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A Shout From The Attic: Slaying Dragons

Ronnie Bray samples honeycomb tripe and mushroom soup and decides that growing up could be fun.

To sample more tasty helpings of Ronnie's autobiography click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page. Read also his richly interesting weekly columns, Letter From America.

The town centre of my boyhood days seemed large until I went to Leeds and Bradford, and saw big towns with enough streets to help a young boy lose his way. Huddersfield always seemed to be just the right size to remember every road, street, avenue, and snicket.

Woolworth’s was an absolute treasure-trove. When I was young, it was possible to find all sorts of things in Woolworth’s, who advertised their wares as “Nothing over sixpence''. War memorabilia, such as surplus webbing gaiters, smelling of powerful disinfectant or de-lousing agent, were to be found on the large mahogany counters. Young giggly girls, who were paid lavish attention by callow youths with sports jackets, slim-Jim ties, and Brylcreem-plastered hair, staffed the counters. At such times, it could be difficult to get anyone to take your threepenny bit for something tooth-rotting and fattening, an experience that encouraged patience in the young.

A real treat was a visit to the Beast Market at the bottom end of town. There were two fish and chip shops that had tables downstairs and upstairs where one could take a tray with fish and chips, bread and butter, and a pot of tea, sit, and eat a meal. It was almost too grown-up for words. It was in one of these fish cafes that I met and overcame my fear of tripe. Known only by reputation in our house, I made a determined effort, bought a plateful of best honeycomb, sprinkled it liberally with vinegar, salt and pepper and got to work with my fork. It did not look very appetising, but its “outer semblance did belie its soul’s immensity” and I found it to be delicious. Although it is now on my index expurgatus for its richness in cholesterol, I occasionally sneak a quarter of a pound and eat it with my shoes on my feet, my staff in my hand and my cloak on lest any find me out in my sin.

Another childhood dragon that I slew was mycophobia. Mushrooms were another item never found in our house.. Naturally, I heard about them and since everyone spoke so highly of them, I decided I ought at least to try them. That way whenever the conversation drifted towards edible fungus I felt I would be able to make a positive contribution. I always feel that I have nothing to offer in a serious discussion. It is a throwback to childhood and no doubt explains my surprise when I was awarded a degree.

The Picture Drome, which we called the Ranch House for the number of westerns it hosted, eventually changed its name to the Curzon Cinema, got a new sign and put up its prices. Shortly afterwards a very dapper gent, with an unspeakably beautiful daughter, opened the American Curzon Coffee Bar next door to the cinema. He had distinguished greying hair and a moustache to match. The coffee bar was all-coloured, plastic, chrome, and American, offering some strange brew of coffee that came as a surprise to one whose experience of coffee had been restricted to Camp liquid, mostly consumed straight from the bottle at Scout camps.

The menu boasted mushroom soup. I ordered a quantity, paid my shilling, tried not to look as out of place as I felt and the tawny gloop was duly deposited in front of me with a degree of deference to which I was totally unaccustomed. Taking a deep breath - never a good thing to do when attempting to eat - I ingested my first spoonful of mushroom soup with real mushrooms floating therein. Slurp, gulp, swallow, delicious! I was hooked. Mushrooms had found a place in the Bray Hall of Fame alongside tripe. Growing up could be fun!


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