Paul Fitzpatrick: London, January 2022
It came to my mind recently that lunch tends to get overlooked these days.
Brunches & Suppers are regularly championed by Nigella and Jamie, we’re constantly bombarded with dinner ideas on MasterChef and up until intermittent fasting came along we were hoodwinked into thinking that ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’.
By the way, do you know who’s credited with that oft-repeated and very famous quote?
None other than John Harvey Kellogg…. yeah THAT Kellogg!
Subsequently, lunch has dropped down the ‘square meal’ league table into the relegation zone which is a bit of a comedown.
Once upon a time it used to run away with the title but that was before Gordon Gekko’s “lunch is for wimps” claim in the movie Wall Street.
In its glory years lunch was called dinner, it was the main meal of the day and was eaten any time between late morning and mid afternoon. Then the industrial revolution came along at which point sustenance was required between morning and afternoon shifts to enable workers to sustain maximum effort throughout the day, hence the regimented one hour lunch break, we know now.
Cut forward to today and lunch for many consists of a quick sandwich in front of a computer screen, checking out social media and looking at Nigella’s recipes for supper, or if you’re male, and of a certain age, just checking out Nigella!
Back in the 70s however, when we were at school or newbies in the workplace, lunch WAS the most important meal of the day… by a long chalk.
Maybe it was by default… after all breakfast was relatively basic, a plate of cereal or a slice of toast before you ran out the door to catch the school bus.
Dinner, on the other hand, was a bit more formal in most households, the table would be set but you had to wait till your faither got home.
To be honest dinner was a bit hit or miss in our house.
You see, my dad was an offal man for his offal – kidney, Tongue, liver, tripe, all the stuff that was popular in its day and made fancy window dressing at the butchers…. but offers good reason to turn vegetarian now.
It got worse though, if the raw materials my mum had to work with weren’t great, then her cooking skills only compounded things.
I love my Mum to bits, but she was no Fanny Craddock and trying to mask the stench of charred liver from my favourite Fred Perry polo shirt, (by splashing on copious amounts of Brut) before heading out to impress, was not a pleasant experience.
So, whilst breakfast was on the hoof and dinner could easily have consisted of hoof…. lunch was always to be savoured for a few reasons…..
Firstly, although we may not have been enduring the same hardships as our distant relatives from the 1800’s, lunch still broke up the day perfectly – and if like me you were stuck in a dull lesson pre-lunch, then you could start counting down to the lunchtime bell before meeting up with your pals to eat, blether, and release some of that pent up energy.
Secondly, free-will, which was in scant supply back then, came to the fore as we were able to take ownership of our daily lunching choices.
You could go to the canteen for school dinners if you were seduced by the day’s menu offering, (beef olives was always a favourite), or if you fancied a wee donner (the walk not the kebab) then you could take your lunch money and saunter down to Bearsden Cross to the bakers for a sausage roll or a sandwich…. always accompanied by a carton of ski yoghurt for pudding.
It was probably the best hour of most school days!
School holidays meant lunch at home, and after a bit of trial and error, home lunches became a slick operation, i.e. straight out of a can – Campbell’s chicken soup and cold Ambrosia Devon Custard…. tasty, low-maintenance stuff that even I could prepare without the need to splash any Brut on afterwards.
It’s strange but I can’t remember much about school lunches at primary school, I lived about 15-20 min’s walk from school so I doubt that I lunched at home every day. I do remember a few kids having packed lunches though and thinking that themed lunchboxes were cool, but I don’t think soup and custard would have travelled that well.
Another weekly treat during school holidays was going to Drumchapel swimming baths, not so much for the eye-stinging chlorine or the daredevil belly flops off the dale, but rather for the delicious pie & beans in the adjoining canteen afterwards.
As we moved into the workplace, lunchtimes were a saviour, it broke the day up and gave you time to regroup and recharge your batteries.
I worked in a small office in central Glasgow when I left school. There was just 5 of us and I was the youngest by some 20 years, so come lunchtime I was a lone-wolf – until my good mate Billy Smith started working in Frasers in Buchanan St a few months later.
This was a tremendous turn of events as I used to go with Smiddy to their excellent staff canteen where we’d fill our faces and gawk at all the elegant cosmetic girls, before meandering about town to wile-away the rest of the golden-hour.
It was a splendid arrangement and when Smiddy told me he was thinking of quitting his job for a more lucrative one, I did what every good mate would do in the same situation….. and tried my darnedest to convince him to stay.
“what about the great staff discounts”
“what about all the pretty girls in the cosmetics dept”
“what about the opportunities for promotion”
“what about the fact you’re working in an iconic building”
“what about – the subsidised staff canteen for Christ’s sake!!“
Of course, Billy very selfishly took up the life changing opportunity, leaving me to lope around as a lone-wolf once more, although I used to regularly meet my mate Joe Hunter on a Friday and we’d head to Paddy’s Market to get our outfits for the weekend.
If ever clothes required a splash of aftershave, it was those ones!
As enjoyable as all those lunch times were back then, you knew the pleasure was temporary, you always had an enemy – the clock!
As you get older and escape the constraints of the clock, lunch offers a great social opportunity to catch up with friends and family and the lunches I look forward to the most now are the leisurely ones you have on holiday. Looking out at a sun-splattered, turquoise ocean, with a cold beer or a chilled glass of wine accompanied with never-ending portions of seafood or salty tapas… living in the moment with nothing to rush back for.
All hail lunch….