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life with dad:”say what, bub?”

Life with Dad : “Say What, Bub?”

(Sketches from a 1970s family)

by Andrea Burn

This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, places, events and incidents in this work are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. 


A typical 1930s semi at the end of a cul-de-sac in Birmingham West Midlands, where a gauche American family from the Deep South have recently moved in their pursuit of Merry England.

Meet the Family

Dougie Puckett – early 40s: all-American Dad,  husband and teacher. Hapless DIY enthusiast with a propensity for profanity,which he tries in vain to disguise from the kids.

Martha Puckett – 38: genteel Southern Belle, wife and mother with expectations beyond her means.

Melvin – 17:  ‘A’ Level Maths student; into classical music. 

Randy – 15: typical teenager;  into The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, basketball and teasing his sister.

Phoebe – 12: teenybopper and annoying kid sister.

Piddle – Randy’s German Shepherd dog

Frisky – Phoebe’s cat.                                                                                


One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

5pm one weekday afternoon. Dougie is painting the old, dark upright piano in the dining room with magnolia gloss. There is paint splattered everywhere – especially on Dougie.  Randy has just come home from school. He throws back the dining room door and chucks his satchel on the floor.  Incredulous, he gapes at Dougie.

“Dad – you’ve painted the piano white.” 
“That’s not white boy – that’s cream. Now it won’t stick out in the room so far.” 
“ Yeah right – you’ll never notice it.”    

Martha glides into the room. She looks thoughtfully at Dougie holding the paintbrush.        

“Shame you can’t paint the vomit coloured tiles on that old fireplace. I feel nauseous just looking at them.”

“Good one, Mom! Vomit coloured tiles!” 
“I’m going to put my mother’s sliver candelabra on top of that piano.” 
“The silver candelabra! Well, bust my buttons! Soon we’ll be livin’ high-on-the-hawg! I’ll just dust down my dinner tux.”

 Dougie dances a little jig in the doorway. Phoebe interrupts as she stomps into the room, teetering on platform shoes.

“Dad – what have you done to my piano? You can’t just paint it! Mom – tell him! If the wood can’t breathe, it will drop its tone and then I can’t practise and then I’ll fail my Grade 3 piano exam!”
 “Mom, tell him! It’ll drop its tone.” Randy mimics his kid sister with great delight. 
 “Shut up Randy!” 
“Make me!” Randy creases up laughing. 

 Martha intervenes with one of her ‘looks’ at Randy, who in turn smirks at Phoebe and makes a swipe at her.

“Alright you two, cut it out. Scoot and do your homework before dinner.”
“I don’t have any; Mr. Chopra said.” Phoebe shoots a smug look at her brother.
“Sure – like the time Mr. Chopra told you that the Hagley Road has a tidal wave that ripples under the tarmac twice a day from Five Ways to the Holly Bush.  And you believed him.” Randy laughs and taunts Phoebe.
“I did not so believe him!”
“Did not too.”
“Did so. You LOVE Mr. Chopra!”“Do not! Dad – tell Randy to stop it! He’s being gross.” 

Dougie is admiring his paintwork. He hasn’t been listening.

“I’m going to start in the hallway. Son, go into the garage and get me the can of magnolia emulsion. It’s in there somewhere.”

“What are you gonna paint now Dad?”

“I’m gonna paint over that ugly son-of-a-gun wallpaper. Who in their right mind would put purple wallpaper with brown and orange triangles on it on the dog-gone walls?”

Randy goes in search of the paint. Martha is now gawping at the hallway wallpaper as she smooths her apron.

 “That sure is THE ugliest wallpaper I ever saw in my life. I declare, it’s just tacky.  My mother would have a conniption fit if she could see it.”
“Your mother? What in tarnation has she got to do with the wallpaper?”

Martha pulls a frown.

“Well – you would never see anything so tasteless in a real Southern home.” 
“Honey, I can’t turn this crock-of-bull, 1930s semi into a Southern home with a dad-gum front porch and chandelier; but I’m doin’ my level best to put a hell-ova  tonne of gloss on it.”

Randy returns with the can of paint and gives it to Dougie, who opens it and gets straight down to work; splashing paint straight over the wallpaper – no preparation.  Martha looks on.

“Don’t you need to take the old wallpaper off first honey?”
 “Nah – just painting straight over the top; a couple of coats ought-a do it.”

Piddle trots past; getting dog hair stuck in the fresh paint.

 “Son-of-a-gun! I swear – that hound…”
 “Now Dougie – not in front of the children.”
“Well, dad-blasted! One day that dawg will listen to me!” 

Phoebe stomps upstairs and slams her bedroom door.  Soon strains of David Cassidy can be heard seeping from her room on her transistor radio.  Randy puts Led Zeppelin 11: Whole Lotta Love on the record player in the dining room.  He takes school books out of his satchel and sits at the table.  Dougie whistles in the hallway while he continues smothering the wall with paint as Melvin descends half-way downstairs with a pained expression.

“Dad – can you get Randy to turn that crappy music down? I’m trying to describe Newton’s method for obtaining successive approximations to the root of an equation!”

 Melvin troops back upstairs and pounds his fist on Phoebe’s bedroom door.

“Hey Phoebe – turn that crap off!  I’m trying to study!”
“Son – we’ll have less of that goddam language.” 

 Melvin rolls his eyes as he slams his bedroom door. The can of paint is nearly knocked over by Piddle, who tears through the hallway as she chases Frisky upstairs.

 “Cheesus Randy! Come get your son-of-a-gun dawg and put her outside! And turn that dad-gum wah-wah music off! Melvin’s right – a man can’t have any peace around here.”
“It helps me concentrate, Dad.”

Dougie sticks his head into the dining room, jabbing the air with his dripping paintbrush.

“In my day, we had REAL music – the greats: Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington.”  

 Randy sings under his breath.

 “I’ll give you doo-be-doo-be-doo if you don’t get that S.O.B dawg outta here.”

Martha calls from the kitchen.

 “Dinner’s ready!”

Piddle thunders downstairs, skids past the freshly painted wall and lands at Martha’s feet. She pats the dog’s head,

“Good girl.”

 She puts a bowl of food down for the dog, washes her hands and calmly wipes them on her apron as Dougie shakes his dripping paintbrush at the dog. Martha wags her finger at Dougie,

“Don’t say it! I declare – what a mess. Go and get cleaned up. And DON’T come down in your under-shirt for supper!”
“Yes Ma’am!”

Dougie kisses Martha playfully on her cheek and winks at Randy. He whistles as he trots upstairs to get changed for dinner. 


Martha is in the kitchen, serving plates of spaghetti bolognaise to each family member in turn.

  “Here Phoebe – use both hands honey. Don’t spill it.”
  “Oh Mom, I can do it.” 

Phoebe snatches her dinner plate, turns swiftly into the hallway and watches with horror as the spaghetti slides off.  As if in slow motion, the spaghetti is suspended in mid-air for a moment before splatting on the white carpet. Dougie, who has come downstairs in a clean shirt, dances an exaggerated jig in the hallway as he chants, 

“It’s one step forward and two steps back for this family. One step forward and two steps back!”

Martha looks on in horror at the splattered spaghetti.

“Not my white carpet!” 
“Sorry Mom.”
“Dadgummit Phoebe, hand me the Ajax.”  

 Dougie rolls back his sleeves and begins scrubbing on his hands and knees. Piddle barges between him and the stairs and begins ravenously eating the spaghetti on the carpet.

 “Randy! How many times have I gotta tell ya to come get your filthy dawg outta here before I send her dad-gum butt to kingdom come!”  

Randy sneaks a string of spaghetti to Piddle before dragging her by the collar into the dining room.

“Not near the goddam piano son! Cheesus H!” 

Melvin takes his plate of dinner with a look of disdain and turns to his sister.

 “Phoebe, you’re such a child.”
 “Am not! I’m nearly thirteen!”
 “Yea, Pheeb; such a dweeb.” Randy grins. 

 Phoebe sulks as Martha gives her another plate of food.

“I know, I know. Don’t spill it! As if…”
“Don’t speak to me like that young lady, or I’ll…”

Dougie interjects. 

“Or I’ll wash your mouth out with soap. That’s what your grandfather used to do to me and by God it worked.” 

Phoebe stomps off into the dining room, sits at the table and sulks; her chin cupped in her hands.

“Why does everyone in this family hate me?” 

 Melvin leans across his plate.

“Because you’re a brat.”

The family sit down to dinner when the cat saunters backwards down the hallway, retching as it goes. It passes the dining room door, slowly vomiting up an entire large bird. Dougie recoils in disgust. 

“Cheesus H! Son-of-a-bitch cat! I’ve just washed my hands!”                                                                                

Martha is distraught.

 “Not on my white carpet!”
“Phoebe – come get your goddam cat and put it outside! Son-of-a-gun, lousy, good-for-nothing… someone get me the rubber gloves and some newspaper, would ya? Dadgummit! –  is it too much to ask to eat dinner without one of these sons-of-bitches ruining it?” 

  Dougie’s face is starting to turn red. 

“Now honey, I know you’re upset but please watch your language in front of the children. I declare!” 

Dougie ignores the remark and rolls his sleeves back again, ready for action. He stands up from the table, throws down his napkin and walks purposefully into the hallway where he kneels to begin cleaning up the regurgitated bird. The kids leave the dinner table too and stand around gawping as Dougie mutters.

“One step forward and two steps back.”

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.