Friday, 3 February 2012

Blog 50. Silver Service and Self Service Thoughts...

My first memory of Silver Service was eating breakfast in a train carriage on a train from Dublin to Cork.  I must have been at least eight and I think I just drank the Claret that morning.  Seriously. There we were tucking into a 'full Irish' and drinking copious amounts of coffee out of china cups on a Irish linen table cloth.  All the waiters and waitresses looked immaculate in their very smart uniforms.  They could not do enough for the passengers that very morn.  It was so so different to the modern trains that now serve your caffeine ration in a polystyrene cup and say:

"How do you like your coffee sir?"

"Is it one lump or three?"

Suddenly our train ("choo, choo") came to a screeching and shuddering halt.  Our 'Dining Carriage' was a right picture and all the neatly set tables decided to have a disco without any music.  It was like a scene from a Greek restaurant when they start smashing the plates.  Passengers screamed and wore faces of horror and shock.

Anyway to cut a long story long?  We all waited to hear what had happened and how many fatalities were there?  After a pregnant (Elephants pregnancy) pause of at least ten minutes.  A train guard walked along the line (it was a diesel train) and informed us that a maiden heifer had decided to stroll along the line;

"To be sure to God.  Nobody would want to hurt such a fine creature. So we decided to stop the train.".

Any way.  That is my first memories of Silver Service.  Today it is very difficult to find.  Especially those lasses dressed in the French maids outfits -sigh!

I do think those Indian (Bengali?) restaurants with the tables in a separate booth are brilliant and the waiters manners are impeccable.  I also like those metal lemon squeezers that they give you to use.  Hands up if you have friends (even yourself) who always have to take one home with them?

While we are on the subject.  Who invented Formica?  I thought he played in the Premiership.

Did I see you laugh then?  Why can't we go back to 1950's with branch railways and Silver Service Restaurants and Cafeterias?

Who invented: Self Service?  Why don't we have bus conductors any more?  The powers that be are always finding ways of cutting jobs.  I think if we got rid of Self Service and brought back Silver Service, we would create a few jobs.  Don't you?

Any thoughts dear readers?

Anybody think they should bring back bus conductors?  We'll have to get a bus service here in rural Ireland first.


  1. We still have silver service, but, like you say, it tends to be in ethnic minority restaurants, with the Indian / Chinese chappie (never waitress in my experience) being the optimum of perfect manners and waiting skills.

    The other way to get silver service is to pay something akin to a kings ramsom and visit the likes of Gordon Ramsays.

    For the average bloke / lady, silver or indeed just about any sort of service is something that tends to be in the memories of anybody over the age of about 50.

    I think it was the 70s when the self-service God first became popular, just about everywhere, particularly at petrol stations, buses, banks and latterly supermarket check-outs.

    Was it the likes of Wal-Mart, Tesco, and other super-store giants first started it with the trolley and pick your own goods concept? Prior to them, we had all sorts of speciality shops, such as grocers, greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, newsagents, tobacconist, off-licence, etc etc, etc. All in the High Street.
    Now we have banks, Building Societies, Estate Agents, Travel Agents, Insurance Brokers, and Cherity Shops. Not to forget Argos, Debenhams and Greggs the bakers. Not many small independant traders left.
    Or any silver service.

  2. Thanks Cumbrian. You are absolutely right. I am 48 years of and can still remember silver service and stores like John Lewis (Lewis's) in Manchester that had lots of helpful staff!

    I see now why there is so much unemployment. Everything is cut back to the last.

    The supermarkets promised cheap food and the corner shop ( with tons of helpful service) disappeared.

    If ever there was a niche (a shop/restaurant)to entice shoppers and diners - 'service' must be it!


  3. Yes mate, the supermarkets, and their cheap food.

    The likes of Tesco, Asda, etc, open a store and promise lots of jobs "We will employ 350 people in our new shed". Yes they will, all but a handful of them slave labour on minimum wage rates and usually part-time with no fixed employment terms.
    The real profit just disappears into the already obscenely over-stuffed pockets of a very few very wealthy directors / shareholders. What half-decent managerial posts are created with proper salaries are usually given to Tescos blue-eyed boys, not locals.
    Then I couldn't even start to count how many High St jobs have been lost and small independants have been closed down by the super giants, the number of milk-men alone must be in the thousands. And these people earned and apent their money locally.

    Then we wonder why there's no silver service left?

  4. Hmm...? Once again you have made me think Cumbrian. I never thought about the milk men. Saying that I live less than a mile from three dairy farms and it all gets picked up by road tanker. We have to travel over five miles (CAR) for some in a cardboard 'Tetra' pack. What about the poor glass bottle manufacturers?

    Another thing we haven't discused is cheapness. We seem to always bother about the price. When you buy meat it doesn't say what breed it is? The same can be said for vegetables. We know so little about the different varieties and tastes.

    I have stated before about the 'cheap' foreign supermarkets that we seem to all want? We pay 22p for a can of beans and then buy a coloured television for 500 quid.

    On a brighter note. I wish we could go back to: 'Open All Hours."

    Thanks Cumbrian!

  5. Yeah, the milk-men. I can't (quite) go back to the days when the horse & cart came round with a big urn of fresh milk and people took their quart jugs out to be filled (although I can remember the jugs still in use on the farms). But well within my memory was the small farmer who had a daily milk round, in wide-mouth glass bottles with a green foil top. The milk was fresh daily and travelled a couple of miles.

    Most farms had a herd of freisans, and milked twice daily, I can't remember by hand, but by the alfa-lavel type pulsating device into buckets which were tipped into the top of a cooler then ran into a 10-gallon tin. These were put out every morning and taken by flat bed lorry to wherever they bottled it in glass bottles and sold it in 20-bottle crates to the army of milk-men who did the early morning rounds. (I learned to drive in a milk van, Bedford, they were popular late 60s) The milk was probably 1 day old and had travelled maybe 20 miles at most.

    Now like you say, it goes away in bulk tanker to some sterile factory-inspector approved place, where it gets pasteurised, homogenised, semi- or fully-skimmed and put into plastic containers (I can't bring myself to call them bottles) and sent to one of the super-stores, by which time it is very well-travelled. It also seems to have a lot of shelf life, so I dunno if they put something into it to extend its freshness.

    So rather than walking a pleasant mile with a bottle to a local farm, we now watch the nice fresh milk departing in a tanker and drive 5 miles to buy a plastic container of it 2 days later, completely devoid of any form of taste.
    Then we fill up the land with used-once plastic containers. (or cardboard)

    Be nice to have a couple of Jerseys in the back yard to get some real milk.

    Meat and fruit and veg I think are produced to meet the superstores requirements of maximum profit for minimum outlay, the criteria being uniformity of appearance and long shelf life. I doubt if 5 out of 10 people buying meat from a tesco butchers counter know that there are different breeds of meat animals, as long as it looks pretty.

    And I also doubt if the superstore "butchers" in their sparkling aprons have ever seen the inside of an abbatoir or done any slaughtering, I'm told most of them are cutters, they receive big bits of meat and cut them into small bits of meat that the shopper can recognise, and present them very nicely.

    And their "fishmongers" are subjected to a special training programme which lasts for 40 minutes.

    Greengrocers don't exist, they have "produce" supervisors and shelf stackers, who quite often can't identify half of their wares. Oh well, they do have some very exotic fruits now.

    But we've got "open all hours" at Tesco stores, although exactly why anybody would want to go shopping at 0300 eludes me, unless they're a raging insomniac. OK for the police, ambulance and firemen on nights I suppose, they can pop in for mid-shift snacks.

  6. Thanks for that Cumbrian.

    My fondest Irish holiday memories (its in my rather silly and amusing book about baling string!) is going down the fields to bring up my grandparents seven Freisan cows for milking by hand.

    he 'girls' would let me place a chain around their necks whilst my Uncle Bill would sit on a wooden stool and milk them, singing his very own song:

    "You can pull my hair and you can pull my tail, but I won't get up in the morning."

    We also made hay with pikes and horse drawn machinery and grew fields of swedes ('turnips') and potatoes and Mangels for the horse.

    The continental cattle seem to make the most money these days. I still keep Whiteheads (Friesan/Hereford crosses) and Aberdeen Angus. The butchers claim the continental meat is lean and keeps the cholesterol in check. What ever happened to good they taste?

    We should all ask for Aberdeen beef (favourite breed of beef) and for our favourite variety of vegetables in our supermarkets.

    I remember the Bedfords and Morris Minors. I think India bought the blue prints and started producing brand new one's in the 1980's? Why do cars have to evolve?

    I have a Ford 3000 Tractor and the Third World farmers are always wanting to buy Ford tractors from Europe. They don't want electronics and big gas guzzling engines. It is all easy to make parts for them!

    Thanks yet again for the great comments Cumbrian!

  7. Can't remember milking by hand nor making hay with horses, the old grey Massey-Fergusons were all the rage, Fordson Major and David Brown were just starting to make an appearance, and balers that coughed man-handlable bales out every 10 yards or so, such fun was had throwing them up onto a tralier, leading them home to the open-sided barn and mewing them, a highly skilled job getting the sides straight. They made straw bales as well, a bit lighter usually, after the combine had finished. I can remember 1 working horse, a big black one with bits of white, they used it to hoe in between rows.

    Turnips (tunchies locally) were "snagged" with a tunchie-knife, a billhook type with a sharp spike sticking out of the back. Back-breaking work, seemed worse because it was always seemed to be feezing. Then feeding them through the tunchie-chipper before feeding them to the beasts.

    Herefords were the usual beef stirks then, but the belted Galway seems popular now, and a few of those brown ones with massive horns, is that the Angus? Never noticed many continental cattle here, the only ones I know are Belgians, blue and champagne, with huge rumps, that's probably why butchers love them, so many extra rump steaks.

    They're probably low in cholesterol because they feed them so many growth hormones to get them to slaughter weight in 18 months that they don't have time to develope any. Guess yours grow a bit slower?

    And we never see the grey Massey-Fergies any more except at Silloth show, the enthusiasts keep a few of them going. Just some huge machines with front wheels bigger than back wheels used to be, and steps up to the air-conditioned centrally-heated stero music-playing mobile-phone equipped cabs. Somebody told me his had 25 forward gears and 15 reverse, and I forget how many million horse-power. Changing times indeed.

  8. Thanks for that Cumbrian. I can just picture Harry Ferguson's little grey tractor, he also invented the brilliant three point linkage system didn't he? I think a lot of the tractors had brakes made out of cork and terrifying to handle (brake) when wet.

    I think the brown cattle with long horns sound like Highland Cattle. Do they have a really long coat? I know the Belted Galloways. I believe they can thrive on the toughest of grass and never need to come in for Winter. My late uncle used to have a Belgian Blue heifer. She was beautiful and used to root (wrong word)the grass with its front foot. The 'Blues' still make money but they are said not to be suitable for 'slatted houses' (another pet hate subject of mine)because the slats make their feet swell?

    I think the Smallholder farmer is an endangered species and they will never make any money unless C.A.P is made into a much fairer system for all farmers.

    Back to the hay. I think (been told) that silage making (round bales) came in around 1980. The sun from our childhood days stopped shining. Why? Was it global warming? The two World Wars? All the pollution from the cars and industry? Probably!

    Changing times indeed!

  9. Yeah, they were really fun in the wet, only a metal seat with holes in it, usually covered with a couple of folded sacks (evrything seemed to come in a sack then) to stop frostbite of the bum in winter and bruised bim at all times. Hardest bit of braking was the peadls or whatever thy were called were just steel rods, and in wet weather (most of the time in Cumbria) were slippery, so were the bottoms of the wellies, so clutching and braking were sometimes a hit & miss affair.
    But the 3-point linkage was a winner, they probably still use a variation of it today.

    Yeah, the brown ones usually have a longish coat, but you usually tend to notice the spread of horns. So they're probably Highlands. Belted Galways seem to thrive, as you say they stay out all year on pretty bad grass that's nornal on the Solway Plain area, it makes good turf apparently, but not much use for much else except a few sheep.

    Think the summers have gone, just a quick flash of sun occasionally to remind us what it used to be like. Dunno why, neither do the boffins. Probably pollution has a part to play, because globally the weather's playing tricks.

  10. I think most modern tractors are based on Harry Fergusons 3-point linkage Cumbrian.

    I love watching the excelliant Victorian and Edwardian farming series on television.

    'All Creatures Great and Small' was also a favourite of mine. Apparently the 'real' stories are based in the 1960's. But they decided to use the 1930's cars, horses and carts to make it evoke romantic nostalgia. I think it worked! Heart Beat was good at this also!

    I think there should be a university degree in Northern England Studies. All about comedies, music hall, farming, allotments and farming...


  11. Yeah I like the same TV things, not that I watch much of it. And I agree they seemed to get it right. Didn't have one for a few years, but since Mrs developed spodylitis and needs a wheelchair, we got one last year so if she can't go to the world, at least the TV world can come to her TV screen.

    Maybe I can get a job teaching Northern English Studies (with special refernce to West Cumbria). Or nostalgia?

  12. Television can be really disappointing at times. Why are there so few programmes about allotments and small farms and all the other things we have talked about?

    I think you start your own Cumbrian Blog. You could write about West Cumbria, disabled people's problems, farming, silver service and nostalgia...!



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