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by Andrew Learmonth
27 May 2021
Talking point: The young ones and a whiff of the past

Talking point: The young ones and a whiff of the past

When I was about nine or ten my great uncle Norman took me to one side at a family wedding and told me that he’d been at school with Cliff Richard.

At that age, I didn’t really know who Cliff Richard was, but I knew from the way the story had been told that I was supposed to be impressed. 

“Oh really,” I said. “Wow”.

“Uh-huh,” he replied.

“Were you pals?” I asked. 

“Oh aye,” he said. “We hung out a bit,” he added, modestly.

It was only last year when it dawned on me that, unlike Uncle Norman, Cliff Richard hadn’t gone to school in Coatbridge.

I’ve been telling people about my claim to fame for the last 30 years, not realising that I’ve been the victim of an old man’s prank.

I even once had it on my Tinder profile. 

Norman was some man. 

He was an engineer who served in the Merchant Navy during the war, but, for as long as I knew him, he worked in the Crosse & Blackwell factory in Peterhead. 

Nestlé closed the 150-year-old site down in the mid-90s as part of an efficiency drive. 

In its time it was, amongst other things, responsible for making soup and the wee tins of beans and sausage. The factory and its produce loomed large.  

Proust had the smell of his madeleine, but for me and a whole generation of Peterheiders, it’s the smell of Branston Pickle that takes us back to our childhoods. 

Even just seeing a ploughman’s on a menu takes me back two decades to Peterhead Academy, the hot, sweltering summer days, stuck in RE, or maths, gagging on the smell of simmering turnip.

No double-glazing could blunt the edge of the stench, wafting from the factory, permeating the toon. 

Proust probably liked his madeleines. For years, I’ve been unable to go anywhere near a smear of Branston’s.

But in recent weeks, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Peterhead. 

I don’t think I’ve ever been away from the town for so long. I’m desperate to get up and see my mum and dad and take my daughter to see her granny and grandpa. 

It was supposed to be happening this weekend, but I live in Glasgow’s southside, Scotland’s Covid capital, and the latest round of restrictions means I’m not going anywhere. 

There’s an outbreak at kiddo’s school too. Every day another one of her pals disappears from the class, sent home to self-isolate.

At the moment - touch wood - she’s still there, but the ever-decreasing circles of coronavirus contact tracing make it feel as if it’s only a matter of time. 

The sudden and unexpected return of homeschooling has led to fraught exchanges between parents on some of the Whatsapp groups and Facebook pages. I’m gloating now, but I fully expect to go tonto on social media if I too have to suddenly start combining geography lessons with journalism. 

My daughter’s nine, soon to be ten. I’ve been wondering recently what she’ll remember about the pandemic.

Will her abiding memory be being stuck at home, listening to me shouting at the computer because I can’t get Google classroom to work? I hope not.

She seems to have taken the oddness and the loneliness of the last year in her stride, adapting quickly to the constantly changing new normal.

But there have been moments when the grim toll of the pandemic has seeped into her world; moments where she’s filled with existential terror, waking up in the middle of the night worried about death. 

We seem to be on the home straight here, though our world is going to be impacted by COVID for years to come. 

I cannot wait. I cannot wait until we’re out of this. I cannot wait to get back to Peterhead. I cannot wait to get to a big do. And I cannot wait until a relative smelling of condiment tells my daughter a preposterous lie that she’ll believe for the next three decades.

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Details of trade deal agreed between UK and Australia to be announced

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