[From The Barrovian #132]
How shall I describe thee, Mother Quayle ? For it is- to thee and thy humble cookshop that my first school memories turn, O thou ancient of days, pander to the piscatorial palateof my youth. What alluring tales were poured into wondering ears, tales of unhallowed ichthyophagic orgies within thy simple shrine, thy shrunken frame the presiding genius loci. Thou wast the bona dea, we thy willing votaries.
I think I see thee now, thy ancient form bent over a diminutive range, thy Liliputian kitchen overcrowded with three or four small eagerly expectant boys, Lords of the Junior House. I can hear thy high-pitched lamentations unfolding, what time the herrings sizzled jollily in the pan, the tale of the hard fate meted out to thee by the College authorities; of how thy honest livelihood was put in jeopardy by their cruelty, of the vast revenues adhering to thee aforetime from the College boys, before the Olympians, inscrutable in their dooms, loosed the thunderbolt that in one portentous catastrophe deprived thee of thy original shop and put thy new one " out of bounds."
Didst thou, Circe-like, weave some magic spell that blinded our youthful eves to thy coarse china and rough cutlery, or, was it that we, who had but recently completed our first decade, were as vet indifferent to " Persian pomp " and oreferred thy plain deal table to boards of vaster worth that had been graced by the great ones of the past ? Didst thou. all unconscious, thus prove that only extreme youth can come into allignment with Horace and Seneca ?
Well ! well! pace thy kindly querulous spirit ! thou wert merely one of the many sacrifices to the demon of progress. What though thy shrivelled fruit and fly-blown buns had baked in the sun for a week or more, what though thy fishcakes were largely potatoes and pepper, what though thy primitive shop might well have shocked the fastidious modern parent, perhaps thy simple wares were as wholesome and nourishing as their more highly coloured fellows in more ambitious surroundings. These many years thou must have lain in the old churchyard by thy fisher forebears.
That thou art gone is best, for even in those far-distant days the more discriminating youth of the College lusted after the cream-cake and meat-pies procurable at somewhat greater cost in the more splendid establishment of Miss Duggan, in whose upper-chamber, christened the 'anogeon' by the academic bloods of the VIth, were performed many feats of gourmandise.
Thy last years, I fear, must have found thee straitened in thy means. For a race sprang up who knew thee not save as an impersonal purveyor of fishcakes, which materialised in response to a name and number inscribed on the weekly list kept in the Tuck Shop. Whose fingers moulded these composite masses no-one knew or cared. Report had it that it was Mother Quayle- but no one had seen thee in the flesh. " Who thou wert," and " where thou dwelt," were questions only for the curious. Thou hadst thus become, long ere thy death, nought save the magni nominus umbra to a new generation with a nicer taste in the grand affair of eating. Thy heavily spiced concoctions were abandoned in favour of scrambled eggs, sausages and mash and other more expensive and elaborate dishes. At no time hadst thou catered for the table of Apicius and these delicacies were outwith the bounds of thy art. And so thy day and generation passed.
Now even the scene of thy earlier operations is almost lost. Where thy first shop was, is known only to a few greybeards. Hango's crumbling ruins-thy ageworn neighbour-have been saved from the teeth of time, but the ancient steading, (Karran's Farm) that served for thy first dispensary has been so demolished that it might well be doubted whether ever men dwelt there or no. " I passed by the Walls of Balclutha and they were desolate." Troia fuit is the epitaph of thy house. Like the site of Babylon or Carthage it is become a matter for excavators. The tiny cottage on the sea front, that was the place of thy retreat and where first I knew thee, still stands but is no longer a shop and few know or care to know its history. But there are some of us, upon whose retrospective minds memories thicken as on their heads hairs lessen, who remember a time when we were Lords of the Junior House and regaled ourselves, like the heroes we were, upon the herrings at thy kindly board and, later in our careers, having assumed the toIra virihi , surfeited ourselves on thv fishcakes in the privacy of our studies. We are they, Mother Quayle, who cherish thy name amongst the more pleasant memories of the past as we mourn the years that are gone.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2009