Category Archives: Food

it’s not easy being green

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –April 2021)

It was May 1975, I had just turned 17 and finished my highers and I couldn’t get out of school quick enough. It was time to make my way in the world…………… and become vegetarian (the reason why has escaped me over the ensuing years). I did have a paperback “1000 Vegetarian Meals” and I was up for a challenge.

My mother knew the lady round the corner whose husband Old Malky (or Callum as his wife called him) was the head greenkeeper at the Bearsden Golf Club and before you could prize the sheets off a surly teenager at noon, I had a job as assistant to the assistant greenkeeper.

Now why Old Malky should be Old Malky to us and Callum to his wife remains a mystery as Old Malky only spoke in monosyllables on alternate days. Come to think of it, I have been known by both ‘Snookums’ and ‘Hey Fat Arse’ on differing occasions by my wife.

The job was very task orientated which suited me fine. My first job at sparrow’s fart was to ‘switch’ the greens. Switching involved a large bamboo pole with a tapering fibre class rod attached which, when moved in a sideways motion, flicked off dew, leaves and other detritus such as beer cans and smouldering cars bodies. (I’m not being judgemental but Drumchapel was just through the woods !) I took to the task like a Zen Buddhist monk often standing on one leg and muttering to myself in a fake oriental accent like David Carridine (Aah, Grass Lopper – get it?

I quickly adapted to the routine. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I would mow the greens. Getting the straight striped effect is trickier than it looks. I tried to convince Old Malky my first attempt was my interpretation of a Rennie Mackintosh design but he wasn’t buying it.

Tuesdays and Thursday was time to trim the tees. If a player came on, we were supposed to move to the back of the tee and idle the lawnmower until they had tee-ed off but many a time we just carried on, hastening a panicked swing as spinning blades came perilously close to shaving the tassels off many a two tone golf shoe.

Friday was hole changing day. There was a special spade device for puncturing and removing turf and soil and woe betide anyone with the temerity to chip and put onto our green until the job was completed and the last bit of stubborn grass was expertly trimmed from around the new hole with the designated scissors. Strict quality control was then adhered to. A bucket full of balls and 3 putters were distributed to each greenkeeper and intense putting from all angles ensued. Then and only then could the club member follow through. Any disregard to this unwritten rule meant your ball was hosed off the green. I seem to remember this important ritual was accompanied by several bottles of beer and pay packets were collected. Friday was a good day.

The only thing I took umbrage to was the toileting arrangements. Greenkeeper HQ was a large corrugated hanger which housed all the tractors, mowers and sundry equipment. I don’t even think it had power. The toilet consisted of an old gallon oil container with the top crudely removed. Not only did you have to pee in full view of your fellow workers you had to hold a rusty jagged tin close enough to circumcise yourself with one wayward shake. As for other bodily functions, the only time I got caught short I juked through some gardens and trotted adroitly home to the luxury of plumbed in sanitation. Does a Bear(sden boy) shit in the woods ? Not this one !

So this was the balmy summer of  ’75. I had a healthy outdoor working life and a healthy meat free diet. NB Take it from me. Tofu is only there to bulk up your plate. It doesn’t taste or smell of anything and the texture is a bit disconcerting too. It’s only there so that when people see your meagre plate of vegetables and bean sprouts they don’t say “Is that all you’re having”. Polystyrene would have much the same effect.

Unfortunately, summer changed to late autumn. Crisp summer dawns turned into dark foggy morns. Although I had waterproofs, they were not a match for the torrents of rain constantly soaking into my bones as I went about my daily chores.

Some days when the course was waterlogged I would have to stay in the shelter of the icy cold hanger and ‘riddle’. For reasons I could not comprehend, there was a large pile of dirt in one corner of the shed. My job was to scoop shovels of it into a large sieve and create a pile of finer dirt hour after sodding hour. I never ever saw what the purpose of my handiwork was as it just remained a bigger pile of finer dirt. Yesterday’s nut rissoles weren’t giving me the sustenance that I needed either. That and my mother talking about a turkey roast with all the trimmings for Xmas, I was beginning to crack.

I think I lasted until about October when I turned my back on the noble craft of the keeper of greens (all 9 holes of them) and succumbed again to the flesh of farmed animals and foul.

“Turn up the central heating will you Mum and pass me the chipolatas please !”

knockout lunch

George Cheyne: Glasgow March 2021

When I first started work I was like a kid in a sweetie shop..a chip shop..a sandwich shop..or a baker’s shop.

Joining the big, bad world of full-time employment in 1975 gave me the chance to break away from school dinners to give my taste buds a real treat.

Well, when I say a treat…I mean a full-on assault from a shed-load of unhealthy carbs and calories. Or lunch, as we call it in the west of Scotland.

Our office was right across from the gates of John Brown Engineering in Clydebank so the area was well served by food takeaways.

In fact, we were spoiled for choice. Two doors down from us was a sandwich shop, next to that was a chippie and round the corner was Greggs and City Bakeries. Decisions, decisions…

This new taste of freedom lark came at a price – not so much a financial one as a health one. But at 16 you don’t care about that because you’re invincible, right? 

The sandwich shop did a roaring trade at lunchtime despite having a menu that leaned heavily towards the minimalistic.

There was homemade soup (always lentil), made-to-order rolls – cheese and tomato, cheese and ham or ham and cheese – and, as an afterthought, some salad.

The only other things for sale in the shop were chocolate bars – Mars, Twix or Bar Six – and cans of Coke or Irn-Bru.

That was your lot. It was a stack-’em-high, sell-’em-cheap strategy that worked particularly well for the shipyard workers.

If you timed your run badly, there would be a massive queue or – worse still – only ham and salad left.

Faced with both these unpalatable options, you always had the chippie next door with its “lunchtime specials” menu.

It was a cunning marketing ploy to lure you in. Once inside, you soon found out the “lunchtime specials” were exactly the same as the “teatime specials” and the never-advertised late-night specials. 

It was a chip shop, plain and simple. Now I’m pretty sure no-one was expecting to walk in and find quinoa on the menu, but you’d be within your rights to think there might be something “special”.

Turns out that was covered off by the fish suppers having only one bit of fish instead of two. Some concession, huh?

No matter, they did a particularly-mean roll and chips which always tasted pretty special.

Round the corner at Greggs, the house speciality was a roll and mince. It might not sound that appealing, but somehow it worked.

The only drawback was trying to eat it on the move. If you did that, you ran the risk of mince oozing out on to your clothes.

The nearby City Bakeries sold those pies with mashed potatoes and beans on top, a real delicacy in this part of the world.

I could never really commit to them after watching a guy in work place two of the pies in a buttered roll, pour tomato sauce on top, squash it all down…and take a giant bite.

It’s an image I can never unsee. Bon appetit!

the food, the bad & the ugly.

(Post by George Cheyne, of Glasgow – February 2021)

Back in the day if anyone mentioned my palate, I assumed they were talking about the little tin tray that came with my paint-by-numbers set. Haute cuisine? Well, that was when you burned your mouth off after grabbing a chip straight out the basket of the chip pan before it had cooled properly.

Safe to say, I knew what I liked and I liked what I knew when it came to dinner time in our household and I look back fondly on those salad days of no-fuss meals. Maybe describing them as salad days is a bit of a stretch right enough, it’s probably more accurate to say they were deep-fried days.

Not that we had chips with everything, mind you. There was always beans on toast, spaghetti hoops on toast, ravioli on toast or even Heinz beans with pork sausages on toast to break up the monotony.

Now, my mum was a brilliant cook but even she had to succumb to straight-forward midweek menus. They were something of a necessity for me and my three brothers because there was always somebody in a rush to go somewhere.

Football training, down the park, swimming, pal’s house or Cub Scouts, no matter where we were going, we’d always need sustenance before heading out. And we lapped it up. Not literally, of course – we left that to the family dog in the unlikely event there were any leftovers.

I think it was TV chef Heston Blumenthal who described the 1970s as the decade that good food forgot, but maybe he had higher expectations than we did.

We were brought up on a diet of sausages, Spam fritters, cold meat, fish fingers, cauliflower and cheese, fish cakes, crispy pancakes and eggs, lots of eggs.

I certainly don’t remember too many complaints when we all sat down together – and, yes, that was a given back then – for a family dinner.

The accompaniments were sometimes a bit tricky given the West of Scotland’s aversion to vegetables, but baked beans and peas usually made it past the teenage food censors.

And when there wasn’t chips there was always Cadbury’s Smash, the instant mashed potato which owed its success to a brilliant of-its-time TV advert. You know the one…where aliens mocked mankind for being primitive because they peeled potatoes, boiled them for 20 minutes and then mashed them into small bits. “For mash get Smash”. Genius.

Then there were the puddings. And they were always called puddings in our house, never desserts, sweets or afters.

They could be seasonal, too. In the winter we’d have tinned Heinz treacle sponge pudding or home-made apple pie with custard. Spring and summer meant Angel Delight, Arctic Roll or ice cream.

If I remember correctly, Angel Delight came in two flavours – strawberry and butterscotch – and, as there was a 50/50 split between the four of us, we had to do it week about. My favourite was strawberry and a lot of wheeling and dealing went on that week with my butterscotch brothers to persuade them to hand over some of their portion in return for a similar deal the following week.

There were some mighty rows about that, as I recall. Some, if not all, of us seemed to suffer a sudden memory loss by the time it came around to returning the favour and claim and counter-claim regularly flew across the table. We could certainly have done with VAR back then to sort out who’d promised what to whom!

We also used to enjoy a cheeky wee soup ’n pudding combo which broke a lot of the meal-time traditions of the day. Critics would splutter: “What, no main course?” into their meat and two veg and I kind of get what they were saying.

But it was a win-win for our family. My mum’s home-made soup was chocca with vegetables and goodness and would have easily covered the complete set of any “five-a-day” mantra on its own. The puddings, on the other hand, easily covered a week’s worth of recommended sugar consumption for any kid. What’s not to like?

As we grew older, my mum cranked up the oven temperature on our eating habits. Following an ill-fated experimental dalliance with stuffed peppers, she boldly went where she hadn’t gone before with some enterprising choices for dinner time.

First up was a Fray Bentos steak pie. Not just any steak pie, you understand, because this one came out a tin. Yep, you read that correctly – a tin. Despite this, the pie was voted a winner and it encouraged my mum to take us to the next level.

And what a game changer that turned out to be.

You have to remember we were living in a world before McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Indian and Chinese takeaways, Uber Eats…anything, really, that made eating in an accessible, enjoyable experience.

But we went all in with a Vesta Curry. This was the vanguard of ready-made meals, a taste of the exotic served up in bags you placed in boiling water. Now, I’m the first to admit that doesn’t sound particularly exotic but, when you’d lived through the stuffed peppers era, this was foodie heaven

Vesta cast a wide net when it came to your choice of cuisine. There was Indian beef curry, Chinese chow mein, Spanish paella, Italian risotto and French chicken supreme.

They may not have been up to Michelin star standard, but they did enough to tickle our taste buds and set us all off on a gastronomic journey which has lasted the best part of 50 years and is still going on to this day.