“Soor Plooms and Sair Knees” – written and illustrated by Bob Dewar (Birlinn)
Soor Plooms and Sair Knees – an exhibition of Bob Dewar’s original illustrations at Doubtfire Gallery, Edinburgh, 5 – 26 April, 2014
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley (1953).
Subtitled “Growing up in Scotland after the War”, Bob Dewar’s witty and affectionate account of his childhood, “Soor Plooms and Sair Knees”, is a perceptive and personal vision of family life, schooldays, the working class community, work and culture through the 1950s.
As he comments in the Introduction, “ Looking back on my childhood, it seems less like another world and more like another planet. Yet at the same time it feels like it all happened days rather than decades ago.”
The term “The Generation gap” was coined in the late 1960s, to explain a lack of communication between one generation and another brought about by differences of tastes and values.
Teenagers today brought up in the era of the World Wide Web, mobile phones, texting, internet, 24 hour TV, X box games, would certainly view the experience of a post-war childhood as “another planet”.
For those of a certain age, heading towards milestone 50, 60, 70th birthdays, will perhaps remember with quiet nostalgia through rose tinted glasses, the classroom capers and endless hot summer school holidays, an innocent time of outdoor fun and freedom.
Bob Dewar captures the period of Austerity after the War with great humour through colourful caricatures and sketches, complemented by an explanatory narrative to describe the sense of time and place.
Here are the stories and experiences of playing Cowboys and Indians, picking apples from other people’s gardens, Eagle comics, household chores and Housewives Choice on the wireless, coal fires, the joy of penny chews and soor plooms at the sweet shop, the local grocer’s shop selling broken biscuits and Camp coffee.
As Bob Dewar recalls, “ Almost everything you might need food-wise along with paraffin, mouse traps could be found… Butter was left out overnight but nobody seemed to die of butter poisoning. This was in the distant past before hygiene was discovered. “
(Long before the current nanny state health and safety laws, sell by dates and food wastage!…)
There’s an hilarious illustration of a school gym, with the large class of boys and girls climbing, jumping, somersaulting and horse vaulting with red faced exertion.
And summer holidays by the seaside are beautifully captured with charming vintage manner and style – the steam train, station porters, caravan park, hand knitted swimming trunks –
As Bob Dewar recalls, “The water retention of a woollen costume was phenomenal, it felt like around a hogshead (12 barrels) of clammy North Sea. … the ability to walk comfortably when wet was severely impaired.”
It’s certainly the time for nostalgic memories. This month (April, 2014), in a new TV series, “Ian Hislop’s Olden Days”, the 50-something editor of Private Eye explores the British love of tradition, and how people use the past to help shape the present: the fact that parents start telling their children about their childhood as if it were some sort of olden, golden period.
In similar vein, Bob Dewar has written a wry, dry, sardonic and amusing homage to reflect on the experience of his early life and times. This is not simply a personal memoir, but a valuable social history of post war Scotland – a time travelling journey back sixty odd years to a place and period very much akin to a foreign country.
Soor Plooms and Sair Knees -by Bob Dewar published by Birlinn, Edinburgh. www.birlinn.co.uk
A wonderful selection of the original drawings from the book is currently on show and for sale at the Doubtfire Gallery, 3 South East Circus Place, Edinburgh.
www.doubtfiregallery.com t. 0131 225 6540
Coast, 104 George Street. Oban
T: 01631 569900 www.coastoban.co.uk
The fishing port of Oban on the Argyll coast, is always a refreshing place to visit – not least the blast of salt sea air as you walk along the promenade, then buy a crab sandwich or garlicky mussels from the Green Shed on the pier for a picnic lunch.
This is the Gateway to the Islands and many visitors will stop off here for a day or two, before boarding a Caledonian McBrayne ferry to cruise around the Hebrides – over the sea to Tiree, Colonsay, Coll, Barra, Islay … and beyond.
My partner Ken and I arrived in Oban, mid afternoon one day in March – a wet and windy day – but no matter. We checked into Greystones, a stylish, minimalist designed Guest house perched up a steep hill with fabulous views from our spacious suite out to sea and the misty shape of tiny islands beyond. After an overnight stay, we were taking the ferry to enjoy a relaxing weekend trip on the Isle of Mull.
Whether it is good pub grub and a pint, a quick take away or romantic dinner for two, you will find something to suit all tastes and budgets ; the town boasts its own malt whisky distillery, plenty of great wee pubs and several micro breweries.
Oban has been named ‘Seafood Capital of Scotland’, renowned for the variety and quality of seafood landed in the harbour. There are a few speciality fish restaurants here and from the net to the table, you can’t get fresher!
That evening we walked just five minutes down the path from Greystones to George Street where we had made reservations for dinner at Coast. Having seen rave reviews on line, this seemed to be one of the most popular Restaurants, located just along from the Esplanade.
The building is a former Bank and retains the original granite exterior and tall windows. Inside, it’s all very smart-casual and contemporary with dark wood tables and high backed cream chairs. The grey painted walls, timber and copper furnishings reminded me of a ship, which is in keeping with the seafood menu and the name Coast.
Head chef Richard Fowler and his wife Nicola (front of house Host and Manager) have been serving fine cuisine here for ten years and built up an excellent reputation. As we sat studying the menu with a gin and tonic to hand, the ambience is warm and welcoming, easy listening jazz and soft candle-light.
I began with a large bowl of Cullen Skink, just perfect for a chilly night – a thick creamy broth of smoked haddock, leeks and chunky potatoes. Ken selected the Beetroot and Goat’s Cheese salad, accompanied by micro herbs and salad leaves topped with a tangy green watercress dressing.
From the wine list we selected a Tempranillo (at a very reasonable £ 12), one of the house wines, described as a blend of vibrant red berries, spices and a hint of cayenne pepper.
After my “meal in itself” soup, I then opted for another Starter dish, chargrilled Langoustines, drizzled with garlic butter and a green salad. The platter was correctly presented with a finger bowl of hot water, (as usual prompting a joke about clear soup!), plus the essential pliers and sharp tools for the job. This ensured every morsel of juicy white flesh was extracted from the slender claws.
Across the table Ken enjoyed a fillet of Seabass with roasted cauliflower, honey-sweetened celeriac and salty anchovy fritters. An inventive selection of crisp vegetables and accompaniments to complement the flaky fish.
While seafood is a speciality here, carnivores and vegetarians are well catered for with such dishes as Aberdeen Angus Steak, Argyll Venison or a Wild Mushroom Tart. The emphasis is clearly on the local provenance of locally sourced meat, game and fish.
After a pause, sipping a glass of wine, my partner ordered the Poached Rhubarb with coconut sorbet, a light, palate cleansing dessert, while I requested a half portion of Scottish cheese with grapes and tiny oatcakes. The perfect end to a truly first class dinner.
Coast is open for a light, good value lunch, Monday to Saturday and for a la carte dinner, seven nights a week. During the busy summer season, Richard and Nicola have no days off at all!.
Be warned – a table reservation is advisable due to regular 5 star reviews. Happy diners are truly impressed, commenting that they will return for second helpings another day. That is the testament of a fine place to eat and drink. It ticks all the boxes for food, wine, atmosphere and friendly hospitality.
“Coast is calm, friendly and very efficient. Staff are polite and helpful without being intrusive. It’s always great to visit Coast and wish it were more often. Keep up the good work – Oban needs you!”
“I live in Oban and have tried all the local restaurants. Coast is the best for cuisine. The location may not be as scenic as some but the chef is the real deal and the service is friendly and professional. Oban prides itself as being the seafood capital of Scotland. Coast is Oban’s capital of real cooking.”