TWICE daily during term time there is mayhem outside our village school. Morning sees late-arriving mothers abandoning their motors in the middle of the road before hurrying their sons and daughters into the building. Afternoon brings massive 4x4s arriving fully 45 minutes before close of play, leaving only a single lane and causing chaos in both directions, especially when a lorry arrives.
What a contrast with my young days when everyone walked to school, even the infants’, and it was unheard of to be accompanied by an adult. I wonder what today’s mollycoddling mummies would think of that.
By the age of six I, like my fellow-pupils, led a fairly independent life with parental involvement limited to a warning to be careful crossing the road and look both ways. During school holidays I was allowed to visit friends’ homes on the other side of town and go on long bike journeys, often taking sandwiches and staying out all day.
When I was seven my maternal grandparents came to live across the road from us and I was press-ganged into doing their shopping. This involved frequent visits to the market for food which I would lug back in string bags almost as big as myself. I was instructed that, at every stall I visited, I should say that whatever I was buying was ‘for Mrs Reeve’. As the wife of a retired coal merchant, my grandmother saw herself as local royalty and truly believed that her name would ensure preferential treatment. At the baker’s, it was ‘a new Turog for Mrs Reeve’, at the tripe shop ‘half of fatty seam for Mrs Reeve’, at the butcher’s ‘a pound of stewing beef for Mrs Reeve and she says to make sure it’s lean’. If, heaven forfend, I returned with faulty produce such as a rotten potato, onion or orange, I had to take it back the following day and say that Mrs Reeve was not happy. She expected a replacement, and a refund. I also had to visit a seedy bookshop which served as a private lending library and pick up three cowboy novels for Grandad and three romances for Nanna. While I waited for them to be checked out, dirty old men would be slobbering over what I later realised were pornographic magazines.
My other grandmother used to babysit me and my younger sister on Saturday nights, when my parents went to the Tacklers’ Club or the Buffs, a sort of poor man’s Freemasons’ association. No sooner were they out of the door at 7pm than I was being sent to the fish and chip shop for the old girl’s weekly treat. Not the local chippy, mind, but one three-quarters of a mile away where she held the haddock to be superior. Many’s the time I trudged home in the dark, often through rain and snow, only to be told that I should have been quicker because the chips were cold.
Incidentally, none of this is by way of complaint. Quite the contrary. It taught me confidence in dealing with adults and instilled a love of cheerful, funny, market people which remains to this day. And nobody molested me, ever.
The earlier mention of tripe reminds me that in those days it formed a major part of the northern diet. There were tripe shops aplenty selling many different varieties plus pig’s trotters, cowheel and sundry other delights.
According to this informative website, ‘tripe is the edible lining of a ruminant’s stomach, which has four distinct compartments that allow for digestive fermentation of fibrous foods. Though technically one stomach, common language often refers to them by number. Blanket tripe comes from the first stomach; the most coveted variety, known as honeycomb tripe, comes from the second. Bible or book tripe comes from the third compartment, while the fourth, or last, stomach compartment generally gets passed over because of its glandular texture. Each of the common names describes the distinguishing appearance of the different varieties. Blanket tripe looks like a solid, shaggy sheet, while honeycomb tripe has diamond-shaped raised cells across its surface; the stacked folds on bible tripe look like pages of a book.
‘For tripe to be edible, it must be “dressed”. This involves a thorough and conscientious cleaning of the piece. A butcher briefly boils the animal stomach before peeling off the lining, the part used in tripe dishes. Most butchers also remove extra bits of fat and bleach the tripe to make it appear more appetising.’
These days I use tripe only in hot dishes. Its flavour is mild but it adds a wonderful unctuousness to beef stews. In the Fifties and Sixties, however, it was usually eaten cold with vinegar, perhaps with a sliced tomato. Sales soared during warm weather making it the equivalent of today’s salads. My grandmother’s favourite fatty seam had strings of bead-like fat attached, which I avoided but she snapped up. There was black tripe (actually grey and looking like the surface of the brain). Also roll tripe, whose provenance I could only guess at. One of the most sought-after tripe-shop items was elder, which is boiled udder. This came in beige slices and had a subtle flavour all of its own. The only drawback was that it stuck to the roof of your mouth.
During my researches I came across this 1997 piece by a former colleague in Blackburn, Eric Leaver. He wrote: ‘Back in 1951, in Blackburn alone, there were 32 tripe dressers and dealers dishing up the offal. Many were well-known family businesses that stretched back to the previous century. But, by 1966, their numbers had been cut to just five firms. Now, there are just two tripe stalls left on the town’s markets. Similarly, while Burnley boasted ten tripe companies, wholesale and retail, in 1953, nowadays there is just one tripe stall left – in the market hall.’
As of February 2023, make that none.
Old jokes’ home
A three-legged dog limps into a saloon in the Wild West. He goes up to the bar and announces: ‘I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.’
A PS from PG
The discovery of a toy duck in the soap dish, presumably the property of some former juvenile visitor, contributed not a little to this new and happier frame of mind. What with one thing and another, I hadn’t played with toy ducks in my bath for years, and I found the novel experience most invigorating. For the benefit of those interested, I may mention that if you shove the thing under the surface with the sponge and then let it go, it shoots out of the water in a manner calculated to divert the most careworn. Ten minutes of this and I was enabled to return to the bedchamber much more the old merry Bertram.
PG Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves