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Stories and Stovies
Hamely Fair - Street Foods

Up the Hackie, and Doon the Blackie …
We’re the lads frae Norrie’s Pend, Never worked and don’t intend …
We’re the lads fra the Tap o’ the Hull, Never worked and never wull …

I always remember Saturdays as busy days in Dundee, full of hustle and bustle as women shopped, men loitered – mostly in front of pubs, and girls and boys went out looking for lads and lasses. (I particularly got a thrill if I caught a glimpse of Sophie, whom rumor identified as our local madam – took me a while to figure just exactly what her occupation was!).

The author aged 8 or 9 waiting for the Number 3 busI remember having this little photograph taken, could have been about 8 or 9, while we were waiting for the Number 3 bus to take us home. Can’t remember the name of the street, but it was at the bottom of the Caird Hall/City Square area and the woman and the boy behind me were probably going into either the Post Office or the big pend there that had lots of little cubby type shops there.

As little girls we were really enthusiastic scrap collectors – I wonder if girls still do that? You needed a few special items: a big book, usually an old encyclopedia if you were a really good collector (which I was) and a mother who was willing to spare her coppers (small change) for you to get scraps and was willing to go all over town to the very best scrap shops.

Now, scraps to girls in Scotland was as big as collecting baseball cards to little boys in America. Scraps were sheets of glossy pictures, cut on the outline, held together by little tags of paper (kind of like paper doll clothes were – and that’s another activity I spend a lot of time on), on larger sheets, about letter size if I remember correctly. Scraps came in everything – flowers, people, animals, fish – basically every animal, vegetable, or mineral you could think of. Angels were very big – especially the round fat, curly haired ones leaning on their elbows and tall full sized ones.

These scraps were never pasted into anything. You simply turned your big book that you saved them in – the thickness and the size protected the scraps from tearing and kept them flat – and spent your time organizing your scraps and sitting in a corner with your girlfriends trading them, with as much dedications as those boys do their baseball cards! Oh, I had a wonderful collection, and the best scrap shops (apart from the newsagent at the Top of the Hill) were in the dark recesses of that little pend under the City Square/Caird Hall complex!

The Saturday streets were crowded. Older folks were shopping and people my age went out on the Overgate, the Wellgate, and the Nethergate – sometimes up as far as the West Port (yes, the West Port of the song, – "Unhook the West Port, and let us gae free, For it’s up wi’ the bonnets o’ Bonnie Dundee!") looking for a pickup for dancing or going to the pictures that night. My walk would be down the Hilltown, over to Wooly’s (Woolworth’s) and Marky’s (Marks and Spencers) in the Murraygate on the few Saturdays I wasn’t working. If girls had dates, or hopes for dates, that night they would wash their hair at home, roll it up, put on lovely clothes and makeup and cover their rollers with scarves, and off we’d go "up and doon and around the toon."

Now, you can’t have busy streets on Saturdays without street foods, can you? (Every section in this little book has its foods, remember, and here comes this one’s.) Popular street foods were fish and chips, of course, and sweeties, or candy. But I never did acquire a taste for whelks – little shell fish like an English periwinkle – that were harvested out on the sands at Broughty Ferry, then, in little carts on the side of the road, boiled alive and sold with sewing pins in little bags made of greased paper and newspaper. "Sewing pins?" you’re asking? Well, the art of eating a whelk involved winkling out that little worm looking thing out of its tiny shell with your straight pin, and then eating it off the pin. Pretty gross, even to this Dundonian.

I did like the buster stalls, and it was a rare treat (meaning very enjoyable and not done too often) when my mother and I would have a buster, or plate of peas and chips. This would usually be after a stroll up the Overgate to where the "barra boys" were selling every household item and child’s toy you could think of from a barrow or off the back of a lorry. And these guys had "the patter". I suppose they were the Scottish precursors to what is now American TV’s "Home Shopping Network" as they hawked their wares and tempted people to buy. My mother and I spent more time just watching the show than buying. I wonder now how "hot" some of these things were.

From an article in the Dundee Telegraph, date unknown, approx 1967.

Round the Greenmarket with JAEM

It was freezing cold and the tail-lights of the bus that should have been carrying me homeward were vanishing into the sleet-laden darkness of East Dock Street.

To convince myself that I had feet I thudded my shoes against the paving of the bus shelter.

I sighed and reflected on the less efficient but more human time not so very, very long ago when, right where I stood, I could have thawed out my miserable frame before the glowing embers of a coke fire, and cheered my inner man with one of Mrs. De Gernier’s busters.

The De Gerniers came originally from France – whether in the tide of the Huguenots or in the wake of Mary, Queen of Scots I do not know. But if the Auld Alliance had given us nothing but the buster I, for one, would be satisfied.

To attempt to analyse a buster is to distract from its glory. Essentially it was just peas and chips.

Mingled Melodies
The wooden-walled, canvas-roofed booth over which Mrs. De Gernier officiated had a wide and welcoming doorway.

Through it drifted the appetizing aroma: the mingled melodies from steam organs and calliopes; the buzz of excited and noisy chatter; in short the sights, sounds and smells of a warm, merry, neighbourly community.

Round the walls of the buster-stand, and just comfortably away from the fierce heat of the brazier were the narrow wooden benches on which the customers sat, their eyes attracted to the gleaming red coke, their nostrils sniffing the savoury smell.

Anyone can fry chips. Anyone can cook peas.

But only the genius of a De Gernier could transform the humble tattie into such a gastronomic glory.

The buster was really the culminating point of a day "round the market."

Blossomed Out
In a small way the Greenmarket was open every Saturday but there were three occasions when it blossomed out.

These were at Christmas and New Year, during the summer holidays and at the Lady Mary Fair.

Even as you approached the market you noticed the difference.

The crowds were thicker and more urgent. The chatter grew noisier and the eyes of the lasses sparked as linked arm in arm, they exchanged badinage with the lads who, with their hair oil and best suits, had put on a new confidence.

The air trembled with the laughter and music. No single tune was at first dominant but, as you get nearer, the great calliope of the switchbacks drowned out the squeaky organs of the wee hobbies.

We Moderns
Our parents did not understand modern music, but the Great War was behind us, the future before us, and ragtime had crossed the Atlantic.

To the circling rise and fall of the opulent motorcars on the switchback we sang as the organ blared,

"I’m coming back to you,
My Hula Lou,
With your Yukka Hula
Hikky Dula Doo."

We shot at rifle ranges, and threw balls at the funny heads.

We even believed the colourfully clad young lady at the hoop-la stand that all the rings would encircle the square boxes in which nestled the trophies we tried to win.

In the glance of feminine audiences we belted the great wooden hammer on to the wooden peg that sent an iron missile soaring up a long wooden scale towards a bell.

And how sheepish we looked when the missile achieved only a miserable three feet.

With our jackets decorated with the tinselly trophies of our prowess we flaunted our mastery of dance steps on the cakewalk, and in guffawing clusters we waited as the lassies shot off the helter-skelter in a hilarious froth of underwear.

More Raucous
By evening the naphtha flares on the stands were lit and the auctioneers’ voices grew more raucous and their ruddy faces redder.

Possibly their sorties into Mrs. Steel’s cosy hostelry helped to colour their cheeks and noses. It certainly had an effect on their grandiloquent vocabularies.

But all things come to an end and so to the culminating point of the day’s outing – a buster.

Some long overdue tribute should be paid to the originator of the buster-stands, maybe a plaque in the City Center …

It shall bear the lilies of Dundee intertwined with the fleur-de-lys of France and a scroll underneath carrying the motto,

"De Busterbus Non Disputandis Est."

I will lead a deputation to the City Chambers. I can hear the good citizens applauding: I can feel them slapping my back, yes, I can feel . . .

"Come on, old-timer! Ye canna’ stand there dreamin’ a’ night! Fowk want tae get on the bus, ya’ ken."

I shuffled through the sleety darkness on to the waiting No. 10.

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