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Published by jack elliot

Life In A Scotch Sitting Room

‘Scotland gets its brains from the herring,’ said Grandpa, and we all nodded our heads with complete incomprehension. Sometimes, for a treat, we got playing with their heads; glutinous bony affairs, without room for brains, and a look of lust on their narrow soprano jaws.

The time I lifted the lid of the midden on a winter night, and there, a cool blue gleam -herring heads . . . Other heads do not gleam in the dark. So perhaps Grandpa was right.

To make sure we ate the most intelligent herring, he fished the estuary. Planted a notice, ‘Literate herring this way!‘ below the water-line at the corner where it met the sea. The paint for the notice was made of crushed heads. Red-eyed herring, sore from reading, would round the corner, read the notice and sense the estuary water, bland and eye-easing. A few feet brought them within the confining friendliness of his manilla net and a purposeful end.

There was only one way to cook it: a deep batter of porridge left from breakfast was patted round and it was fed on to the hot griddle athwart the coal fire. In seconds, a thick aroma leaned around and bent against the walls. We lay down and dribbled on the carpet. Also, the air was fresher. Time passed. In exactly twenty-five minutes the porridge cracked, and juice steamed through with a glad fizz. We ate the batter first to take the edge off our appetites, so that we could eat the herring with respect. Which we did, including the bones.

After supper, assuming the herring to have worked, we were asked questions. In Latin, Greek and Hebrew, we had to know the principal parts of verbs. In Geography, the five main glove-manufacturing towns in the Midlands, and in History, the development of Glasgow’s sewage system.

There’s nothing quite like a Scotch education. One is left with an irreparable debt. My head is full of irregular verbs still.

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