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Gala day, gulls & 7,000 dollars


It’s that time of year again when people queue for selfies with the Leith Police who do not summarily dismisseth them. The sun will shine, it has to shine, it can make the difference between 10,000 partygoers and 1,000 drenched souls. (A quick advance weather forecast reveals a saffron yellow sun with a broad smile on its face.) Welcome to Leith Gala Day.

You’ll have followed the pageant down The Walk to get here; all candy colours, brass band parping and lack of floats (you guessed it, Health & Safety). And, if you have any sense, you’ll want to lose it promptly. So, remember to stop by a supermarket for a right good deal on a box of Tennents - your writer’s drink of choice.

A friend of mine is a bit of a snob. A good, old fashioned Ivy Leaguer, erudite and knowledgeable, but lightly worn.

Where food is concerned though, he has no time for lack of rigour and application – he once sent a rack of lamb back at Marco Pierre White’s fabled Harveys, because it wasn’t pink enough, and lived to tell the tale.

His favourite restaurant is Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and his last visit there coincided with him being fired by Warner Brothers. He promptly hired a limousine and took four friends on a 750-mile round trip to the Napa Valley, where the restaurant is situated.

On his return, he presented the studio with the last addition to his expenses account, totalling 7,000 dollars. Now there’s style.

My father was a chef at a time when hotels still had permanent residents, with their own designated table - Brown Windsor soup and mutton chops with caper sauce perhaps – where he would minister to their every need whilst (sort of) babysitting me.

He would regale me with front of house gossip: a scion of the Robertson’s family, resident for the summer was known to carry hundreds of thousands of pounds around in a tartan shopping trolley that never left her side.

At the tender age of seven I was up on a stool stirring crème anglaise or flipping pancakes. Health and safety would take a dim view of that now.

Watching him turn half a cow, pig or sheep into enough raw materials (tripes, boiled tongue, corned beef, blood pudding etc) to last a month or wrestling a sparkling salmon into 20 neat portions was, I deemed then, education enough.

When I was tired with all this wonder, he would read me to sleep from novels and memoirs, all with a culinary theme:

‘The basement of the Grand Hotel Bains de Mer was a drowned Atlantis of ringing corridors wide enough to drive a car through’. Nicolas Freeling

A young herring gull is wrestling with the rotting head of a pigeon, if you can wrestle with a beak, while a couple of courtly ravens await their turn. The dug, as is his want, scatters the lot of them and tries to claim the carcass.

Meanwhile the mother gull appears kamikaze like out of nowhere and divebombs us rather too accurately, showering both of us in stinging white shit. Unperturbed, the dug does that ‘hippy hippy shake’ of his and extends his lead long enough to scurry under a collapsed grave, emerging with what appears to be a bat. ■

Apologies: An article in Issue 151 entitled The Lost Battalion of Leith, described them as the 7th Leith Battalion, Royal Scots Guards, the correct name of the Regiment in 1915 was The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment). And to all cruciverbalists for publishing the answers to last month’s crossword clues on the same page! (Duh)

Twisted Tails belly dancing troupe at last years Gala

The golden rule of gala day is: if you have any sense, you’ll want to lose it promptly



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