Working for my Dad.
By Cilla Shiels
Working for Dad
Dad’s van driver delivered meat for those customers in and around the area who couldn’t call into the shop because of age, physical or medical conditions. The driver also delivered beyond the immediate catchment area as the reputation of the quality of the meat and Dad’s service spread further afield.
During the school holidays I’d be told to go with the van driver to deliver meat to customers living in the outlying new estates. The idea being I could deliver some of the meat and collect the money from the customers but I don’t remember delivering many parcels. In fact, I didn’t know then and I don’t know now why I was asked to go because I didn’t do anything other than just sit and wait in between drop-offs as the driver delivered the goods. The driver obviously had his favourite customers and sometimes I’d sit in the van for what seemed like a very long time to a young girl whilst he delivered the meat. This was at a time when we had ‘proper’ summers and waiting for the driver to come back so we could get finished and I could get home seemed interminable. I suspect the customers were kindly offering him a cup of tea, fine for him, but not for me whilst the scorching heat of the day bore down on the van’s roof.
Sometimes during the summer I would go with the driver to the abattoir to collect greaseproof paper, string and various other items Dad would need for the running of the shop. I recall watching the cows walking in a slow line not knowing of their destiny, just following each other aimlessly. They’d walk up a ramp and be cornered in an enclosed pen one at a time. The slaughter man would point the gun at the cow’s head and shoot him with one blow. The penetrating captive bolt used on cattle, sheep and sometimes pigs fires a metal bolt into the brain of the animal causing the beast to lose consciousness immediately so they are not in any distress or pain. The animal would then slide down a slope and be picked up by a large hook and carried round a conveyor belt of activity. The first thing the slaughter men would do was slit open the belly of cow and let out what seemed gallons of waste from their intestines and then they would be hosed down. From there on the animal would be beheaded and cut in two and prepared for their last journey to the butcher’s shops to be carved up.
The meat wagon delivered these carcasses for Dad to chop and carve into sizeable joints for sale. It never seemed to bother me seeing the animals in various stages being carved up so I suspect it was because I’d been brought up in and around the shop from a young age and I just took it in my stride. I remember Dad killing chickens he’d raised in a shed in our back garden and strangling them and putting them in boiling water to kill them for sale in the shop. One time I was walking through the kitchen at the rear of the shop and one of these creatures minus their head made a sudden movement. That was my cue to make an even quicker escape up the stairs two at a time to Mum in sheer fright. Apparently it’s just the central nervous system making the jerks before the creature finally dies. It’s amazing that I never once remember feeling or voicing any concerns with the chicken on my plate at Sunday lunchtime. This just seemed to be ‘different’ and not a real creature connected with my Dad’s slaughtering but just food on a plate to feed and nourish me.
If we helped in the shop during the school holidays I used to love it when my youngest brother and I were given jobs to do in the back of the shop. Sometimes it was cutting up the greaseproof paper into small sheets or cardboard egg trays into 6’s for Dad to fill with eggs and fasten with string. I remember one of these occasions when Dad asked my brother to make the tea for him and his co-workers and for our morning break. My brother hadn’t let the kettle boil and poured lukewarm water onto the loose tea leaves in the big teapot. He then added a good helping of milk before proceeding to pour the ‘tea’ into the mugs much to my Dad’s horror. He was given a mug of warm milk and water with black leaves floating on the top. I was given the job of nipping to the grocery store on the corner of our row of shops to buy fresh Vienna loaf and a pack of full-cream butter. I remember the delicious taste of the bread with lashings of butter on top which I still fondly remember of those days helping Dad and learning about the world of work from a very young age.
One thing Dad always reminded me of and often said, “The customer is King. Without the customer we’d have no shop.”
My brother and I used to love being given bits of corned beef for our ‘wages’ and we were always delighted if Dad’s ‘wages’ run to a packet of Bird’s Eye fish fingers for Mum to fry for us as a treat. It was a time when frozen food was a fairly new commodity and a treat for children and an ideal way to get them to eat fish. Birds Eye introduced the Fish Finger in Australia and it went on to become an icon once it was advertised on television. Google search quotes,” Birds Eye is one of the most important brand names in the history of the frozen food industry. Clarence ‘Bob’ Birdseye is single-handedly responsible for a major early breakthrough in the development of the methods of technology making freezing a viable way of preserving food. Today, Birds Eye continues to develop nutritious and convenient products for Australian and, of course, across the globe.
One ‘treat’ Dad often gave us was a lovely soft meat and he’d ask us to go upstairs and get your Mum to fry them for us and which we ate with relish. It was only once I’d got older I found out the meat was called lambs fries and were actually lambs testicles.