Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Vale Jack.

He'd been ill for many years. My father-in-law, T.'s father, finally succumbed late last week, aged 78.

Emphysema had set it in many years ago, when a doctor told him if he didn't stop smoking, he'd end up having to cut his legs off - doctors have such a sense of humour. A keen golfer, Jack took his advice. He may not otherwise have done so. Jack spent his latter years playing golf around the district, taking to the motorised cart when he could no longer walk.

Later, he suffered a heart attack which he blamed on a corned beef sandwich my mother-in-law had made for him. A bout of cancer saw most of one lung removed. In recent years, Jack had suffered minor heart attacks, gout, asthma, diabetes and various other ailments.

But Jack never panicked by doing anything silly like changing his diet or giving up the scotch.


My in-laws live in a small farming town 180 kilometres from Melbourne. Our weekend stayovers commenced with the offer of a whisky upon entry. As the afternoon wound down, the aromas of steak pie or perhaps a roast of beef would fill the house. With dinner there was always plenty of buttered mash and assorted well-boiled vegetables. Dessert consisted of trays of home-made shortbread or pumpkin and sultana cake or clootie dumpling being brought out and accompanied with Scotch whisky, on ice of course. Jack would always be passing squares of shortbread to the dog under the table. He loved dogs and they loved him. He was most upset when our greyhound died earlier this year. His own dog, a beautiful female Siberian husky, had died a few years ago. He wasn't able to take on another, so he enjoyed having ours visit.

Jack would always be first up on Sunday morning and have the kettle on. Later - nothing was rushed - breakfast would follow. Fried eggs and bacon and sometimes fried black pudding; buttered toast - porridge first if you wished; pots of hot tea. Fried clootie dumpling with bacon and eggs was another favourite. Lunch seemed to follow in a short time - sandwiches, scones, biscuits and coffee.

I have never been to Scotland but after a weekend like that I felt I'd grown up there. The endless stories helped. I heard most of them so often I could tell them myself.

Jack and his family had arrived from Scotland in 1964 - T. was the only child born in Australia - and his Scottish accent remained as broad to the day he died. He used to joke about Australians staring at him liked 'stunned mullets' trying to work out what he was saying in his guttural brogue. He refused to change. Everyone loved him. He was like a pugnacious pixie. He'd tell a joke and his face would break up into helpless mirth before he'd get to the punchline and everyone would be laughing along with him, sometimes none the wiser.

He was a master of the one-liner and would regularly pierce any perceived pomposity with a sharp retort. He was joking with the nurses until the hour he died. The kidneys failed in the end and he refused to travel a hundred kilometres for dialysis, which he'd beeen through countless times. He was moved into palliative care, my mother-in-law slipped out to get something or make a phone call and when she returned he was gone.

There is to be a service in Melbourne for family and friends and, later in the week, a 'wake' in the country for those who cannot travel to Melbourne. The latter event will be enormous. The communities in the area revolve around the golf clubs and Jack was well-loved.

Would you like a scotch, son, he'd ask, pouring out a good measure without waiting for a reply, I'm having one myself.

I'll have one again and drink a toast to wee Jackie, as he was known, ... wee Jackie, the father of my bride.

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