[lit-ideas] Thereabouts

  • From: david ritchie <profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 6 Dec 2015 22:06:35 -0800

Searching in a London Sainsbury’s for something to cook, I ran my eye down the
line of fresh chickens. All but one were identified as “British,” which would
have been fine. Here though was a St. Andrew’s Cross on the label.
Scooooootush chucken! Had to buy it. As I wandered in search of Marmite and
other items I intended to take back in my bag, my mind decided to tackle the
problem of what Scottish chickens might be named if I owned some. People in
Glasgow call women, “hen.” “It’s down the road a wee way; you’ll find it on
the left, hen.” Maybe they’d call hens, “hen” too?

Beer categories might also be a possibility: wee heavy, lager, bitter, export,
sixty shilling. The shilling designation, says Wikipedia, was based on the
price per hogshead: sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety shilling were pretty
standard. Last time I was in Scotland the chalkboard behind a bar said that the
seventy shilling would cost three pounds fifty. Or some such price.

In 1909 Macay brewed a cheap pale ale and a cheap stout, the fifty four.
Imagine dialog between the fifty-four hen and the ninety. I bet the fifty-four
would be a bit like Cheddar; the ninety would be a bully:
Fifty-four: “What’re you having then, hen?”
“Twice as much as you chum.”
Fifty-four: “No, that would be if I addressed you as a forty-five. Ninety is
twice as much as forty-five. Not fifty-four. 'Out in the forty-five' and all
that. Have to be standing on my head to go from a fifty-four to a forty-five.
That would be very odd, I should say. Very odd indeed.”
“Not as odd as your head will look when my beak’s done with you chum. Back off
and shut up. Top of the pecking order me, and don’t you forget it."
Along comes the sixty shilling, “Make mine a deep-fried Mars bar, if you will,
pet. I’m feeling peckish.”

We had a dinner at my sister’s house: lamb with all the trimmings, Christmas
pud, stilton and port. We pulled paper hats from crackers. In Oregon it would
be odd I think to have Christmas dinner on another day; less so in Britain.
After a walk in borrowed wellies, we piled into a country pub, hoping for
lunch. The landlord explained that he was fully booked…by people having
Christmas dinner in party hats pulled from crackers. Eventually he squeezed us
in. The steak pie was great. With chips and gravy.

Crackers, the whole journey really, popping across the pond for such a brief
visit. But worth it.

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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