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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Birthday Meal


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Ma (affectionately snarling as she scratches at a flea-bite): "You've had that mangy mongrel back in this house again, haven't you, you idjit?"


Me (innocent as the day is long): "Eh, dog? What dog?"



Now, I'm not saying Laddie was my dog exactly, he was his own master, but the two of us had reached the loose arrangement he might visit from time to time. Being a wily old rascal, he regularly hung outside of the school gates to exchange the odd cuddle for a crisp, and he had no qualms whatsoever about whom he went home with.



Forty years ago, as all us old timers are wont to say, things were very different from now. For example, if a parent ever showed up outside of our school gates, it usually signalled their kid had landed into some seriously deep-doo-doo, the whack-around-the-lug-until-your-ear-sings type of trouble that you wouldn't even wish upon your very own worst enemy. 
See, way back then the strange concept of collecting your sprog home from school would have been about as alien to us, as the notion of one of our parents being mug enough to "help us out" with our homework. The minute you were old enough to know the route home (and in some instances before), you were simply expected to take yourself off and get on with it.


Like most of my mates, I grew up as a "latch-key" kid, Ma worked down by the quay as a filleter, slicing the flesh from the bone of the catch of the day (Da was a trawler-man, often away for weeks at a time) so until she got home, Ma instructed my sib's to "watch out for the bairn" (me) but they, having their own fish to fry seldom took that pointer to heart. Not that it mattered one jot to me, I was far happiest left to my own devices, May and Ian were known to boss me about something chronic.



So it was, Laddie and I began to form a lasting friendship. It wasn't long before he took to calling round uninvited, sloping in through the back door when it was left open, and much to ma's horror, boldly making himself totally at home. Almost always instantly ejected, he never took offence, and being the persistent little bugger that he was, he even gradually managed to wear Ma down some. Although never voiced, when I came home one afternoon to find her sudding him down in the back yard, I knew we had won her over.



Laddie was used to his own agenda, he still liked to do his old rounds, but he always found his way back again.



Sometimes in a dreadful state.



Being a scrapper, he often bit off rather more than he could chew, and there were manys a time that Ma, in tears, would have to bathe a torn ear or tend to his various wounds. Much as she liked to deny it, she'd grown to love him every bit as much as we all did.



As you have probably gathered by now, money was tight growing up, but no matter how poor we were, we usually ate reasonably well. Our diet consisted of mainly fresh fish, eggs, cod roes or lambs hearts, sometimes this was varied with liver or for a special treat, pigs trotters. All the cheapest cuts granted, but nutritious non the less. 


Imagine then, when our Belling cooker finally up and died, the massive investment it was to find the money for a replacement. A loan was arranged from the Tick-man ("Tick" meaning "debt" in the vernacular of the day), this being the guy who called weekly door-to-door. Clutching his slate, he collected payment with the one hand and offered more debt from out of the other. No one liked, but everyone needed him. He ran a brisk business.



Our brand new new stove was a sight to behold, it came full with every modern bell and whistle you could ever wish for. The oven had a self-timer, it even sported a bright orange light as it warmed to the right setting, clicking off again as it reached the required temperature.



Sadly, even poor Ma knew what a rotten cook she was. Everything was either boiled or fried, seasoning was unheard of, and the only sauce we ever came by was served fresh from out of a ketchup bottle. But the arrival of this pristine appliance encouraged Ma on to new heights. Not having had a working oven for years, she was mad keen to see if she could put it to good use.



Oh my, did we suffer!



Ma stuck stubbornly to her claim we had a dodgy oven. Lord knows why, but for some inexplicable reason neither one of my folks ever needed to read an instruction manual. They KNEW how to operate stuff, and if the stuff didn't work, well, stands to reason it was faulty, du-uh! Wasn't that obvious?



The timer had a habit of going off before, during and after the oven was set (each time requiring a further fiddle with the button). Worse, the orange light kept clicking off, necessitating a higher spin of the dial to make it come on again. Every lump of fish/meat/offal came out looking identically charred and tasting equally leather-like. Time after time after time after time. (It didn't help that basting, braising or broiling had still yet to be invented in our household)



Well finally, being no body's fool and having also become hugely motivated by now, big sis decided to investigate further. Once she had fully read and boned up, she sat down with Ma to explain that the orange light was MEANT to flick off at the right temperature, it would still cook the meat. But ma was having none of it, the damned oven was faulty, it was nothing to do with her, and that was the end of it. Besides, everyone knows under cooked meat/fish/offal isn't good for you.



Sigh.



Anyway, time rolled on and Da's birthday came by. Once a year our Ma and his Ma made the huge effort to be seen to like each other, granny was invited over to sit round the table with us as we all tried to ignore the tension between them both, and pretend how much we would just love to do this kind of thing much more often. Naturally, this meal put Ma under a huge pressure. Already knowing whatever she produced would never be good enough, she was determined to serve up the most edible offering her skills could muster.



In honour of this auspicious occasion, she went and pushed the boat way out, buying the most expensive slab of beef this side of Commerce Street. Us kids gathered round to eye the brown, red tinged paper parcel lying out on the table.



"Go on, scoot, out the lot of you, I'm busy in here, and don't you dare to make a mess anywhere, you hear?"



Why was it always me who got the eyeball treatment when ever she said that? I'm telling you, being the youngest around those parts was enough to turn you paranoid. We had never so much as sniffed, never mind had the joy of wrapping our jaws around such a fine roast of beef before, this was a huge, huge big deal, believe me. 


Da had set off to collect Granny from home, and Ma was scuttling about still fixing the house up nice. I was just crossing the hallway to head for my comics, when in the flash of a second all hell broke loose.


A black and white blur slammed me across the wall, as I spun around just in time to catch a small fleeting glimpse of the tip of a tail  exiting the open front door. Simultaneously, I heard my Ma's  piercing scream fly up, and the blood in my veins instantly froze solid.



Laddie's made off with the beef!



Ma grabbed at my arm, and sprinting to give chase, she pushed and shoved me to run on ahead. Finding my legs, I sprang to action, a deep, awful dread spurring me on. I must have been the fastest kid since Bannister was a child. 


It was all to no avail, by the time we hit the street, Laddie had long since scarpered. 


I was truly distraught, what had Laddie done? I just knew Ma was going to kill the both of us, so she was!



Well she certainly was as mad as hell. She ranted and she raved, even delivered one of her infamous back- hand slaps on me. Oh boy, was I scared for Laddie when he got back. 


But then something really weird happened. Ma stopped mid-rant and I swear I saw a little light-bulb go off in her head (it was a very long time ago, so I may be mis-remembering now). She stopped and she looked at me, tilted her head to one side, and a small hint of a smile lifted her lips. The smile turned into a grin, and the grin grew into a laugh.



"Carol!" She bent and kissed me where she'd slapped. Without a further word, she turned and virtually danced to the kitchen. 


Maybe everyone was right after all, she really was nuts?



Naturally I was firmly in the doghouse once Da and Granny found out. Da was all for turning Laddie out into the street for once and for all. We all sat round the table with our two veg and some tatties (spuds), trying not to mourn too hard for the loss of our beef. It was a muted affair, and sure, it wasn't too long after this that granny demanded she be fetched back to her own home again (in her grand display of disapproval). 


Ordered off to clear and to wash the dishes all by my lonisome, I didn't mind, I wasn't up for much company anyway. I didn't need any encouragement to take myself on off for an early night, either.



What I had no inkling of at the time was that Laddie had actually delivered to Da probably the best birthday present he'd had in years. With no meat on the table, there was no ammunition for granny to find fault with, Ma was for the first time in ages finally able to relax, and nobody had to risk breaking their jaws to chew down what would have surely been yet another blackened offering. Even granny won out, being spared the undoubted indigestion Ma's cooking always inflicted upon her self-proclaimed delicate constitution.



Laddy?  Well yeah, he did get punished, little thief that he was - and I rather doubt he had even a clue as to why.. mind,  for years after that, every time he heard the dreaded words, "Who stole the beef?"   He'd slope off, tail dragging low.

65 comments:

Li said...

Great story - love the pic too! I love the shaggy mongrel types, although I admit dog hair all over the furniture drives me crazy :-)

mythopolis said...

What a great story! It says so much about family dynamics and the foibles and follies most people can identify in their own family histories. And I love the WAY you tell these kinds of tales. One can sense the way things were once upon a time. A way of life in some yesteryear. The calamities become charming and endearing. People's shortcomings become laughable and somehow loveable. I hope you are saving these wonderful anecdotes for your children to cherish on down the line. They are full of personal history and also reveal things about people in general that transcend history! Nice writing, Shrinky!

Mamma has spoken said...

Being a dog person, I so get the story! Once, my female lab ate a plate full of cupcakes that my son made and needed for a class project in school. We couldn't punish her though, because the sugar from eating a dozen or so cupcakes hiped her up so much she was like a dog on speed! Took all day for her to get rid of all that energy and we still talk about how Daisy can't handle her sugar.

ladyfi said...

What a great childhood memory!

Akelamalu said...

LOL what a great story!

Chantel said...

Adored this! The perfect gift it sounds, and a terrific story. I've always preferred the shaggy ones of life, much more interesting companions they make, don't you think?

Kate said...

Clever Laddy made off with the birthday meal. Love it! You are a story-teller extraordinaire!

s.m. said...

Terrific story,and a great childhood memory , and tihs is nice blog, ...!Thank you.

Tabor said...

What a fun journey to that time and that kitchen. Poor Laddie and poor family that never got a descent meal!

Brighid said...

Still recovering from spue'n coffee out the nose from reading about mom's cooking...

Jay Simser said...

What a wonderful story to start a rainy (in Iowa) Thursday. Having had a dog that could grab and eat a loaf of banana bread from off the center of the table I can relate. Thank you.. (Oh and thanks for the large print. I really appreciate not having to squint.

Vince said...

And there I thought you were a Dundee jute princess.:-D

A beautiful story. Ever thought of entering it in a Short Story competition.

Anthony Duce said...

Enjoyed the story...

bill lisleman said...

How ironic, who would think stealing the main expense dish would actually improve the event.
"cuddle for a crisp" - maybe I should have tried that myself when I was a young lad.

Leslie: said...

Didn't you post this some time ago? Regardless, it was well worth another read...Laddie must have been one loveable doggie to have gotten away with that! Hope he didn't get indigestion himself. :D

The Future Was Yesterday said...

You forgot the snpw, and hills we had tp climb:)

Ms. A said...

Your stories are always so brilliantly put together and interesting to read. I just LOVE them!

Skunkfeathers said...

Laddie should visit my kitchen on the very rare occasions I 'fire' it up...and save what "Chef Boy-R-Dee-Structive" is about to incinerate...

Ostriches Look Funny said...

This story of yours has a sing song quality to it, like a chant almost.
Poor dog. I feel a little bad for him. Ma and the Oven though...hilarious.
Slightly worrisome from a food poisoning perspective, but still hilarious.

Dave said...

Wonderful story Carol. I had a good laugh at the end. Brilliant! - Dave

Shrinky said...

Hi Li, oh tell me about it, my golden retriever sheds all over the place (shrug) - good job I love him..

Shrinky said...

Aw Dan, I should put you on the payroll (giggle), now you've gone and turned me ears all pink! What a gorgeous comment, I'm proper made up with it, you sure know how to light up a morning. My kids, ach, my entire family, have no interest whatsoever in reading my blog (pout), though in some cases it actually proves a blessing (evil grin), since I can say anything I like about them without fear of repercussion.

Shrinky said...

Hi there Mamma, awww, what a picture that paints - and I love that name, Daisy, I'm sure she suits it well, too.

Shrinky said...

Hi ladyfi, funny the things we remember, isn't it?

Shrinky said...

Cheers for that, Ake.

Shrinky said...

Yeah Chantel, they always listen, yet never back-chat - what more could you want from a companion?

Shrinky said...

Flattery will get you everywhere, Kate, my friend!

Shrinky said...

Hi Steve, thankyou for that, and for stopping by.

Shrinky said...

Hello Tabor, oh it brought back so much when I wrote this, I was right back there again (smile).

Shrinky said...

Hi there Brighid, now THAT'S the type of feedback that is guaranteed to wrap a big, happy smile around my heart!

Shrinky said...

Hello Jay, it's good to see you back again, thanks for stopping in. Do you know, I think you are the first person to ever comment on my preference of posting in large print - I often find smaller type off-putting to navigate my way through, and I'm glad to hear I'm not alone on that.

Shrinky said...

Vince, wash that mouth of yours out, this instant - pah, Dundee Jute Princess, indeed - as if! (Actually, I had to chuckle, seeing as how I was born less than 20 miles away.) Nah, any airs and graces I might have, have been solely self-acquired along the way. As to your suggestion this might be fit to print elsewhere, I'm flattered, but doubtful it would find the audience - though I'm tickled at the thought!

Shrinky said...

Hi there Anthony, it's always a pleasure to see you in here.

Shrinky said...

Hello bill, ha, now there's a thought, eh? Yeah, like I say, I think it all truned out for the best, considering..

Shrinky said...

Hi there Leslie, och, you know me, Queen of the re-post, anything worth publishing once, and all that (blush)..

Shrinky said...

Hi there Dan, you're right, AND in the hail and the wind, eh?

Shrinky said...

Ms A, you sure know how to make a girlie's day, you do! ((x))

Shrinky said...

Haha, Skunk, I hear tell even your pet rock Seymour has packed up and left home?

Shrinky said...

How lovely to see you in here, Ostriches, I'm so pleased you came by. Oh yes, my poor mother may have had many talents, but cooking certainly wasn't one she owned. This story unfolded in the highlands of Scotland, which is probably why the speech rhythm may sound different to your ear?

Shrinky said...

Hi Dave, oh I'm delighted you enjoyed the telling of it, that means much to me (smile).

MarkD60 said...

When I delivered papers as a boy, the neighbors dog, Missy, would always follow me along the route. When she was in heat, I had about a million dogs following me!

When Ditto was brand new, he put his front paws on a chair to get a big tuna steak off the table. He got busted and learned a big lesson.... You have to catch them red handed so they'll know what you're talking about.

Shrinky said...

Ha, now there's a sight you've painted, Mark, you must have looked like the dog Pied Piper of the Cayman Islands.

Yup, unless caught in the actual act, any doggie-discipline is wasted on them - you know that, I knew that, but was my Ma in any mood to listen??

X. Dell said...

1. Tick? Bairn? Tatties? I think I need a Scottish to American dictionary.

(2) Interesting behavior on Laddie's part--to steal the whole beef without waiting for an offer. I wonder if dogs have a sense that they're burning bridges behind them.

(3) Can't teach an old dog new tricks, anymore than you can teach old cooks new recipes or new stoves.

(4) I'm wondering: are Jake and Laddie the same breed?

X. Dell said...

Am I hallucinating, or did that dog picture just change?

Shrinky said...

Hi X-Dell, I'm tempted to ask if you've been on the opiates today, but I can't be so cruel - though I do wish I'd seen your double-take when the new photo magically appeared (too funny)! No, Jake made too poor a stand in, seeing as how Jake's pedigree is immaculate as compared to Laddie's rather questionable parentage - Laddie was a mutt through and through. The current pic is a far better depiction of him. In answer to your other points:

1. Be grateful I posted the toned down version of Aberdonian.

2. Laddie had no shame whatsoever in the burning of bridges department, it became part of his charm.

3. Poor old Ma had her talents, but no, cooking, especially combined on a new appliance, certainly wasn't one of them.

Cheryl Kohan said...

SUCH a great story! I can just imagine your mother's shock when she realized what Laddie had done. Oh my.

Once my daughter's dog ate an entire batch of handmade chocolate truffles that she had prepared for an event of some sort. Chocolate can be lethal for dogs so she was beside herself with fear. Luckily, he didn't get sick at all!

Shrinky said...

Hi Cheryl, welcome aboard and thanks for the visit. Oooh, I truly can empathise with the panic that little rascal must have caused - my golden retriever ate a Christmas present, wrapper n'all, of Belgian choc's, just last year. He didn't even have the good grace to LOOK embarassed - I sat up half the night with him - nada, no ill effects whatsoever!

Anvilcloud said...

This is quite an anecdote. I sure lost sight of Laddie for awhile. Then he re-entered in full vigour.

Daniel LaFrance said...

Being a first timer on your blog, I must admit I didn't know what to expect. I'll let you know that some of the expressions used were strange to me but I managed to get the gist of it all.

You kept a smile on my face and triggered childhood memories of my parents Mom being Irish and Dad being French Canadian.

X. Dell said...

You must have changed the photo while I was busy making my comment. You're not spying on me, are you?

Shrinky said...

Hi Anvilcloud, um, oops, yeah - did I mention I have this slight tendancy to wander off subject now and then? I usually find my way back to it in the end (grin).

Shrinky said...

Hi there Daniel, oh I've no doubt that with that good splash of Celtic blood in you, you'll have no trouble in soon catching up with my peculiarities (wink). Give it time.

Shrinky said...

X-Dell, now why on earth would I need to spy on you (when I have an army of slaves reporting back your every move to me)?

Incidentlally, did you know you talk in your sleep?

CiCi said...

Oh my, you were always in trouble. Great memory shared here, lots of things intertwined. Your mom and dad, your grandma, your siblings, your dog, and the scene of the oven with the light going off when it reached the temp, and lack of understanding of that light. The best part is that when the dog removed the meat, some discord went out the door too. This is a story to make me laugh and cry at the same time.

Shrinky said...

CiCi, goodness, what an insight you have - I am truly staggered at how much there you picked up on (smile). Thank you for your wonderful feedback, it truly has made my day!

~Babs said...

Oh my,,,imagine:
Your Mum was just years ahead of her time with the 'blackened' meat
so popular these last several years.
Why, with a little restaurant and you to clean up,,,she could have made a fortune!
(seems I'm experiencing a little
Deja Vu with this post, but hey, I loved it this time too!)
:-)

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

What a wonderful story, and Sooo Well Told! I could picture everything---And Laddie sounds like he was a very endearing doggie, in spite of him being a thief, now and again....(lol).

So glad I stopped by, my dear....! You are such a wonderful writer!

Barbara said...

What a great memory! You are such a wonderful storyteller... if you ever write a memoir, I want a copy!

Shrinky said...

Hiya Babs, och, (blush) this is how I reward my long-term readers, s'awful, I know. Truth is, the kids are on break, the weather is good, and I'm bunking off again. You are so sweet and generous, thanks for bearing with me. Normal service is about to be resumed, though (I pack them all back to school on Tuesday)..!

Shrinky said...

Lady of the Hills, I take that as high praise indeed, coming from such a talented lady as yourself (smile), thank you for that, it puts a high-kick to my step!

Shrinky said...

Ha, don't hold your breath, Barbara, I haven't even the attention span of a goldfish. Unlike you, self-discipline, focus, and honest to goodness hard graft is far too much of a challenge to surmount (not to mention my frequently huge lack of inspiration).

Sigh.

Diana said...

What a great story Shrinky! It's funny the stories that we remember from our childhood. Perhaps serious at the time but funny now. You're a great story teller, I'll be back for more. Thank you for visiting my blog the other day. I haven't been posting as often as I should but, you'll catch one every now and again.
Again, great story! Love Di ♥

chewy said...

Was there a birthday cake?

otin said...

Oh my goodness that was too funny! It seems like your Ma and my Ma could be one in the same. The light on the oven brought back memories of my mother trying to use a VCR. LOL

Also, I dreaded seeing her show up at my school. It always meant something bad was going to happen.

Thanks for spurring some old memories.

Suldog said...

What a grand story (and what a grand storyteller you are!) I know I've seen this before, but I devoured every word again (much as Laddie must have devoured that beef.) Well done (and I'm not talking about your Ma's cooking.)