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The Scrivener: Eclairs, Onions, And Flaming Curtains

Brian Barratt reminds us of some of those tasty treats which do not require the attention of knife and fork.

To read more of Brian’s equally tasty columns please lick on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his mind-stretching Web site The Brain Rummager

In 1953, at the tender age of 17, I was already living away from home, working to earn a living, and learning new routines. For instance, having to buy lunch at a bakery/café was a new experience. There was only one such outlet in the small town of Masvingo (then called Fort Victoria) in Zimbabwe (then known as Southern Rhodesia). It was there that I discovered chocolate eclairs, made with real fresh cream. Oh, bliss! They also made flaky pastry meat pies that contained more meat than gravy.

After a couple of years, I was transferred to the main GPO (General Post Office) in Harare, then called Salisbury. We closed for lunch and a group of us would troop over to a snack bar across the road.

An occasional purchase at that establishment was a fried liver roll. Remember liver? It's now euphemised as "lamb's fry". I asked for one of those rolls if I was served by a certain lady with a strong Lancashire accent and a penetrating voice. It wasn't so much the attraction of fried liver but the delight of hearing her ask, for all the world to hear, "With oonyoons?"

A year or two later, I was shifted to a small suburban post office and moved to board with a family in the same area. Father was a bank manager. He was also a Scrooge, buying cheap foodstuff in bulk at auction sales. He made sandwiches each morning for me and the other boarder, until I made alternative arrangements. I could no longer face the suspect sticky substance with dubious pips in it, which was labelled "jam". Heaven only knows what it was or where it originally came from. There was also a famous occasion when we had ant soup for dinner, but that doesn't belong in this chat about lunches.

By the early 1970s I was ensconced here in Melbourne and relishing a wider and more attractive choice of lunches when either working in an office or visiting schools.
At that time, meat pies were still part of the diet. Driving around the 5,000 square kilometres of the greater Melbourne metropolitan area, there was ample opportunity to look for places that sold real meat pies — the genuine home-made variety, superior to the mass produced product. There are still a few bakeries and cafés that make them, in spite of the avalanche of foreign fast food franchises.

When office-bound, one has to rely on local sandwich bars. There was a very good one in St Kilda Road, near the ugliest skyscraper in Melbourne, where I could buy, for example, excellent chicken and avocado sandwiches. I reckon one of the smiling ladies gave me a bit more than the standard helping of avocado, too.

Working in a part-time editorial job after retrenchment in the 1990 recession, one of the pleasures — the only pleasure, actually — came in the form of authentic ANZAC biscuits brought round by a lunch lady with a tray of goodies. If you don't know what an ANZAC biscuit is, look it up, and drool.

The most memorable sandwich lunch was in Sydney, where I was obliged to go for company conferences. The meeting was in the boss's office, on the third floor. At about 12.30pm, we adjourned to an eatery in the next street. Nothing spectacular about that, but when we walked back we were more than surprised to see a fire engine outside the company building.

Guess where the fire was. In the boss's office, of course. The weather was cold and he'd left a small electric heater switched on. It was too close to a curtain, which caught fire. Fortunately, the automatic water sprinklers had been activated. Unfortunately, I'd left my leather brief-case upright and open. It had filled with water and my files and papers were drowned.

However, there was more to commercial life than hunting for pies and sandwiches. In various managerial positions, I had generous expense accounts. Business lunches during those times were far removed from meat pies and artificial jam sandwiches. That, as they say, is another story.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2009


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