Sunday, November 30, 2008

A bowl of chicken soup

For some obscure reason (read, I don't know why) it was a tradition in my family that we, the kids, were given money to buy lunch on Mondays. The rest of the week we took jam sandwiches, or sardine sandwiches, or salami sandwiches to school, but on Mondays we trooped off, the proud possessors of two or three shillings, ready to make up our own minds about what we'd eat for lunch.

I can only imagine what a sacrifice those few shillings were. I seem to remember that money was always short (when isn't it?). I recall my mother making sacrifices to raise the half a guinea needed to make me a member of the local YMCA in 1960 so it's not much of a jump to connect 3 bob (shillings) in the same year with a major sacrifice. Yet she made it. There's a mothers love for you! I'm seeing much the same thing here in 2008 in the way my wife will make all kinds of excuses for Morgan when any dispassionate outsider (myself for example) would pronounce a sentence of 'let her stew her in her own juices'!

But I digress. Back then, in 1960, I'd take my precious three shillings up the road from school and around the corner into Barkly Street, to a pie shop, and buy a pie. The pies weren't quite as good as the ones my grandmother (with whom we lived) made, but that hardly mattered. The pleasure was in fronting up at the counter, all of 6 years old, asking for a pie and plunking down a bob or two.

For the benefit of my American readers I'm talking of a meat pie. I'm not quite sure how it is that my new homeland has missed the pleasure of the meat pie but miss it they surely have! Mystery meat and gravy locked in a savory pastry, food fit for the gods! Alas, I had far too few pies in Australia a couple of months ago, but I *did* have lots of fish and chips!

Pie in hand, hot enough to burn through the waxed paper, I'd emerge into Barkly Street and blow frantically on it to cool it enough to eat. I honestly don't remember tomato sauce involved but I'm quite sure it was. I also don't remember having to choose between a dozen varieties of pie; there was just the one. Meat!

A few years later, 1963 or thereabouts, somewhat more sophisticated, my friends and I used to patronise a small shop right next to the railway line in Yarraville. The building is still there and I walked past it a couple of months ago. These days it now looks like someone lives in what was once a low end diner. I imagine the space where we once played the posh gent, nine or ten years old and with all of three bob in our pockets, is now their lounge room. Could they even imagine the pretensiousness of it all?

I remember one lunchtime we, my friends and I, Peter, Bill, Carl and possibly Cliff, graced that restaurant with our custom. I ordered the chicken soup and it was marvellous! Soup and whatever they ordered consumed we paid our bill and exited, to have a smoke in the backlane a street or so away from school. Time had gotten away from us and the hour, which usually seemed more than adequate to wolf down a few sandwiches, exchange the odd joke and have a smoke, was up before we knew it.

We came perilously close to 'the cuts'[^] that day. Old Mr Powell (he had the same name as the street the school was in and I've always suspected his name wasn't Powell at all), wasn't all that vigorous at ringing the bell, though rather more vigorous at dropping us in it when he had the opportunity. Thus, dimly, I heard the bell ringing a street or so over, and alerted my pals. Some doubt at first; had I really heard it? This, incidentally, is how I know it was 1963; it had to be before my first wristwatch and I received that on the day that JFK was shot[^]. We ran like hell and got back to class with barely a moment to spare. That half a cigarette stubbed out in blind panic was forgotten for the nonce!

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