Granite And Beer

images (1)Aberdeen lies in the north-east cornet of Scotland and is commonly known as the ‘granite’ city. When it rains, and that’s most of the time, the buildings, all built from granite of course, all look so drab and dreary. When the sun shines, which is about two days per year, most buildings still look drab and dreary. The people however, are wonderful, other than the supporters of Aberdeen football club, commonly known in Scottish footballing circles as the’sheep shaggers’ and die-hard bigots who see no fault in criticizing supporters of their greatest rivals, Rangers and Celtic, as heathens and zealots, when it is they themselves who should be looking in a very transparent mirror. In the city itself, and in the late 1970’s when I began to travel there frequently, the main drag was littered with pubs, all very endearing, provided you were capable of drinking with the heaviest of the heavy, 6 to 10 pints of beer a night mob! I was tea total, finding it hard to drink even 2 pints of water a day without peeing from here to eternity and back. My impression every time I drove into the city of Aberdeen was blinkered, simply by the number of fishing vessels and oil rig service boats docked in the harbor, which was always to my right as I crossed the bridge into George St. In the 1970’s, North sea oil and gas were in their infancy, exploration was at its peak, and so all the major oil companies were based in Aberdeen and it was fast becoming a very wealthy city, where jobs were easy to find, money, easy to earn, and respect, hard to keep.

Angelo Carrara sat behind his desk. His wild black hair, combed back and almost even. His Italian dress sense, immaculate, and his wry smile, friendly and warm. I had walked into Modern Method cleaners by chance. The entrance to his building was just off the main drag, but a small sign and also the sight of one of his delivery vans, which I’d eventually followed, made me think this company might be worth calling on. Angelo, who would become a great friend, stood up and came to the front of his office to greet me.

“You’re awfully young to be coming in here trying to sell me something” he said.

“I’m old enough to know you’re going to buy from me” I replied. And in an instant, a friendship was born. We sat and talked for over an hour and at the end of the meeting he placed an order with me for 10,000 black refuse sacks, or as you would say over here in the US, garbage bags. He needed the bags to collect laundry from his customers, and then he just threw them out. This was wastage beyond belief, but it suited his purpose and of course, it suited mine even more. Angelo seemed to have found a niche business in Aberdeen, he did the laundry and dry cleaning for Aberdeen FC, Balmoral Castle, and the oil rigs. His facility was fairly large and when I left that day, I thought that perhaps, just maybe, Angelo might end up being my largest client. It would be 4 weeks until I saw him again, and things almost didn’t work out the way I’d planned, but that’s a story I’ll continue in the next installment. In the meantime, I headed back to my bed and breakfast, where I’d spend the week, and not a hotel. In those days, when I was traveling, I was on a tight budget. The first time I stayed in Aberdeen, I had the pleasure of bedding down at the George hotel. The bill came to 65 pounds for the 3 nights I was there, and Jeff McGee, who was technically my boss at the time, had told me to cut down on the expenses. I’d gone to the Aberdeen Tourist Center, and they’s recommended a B and B run by a crippled old lady called Mrs. Robertson, and for the next three years, once a month, like clockwork, I would stay with her and pay her 2 pounds 20 pence a night! Take that McGee!! No one could believe how inexpensive my accommodation had become, and when they found out that Mrs. R cooked me breakfast and often a late night supper too, all-inclusive, well, jealousy set in. She was such a dear. She looked after me for all that time, never asking for anything other than her fee and the company I provided on the occasional night I was destined to spend with her in front of the TV. She was well into her 80’s then, and had lost her husband and both her kids. I will never forget her kindness and hospitality.

Quite often I would tire of Mrs. R’s food and I would take myself to the local Chippy,(Fish N’Chip shop) for some deep-fried delicacies. In Aberdeen, fried food and lots of beer were the normal order of the day. Most of the city’s working men would frequent the bars, then the chippy. Most of them were fat, and most of them didn’t care. There’s a staple in Scotland that you cannot find anywhere else on the planet. It’s called square sausage, and its name sums up exactly what it is. It’s normally about 3 inches square when sliced and usually it’s grilled or fried. The chippy in Aberdeen that I frequented on my trips up north, had a knack for frying this sausage, along with a Mars bar too. I used to drive there in my light blue Hillman Avenger, order to take out and then pig out in the front seat of my car, windows rolled down,(there were no electronic windows in those days), and the steam from the fried sausage and chips, oozing out into the nights sky. It’s always freezing cold in Aberdeen, even when it’s warm, and so, wrapped up from top to bottom in my warmest winter coat, radio on, often listening to a football match being played that particular evening, away from home, this was bliss, off sorts! My expenses included dinner, but I was never one for sitting alone in any restaurant or bar, so the idea of a ‘fish or sausage supper’ as we called it back then, was perfectly fine, no matter that my hands were covered in grease and vinegar and my belly filled with unhealthy crap, which it really never seemed to mind! There was something very simple about life traveling around Scotland as a teenager, and something that gave me an everlasting sense of  adventure,  a good grounding in life, and also and ability to communicate with people from all cultures, levels of society and positions of employment. I loved these times, but I also loved coming home. I would spend Monday to Friday away from home and then the weekend in Glasgow, doing whatever the weather would allow. Good times, sadly missed, I think!

Having made it home in under three hours, a new record, from Aberdeen, it would be 4 weeks before I returned, only the rection I received from Angelo was far from what I was expecting.

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