Food & Drink · Travel

Ro’s Recipes: Socks in Edinburgh

“Been invited to a birthday party in Edinburgh. Want to come?”

As though it was around the corner or in the nearest town. No. It was 400 miles from London.

Philip had the most mellifluous voice, golden with dark tones. He was a fluent speaker of Thai, a notoriously difficult language for Western mortals to speak, comprised of lengths and speeds of tones, pitches and sounds that each indicate meaning. His was the voice of BBC Radio Thailand.

Clearly we’d make a long weekend out of it. It wasn’t a house party, so we would find a B&B in the area. We left on a chilly winter Friday afternoon driving north through the heart of England, stopping at a pub in Manchester.

This was the late 1970s, before the days of gastro pubs, so it was largely pre-wrapped white bread sandwiches or sausage rolls if you were lucky. We were lucky, as the publican’s wife made her own pork pie, shepherd’s pie and sausage rolls. We drank local Yorkshire ale, as the wine served in most pubs back in the seventies was plonk in a gallon bottle, fit for cooking only, at best. We had a lovely time chatting with an off-duty constable who had to get home to his wife or she’d “have his guts for garters.”

The next morning it was off to Edinburgh, where I was hope-dreaming that we would have time to visit The Palace of Holyroodhouse and walk the Royal Mile.

The landscape changed from gentle undulations with outcroppings to rugged, craggy and mountainous, the ancient roads following the curves of rivers and streams. The skies whisked into turbulent clouds and the sun a reluctant frump.

“So, what sort of a party will it be Phil? You said 8:00 pm.”

“Oh, dinner! Her dad’s one of the top solicitors, (lawyers) in Scotland. No one asked me to BYOB! Don’t know the neighborhood. It’s not her parents’ house. We’ll have fun. Sophie’s got lots of friends.”

We arrived on the outskirts of Edinburgh in late afternoon, daylight already tucked beneath the covers of the northern winter. Great luck with our B&B. A dear shuffling Mrs. MacKenzie, with a growling Edinburgh brogue, showed us to our refrigerated room. Central heating was not ubiquitous then. No fire set in the pretty little fireplace. Note to self: eat well, drink well, keep your socks on tonight.

As befitting a guest, I had brought a small gift for Andrew, the host, on arrival and Philip had a birthday present for Sophie. Dressed in early seventies miniskirt and dangly earrings and Phil in bell bottoms. Running late, we hurried past the thump-thump emanating from one of the semi-detached houses in a less fancy part of the city. Mistake.

“Is this it, Phil? You told me it was a “dinner party.” I’m overdressed!”

We were behind a giggle-gaggle of local Scots who had just come on from a local pub. Phillip scanned for any sign of the host and the birthday girl. No luck.

“Let’s just keep pushing in. She’s in here somewhere. Let’s get a drink from the bar.”

“Where’s the bar?”

“Probably the kitchen.”

“Why the kitchen? Isn’t that where the food is? You told me this was a “dinner” party!”

We left our coats on a rumple of jackets and scarves on a bed in a small room. The clumps of guests around me all speaking in a strong Edinburgh brogue that I found woolly, musical, attractive but barely understandable.

“Helloo lassie – kin ah git ya a drank?”

“Thank you so much. My friend is bringing me one from the bar.”

“Oh! Ya not from aroond here. Ah can tell!”

“So how do you know Sophie?”

“Sophie? Who’s Sophie?”

Wrong address. Phone box down the road out of order. Drive to pub to phone. No answer. The weekend came to a screeching halt! I grump-dudgeoned off to the ladies’ room.

I’ve played this game before. Breathe, no recriminations, ignore, assume a new psychological identity, rewrite the script. When I returned in refurbished demeanour, Phil had ordered us both a drink and reserved a small table for us for a pub dinner. He sheepishly handed me the menu.

How lovely Phil! How did you find this place! Look at the great menu!

Acting, brooking no interruption. The new script took over and drowned the old reality and transformed into a new positive scenario.

We had happened upon a pub that offered good honest Scottish fare: Scotch broth, Cullen Skink (smoked haddock soup), Howtowdie, (whole chicken stewed), venison stew, Clootie dumpling (dried fruit steamed pudding) and a rarity then in pubs, Scottish cheeses.

We had eaten well, drunk well. And I wore my socks and ate chocolates. Sometimes happy endings have to be invented a la minute, just like a good steak!


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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. October 13, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    Ro, this is a wonderful snapshot of a time and culture that many of us remember and are grateful to hear about again, along with the guys and the food!

    Dr. Pat