The World is My Prawn

January 31, 2012


They say you can take the boy out of Scotland but you can’t take the teuchter out of the boy. A teuchter is the Scottish equivalent of bumpkin, country boy or redneck. I confess to having been a teuchter — no sophistication, no polish, no “edge”. I spent a long happy time in that idyllic state, where I knew no embarrassment whatsoever, no matter how crass my actions were. However, all things end, and I came to know the cost of becoming couth.

I travelled out to the Far East on the troopship S.S. Oxfordshire, which docked for 12 hours at Gibraltar and we were granted eight hours shore leave. I jumped at the chance and made my way to the main street where I found a pub and ordered a beer. On the bar were plates of pink objects that I learned were prawns, placed there in the way other bars put up peanuts or pretzels, for the customers. As there were only locals in the place, I took a plate and carried it and my beer to a table in the corner. I finished the dish of prawns, had another beer, and then returned to the ship.

Within an hour, I was violently sick and, most worrying, was the amount of blood I was throwing up. Eventually, the vomiting stopped and I returned to my hammock but mentioned the incident of the blood, and my sore throat, to a fellow squaddie.

He naturally asked what had I been doing and I described the bar, the beer and the prawns. He thought the presence of the blood puzzling and kept querying my version. In fact, I had explained a couple of times and realised I was accompanying the verbal story by miming the actions of drinking the beer and eating the prawns. Halfway through the third telling, he burst out laughing and said, “Do that again. Eat another prawn.”

I did. Then he diagnosed my problem, rather succinctly, I thought.

“You’re supposed to peel them first, you prat.”

On another enlightening occasion, I visited a restaurant in Antwerp where a speciality was oysters, which I had never tried before. I ordered twelve and while my companion was enjoying a shrimp cocktail I tried to apply some black pepper to my oysters. After a few minutes, working the pepperpot, she asked, “Have you ever eaten oysters before?”
Sophisticated, macho man replied, “Why, of course. Many times.”

“Well, you certainly never operated a pepper mill before. The top doesn’t come off and now you’ve got a mountain of pepper in your lap!”

Then there was the time I ate my first Bombay duck. . .

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