Surprise surprise, I’ve never needed that again! So what exactly is maths useful for?
Mrs Pascal: [patiently] Well look at this show, Sian. Every week you express the scores as percentages. That’s maths. And what volume of muck will fill the Mucky Dip? For that you need geometry – maths. And what about the show’s budget? For that you need—
Sian: [annoyed] Yep, the crew deal with all that stuff. Don’t be a smarty-pants, Mrs Pascal; it’ll increase your chances of getting dipped!
Mrs Pascal: Ahhh, probability! Another branch of maths!
Sian: And here’s another one: formulas. We have a seriously slimy, sloppy and smelly formula in the Mucky Dip, and it could feature in your calculations!
Mrs Pascal: Umm, that’s a chemical formula, not a mathematical one.
Sian: [scowls and turns away] So what do you think, school? Do you want to see Mrs Pascal in the muck?
Mrs Pascal grins squeamishly.
Sian: And I’m sure many of you at home want to see that as well, but before you add your vote to Mrs P’s total, let’s evaluate the other contestants so you can differentiate between them.
The PE teacher
Second to be kept behind after class is Miss Field. She’s 25, and has taught PE here for three years.
Sian: Dear me, PE – the memories are flooding back. Miss Field, it’s only natural that some kids enjoy playing sport and some don’t. But even for those who love sport, there’s always some bully of a PE teacher waiting to put a damper on things. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether the job of PE teacher was created to keep low-functioning sadists off the streets!
Miss Field: [with a wry smirk] I wonder the same thing about the job of messy TV show presenter.
Sian: Touché. The difference is I’m only mean to those that deserve it; I don’t go round picking on children! I know you PE teachers. You choose the muddiest routes for cross country, you make sure the showers are freezing, you pick the most uncoordinated kid to demonstrate something so you can humiliate them, and if a kid is foolish enough to forget their PE kit, you make them do it in their undies!
Murmurs of agreement emanate from the audience.
Miss Field: Oh puh-leeze! The underwear thing is a complete myth! We have a spare PE kit for those who forget theirs. It’s extra extra small size, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers!
Sian: So my other points are true?
Miss Field: Look, I’m not an ogre. I just want to push the pupils to deliver their potential. And consider those pupils who aren’t academic; they spend 90% of their school time feeling inept and awkward. PE gives them the chance to do something different.
Sian: At least if you’re not academic you can sit at the back of a warm classroom and keep your head down. But let me ask you, Miss Field, what’s your favourite sport?
Miss Field: [strokes chin] Mmmm, it’s a tough choice, but I’d have to say basketball.
Sian: Ahh, I like basketball too. Especially the slam dunks [eyes flit up to the Mucky Dip] – know what I’m saying? And I guess you’ve experienced some bad smells in your time; a changing room full of sweaty PE kits must get pretty whiffy, huh?
Miss Field: [coyly] It certainly does, Sian.
Sian: Well imagine sometimes ten times worse and you’re getting close to the Mucky Dip. [Turns to crowd] Would you like to see Miss Field score a touchdown?
Miss Field purses her lips and shakes her head adamantly.
Sian: [to camera] And no doubt you’re also raring to pitch in and serve justice to Miss Field, but before you step up to the line, let’s meet our final contestant.
The school cook
Completing our trio of tyrants is Olive. She’s 30 and has been St Noel’s school cook for six years.
Sian: [to tune of Frère Jacques]
School dinners, school dinners!
Concrete chips, concrete chips!
Sloppy semolina, sloppy semolina!
Toilet quick, I feel sick!
The end of Sian’s ditty is accompanied by graphic wretching sounds from the assembled pupils.
Olive: [sourly] It’s nice to have one’s work appreciated.
Sian: Oh, don’t get me wrong, some people do appreciate school dinners. The school caretaker, for instance; he can use the leftovers to redo the grouting!
Olive: [sighing] I’ve heard them all, Sian. Many times.
Sian: But there’s a reason kids crack these jokes. I remember vividly that sinking feeling when I went up to the counter. The greyish cube of generic meat, the powdery instant mash, the bitter-tasting cabbage… Ugh, even Oliver Twist would think twice about asking for seconds! But it gets worse still when we go to the pudding counter – [shudders] oooohh, the custard!! Just what are those lumps made of?
Olive: [Taps nose] Now that’s something you’ll never know. It’s a secret that’s passed down from school cook to school cook. But seriously Sian, you’re way out of date. Walk into a school cafeteria today and you’ll find it much the same as a high street eatery, only with lower prices.
Sian: Yes, and with pizzas and burgers becoming a daily occurrence. A pretty appalling diet for a growing child.
Olive: Oh don’t go all Jamie Oliver on me! You complain that the meals are unappealing, then you complain when I give the kids what they want. Make up your mind!
Sian: Perhaps cook something that is both healthy and enjoyed by kids?
Olive: [tutting] And maybe I’ll cure the common cold and bring about world peace while I’m at it!
Sian: Anyway Olive, diabolical though school dinners are, I’m afraid you’ve been well and truly upstaged tonight. Bubbling away in that vat is something more stewed than your broccoli, more congealed than your gravy, more odorous than your sprouts, more clumpy than your rice pudding, and with more mystery ingredients than your ravioli! [Turns to audience] How about it, school? Shall we plunge Olive in the pot!
Olive rolls her eyes.
Sian: [Faces forward] So those are our three staffroom sticklers, but which of them will get sticky in our Mucky Dip? I’m delighted to announce that we will donate all of tonight’s phone-call revenue to St Noel’s, to fund a refurbishment of the school buildings and travel grants for pupils, so there’s even more reason to vote. Ladies, good on you for taking part in this fundraiser, but don’t think we’ll go easy on you for it. The muck is as nasty as ever, and the whole school is waiting to see one of you brought down into it! Viewers, it’s over to you. Are maths teachers low in your estimation? Do PE teachers give you the run around? Or is your beef with school cooks? Whether you’re still at school or the memories rankle from decades back, here’s your opportunity to get revenge!
Alternative poll link
Poll closes 10 pm on Wednesday 1st June. Voting allowed once every 12 hours.