My dad used to go to the pub a lot. I think it would be fair to say he liked a drink. As a child, I didn’t necessarily know where he was going, if I asked he’d only say he was going to ‘meet a man about a dog’. I have no idea where that saying came from, all I know is that I spent many hours excitedly anticipating the arrival of a new puppy that never came.
On Sundays, he used to go to the pub while my mum and nan cooked a huge roast dinner. We’d always have to wait for him to come back before we ate, but nevertheless we were always pleased that he went because the fish stall used to park outside the pub on Sunday’s, and dad would always come back weighed down with bags of shellfish for us to have for tea.
After the obligatory Sunday afternoon watching a weepy on TV from the floor while Dad snored on the sofa, I’d go and help mum and nan prepare the salad. No fancy salad bowls brimming with multi-coloured mixed leaves and chopped vegetables for us. Oh no…our salad’s constituted:
a pile of lettuce leaves in a bowl
a pile of tomatoes in a bowl
Some very thin slices of cucumber in a bowl
Some cress in a bowl
Some full length sticks of celery standing up in a glass (how posh)
And a bottle of salad cream
These bowls would be distributed about our gingham-cloth covered table leaving space in the middle for the stars of the show, the shellfish.
Oh how I loved the messiness of the shellfish tea. Getting pink prawn husks and eggs stuck to our fingers, shelling the scampi (fresh ones the like of which I’ve not seen since), using dressmaking pins to lift the grey ‘lids’ off the winkles and wheedle the curled fleshy bit out, and the peculiar yellow cockles, that looked like the result of a violent sneeze, yet with a shake of salt and splash of vinegar tasted like the finest gourmet food.
I loved to see my fastidious old nan digging in and getting just as mucky as the rest of us, even licking the fishy juice from her fingers like I did. .
Afterwards, the bin would be full of the smelly shells, and mum would have to take the table-cloth out to the back garden and give it a vigorous shake to get rid of the stuck on bits of prawn antenna and legs, and winkle lids.
There was always salad left over, and more often than not the next day, all I’d find in my lunchbox was a cucumber, lettuce and tomato sandwich, with a stick of celery nestling alongside it.
Those days are long gone, and it seems that, these days, we have become over-sensitised to eating anything that looks a bit strange, or having to do anything as weird as wheedling out a winkle to get our food. But I remember those family teas as a bonding time. It was the one time of the week, when we sat down and ate together, little was said, and we all got on.