One bottle of Sarson’s Malt Vinegar was introduced into the mix, and boom, I am off back in time, stopping off at various times throughout my childhood and my before life.
I live in Beijing, and I was out to meet some friends in a local restaurant. We have all been in Beijing for well over a year and a half now, and we have been unable to get back to the UK to see our family and friends. The covid situation has kept many people in suspension for some time now, and we included. The situation is not easy, but many people have been horribly affected by the pandemic, so we are lucky in a way. However, we also live in one of the safest cities globally, and life here is steady, so we get on with it and just count the days until we get the chance to safely return.
This evening we went for some dinner similar to the times before and as often, we ordered some French fries. Or, as we would call it, ‘Chips’. (Or Chups as pronounced in my Glaswegian accent)
The chips arrived at the table, and as did the salt and pepper. The chips are garnished with a great and a heady mix of salt and pepper on my share, and it makes a great start to the evening. Tonight though, there was an extensive introduction to the table – a bottle of Sarson’s Malt Vinegar.
The minute I saw the half-filled bottle my friend had brought from his own home, it sparked so many fond memories. The bottle of Sarson’s looked like it could have fallen through a time portal from the table at my parent’s house in 1984 into the hands of my friend here in Beijing, 2021.
The label staining, creased edges of the branded sticker and the malty liquid swishing inside the glass bottle transported me back to crystal clear images of my father liberally flavouring his food at our family dinner table.
All my immediate family seated at the table, the conversation is flowing, and the laughter at the stories of the days already gone colour the air. It is a picture of heaven for me.
The Sarson’s added something magical to the flavour of the chips tonight. They brought back the taste of every single meal I have had where I have thrown on some vinegar to add that little bit extra. It was a great night, and on my walk back home in the rain, I reflected on the image of the Sarson’s further. Thoughts came flooding back from the past like a Bill and Ted adventure. I saw my childhood friend, Foley, lobbing malt vinegar into his crisp packet to the point where the crisps were soggy, and I could smell them from the other side of his room. I saw my other childhood friend at another stop on the memory journey. Big Fergie, crunching his salt and vinegar crisps into a pulp before opening them, knowing that in that reduced state, they would never be shared out beyond his own self.
I saw numerous chips shops over the years. The chip shop (The chippie) in the supermarket (the souppie) near where we lived, that attracted all the various gangs, and to get chips you had to time your visit safely.
The chip shops that were always carefully stationed at the local bars as I grew up and moved around. Some great and some that were simply amazing but all with the big bottle of Sarson’s on hand to flavour up the chips. The chip shops were where you would see the oil can size container of the Sarson’ on the shelving at the back of the shop. My first understanding of bulk buying. I got visions from my first job where I was shelf stacking the aisle at the large local supermarket, and the variety of what you could buy blew my mind.
I am guessing my parents were habitual in their purchases as it was always the same size bottle of Sarson’s on our dinner table. But to see so many sizes and the various competing brands was a complete surprise to this little lad from the inner streets of the local housing scheme.
I could see the Sarson’s at my family table as I was a teenager and as I grew up through the early years to later years. It was always part of the tableware as much as what we were. The bottle being presented at the table in the restaurant in Beijing also brought back the memory of introducing the taste to my own kids and how they had hummed and hawed – not a flavour that they fully appreciated. They had discovered mayonnaise and tomato sauce. Their loss and more malt vinegar for me to use as I saw fit is what I thought to myself back then.
My take from the night to complement (see what I did there) my memories was the importance of anchoring. The importance of keeping the few things close to you that can spark a celebration of times gone by. Something that can transport you back to happier moments and, in that instance, can take away some of the blues.
This morning when I awoke, I looked at the pictures on my window ledge that little bit longer than usual. There are pictures of my two beautiful children, and in an instant, I was transported back to when I took the pictures. The conversations that happened at that moment and the fun and giggles as I urged them to stay still and smile.
For the rest of the day today and for the days that I count down to that moment of return.
I will look at many things just that little bit longer.
And I will smile!