HAGIS AND BACON – in the Black Forest…

Before my uncle Sidney became one of the star commercial photographers of “swinging sixties” London, he qualified as a dentist. He had wanted to be a doctor, but despite his stellar exam marks, as a Jew, he fell victim of the wicked anti-Jewish quota that was (quite incredibly, given the historical post-WWII context) still in force in 1950’s Britain, so he had to settle for a career in dentistry.

Funnily enough, there was no such quota when it came to National Service. As far as the recruiters for Her Majesty’s armed forces were concerned, so long as you weren’t flat-footed, just about anyone would do, including criminals – and even Jews. Fortunately for Sidney, as a recently qualified medic – though a humble dentist – he was assured a highly enjoyable and adventurous two years, that were to enrich his life in many unforeseen ways.

In Sidney’s case, he was drafted into the medical corps at the rank of lieutenant, and following some very basic military training, was soon promoted to captain, before receiving a dream posting, to a grand schloss, in the Black Forest (in Germany), as part of a medical team.

When not examining mouths, which was not all that much, Sidney’s “onerous” existence included hardships such as learning to drive, and being taught to ski in the nearby Bernese Oberland (across the border in Switzerland), and perhaps worst of all, being put in charge of the schloss’s vast wine cellar. But perhaps the biggest change in Captain Pizan’s life – a seismic change in fact – was to his diet; from that of an observant, kosher, North London Jewish household, to that of a British Army officer’s mess; and thereby hangs an amusing and delicious little tale…

Sidney’s schloss-full of medical officers was commanded by a Colonel (let’s call him) Mackenzie, who happened to be an extremely proud Edinburgh Scot. And like all proud Scots, he loved his Scottish traditions, the most important of which was the piping in of the haggis on Burns Night. However, having little trust in the Sassenach mess cook’s abilities to produce the genuine article, Colonel Mackenzie had his mother’s haggis flown over from Scotland.

And thus, on this particular Burns Night 1954, the entire medical team, in full dress uniform – Mackenzie in his kilt, lined the lavishly presented long dining table. The company then stood to attention, as two squaddies carried in the steaming haggis, born upon their shoulders, on a large silver salver, preceded by a finely regaled Scots Guard piper playing the stirring strains of A Man’s A Man For A’ That. Then, after coronating the delicacy with a dash of flaming whiskey, the colonel himself cut up the haggis which was then distributed among the diners.

But, as a waiter approached him with his portion of sheep’s stomach stuffed with offal and oatmeal, a wary Sidney declined his serving, thus triggering the following exchange between Colonel and captain…

“Captain Pizan” said the colonel.

“Yes Colonel?” replied Sidney.

“Are ye nay gonna eat me mother’s ‘aggis?” asked Mackenzie in his heavy Edinburgh brogue.

“I apologise sir, but my religion forbids me from eating it.”

“So ye say Captain Pizan.”

“Yes Colonel.”

“Captain Pizan.”

“Yes Colonel?”

“Had I nay seen ye tuckin’ into yer bacon and eggs this mornin’ with such relish, I would nay insist ye eat me mother’s ‘aggis. But as I did see ye tuckin’ into yer bacon and eggs this mornin’ with such relish, ye will not only eat me mother’s ‘aggis, you will like me mother’s ‘aggis!”

And so Sidney was involuntarily introduced to the delights of Scottish cuisine, which turned out to be a very good thing indeed, as not only did he indeed like the haggis; he loved it.

Somewhere in all of this there might be a moral lurking, but I can’t quite put my finger on it?

A “full English” (including the American baked beans interloper) 2020’s style. I doubt that baked beans were served in Sidney’s officer’s mess – at least not with breakfast. In their place, there would have been additions such as black pudding (blood sausage – morcilla, for my Spanish readers), devilled kidneys, and perhaps minute steaks too.
The traditional piping in of the haggis on Burns Night.

Three different “daddies” for the daddy-less child…

My “first career”, MODELLING rubber products and other things…

In an earlier post I wrote about my wife Dido’s work as a model during her time in the ballet. What may be much more surprising for many of my readers and followers, is that I too had a brief career in front of the Hasselblads and Rolleiflex. For the first four or five years of my life, I was an occasional child model. In my case however, unlike my gorgeous wife, it was less to do with my photogenic qualities and more to do with the fact that the photographer in question was my mum’s brother, Sidney Pizan.

While the fact I was a cute baby and toddler (well, it’s true) was undoubtedly helpful, the main advantage for an aspiring commercial photographer based in the highly competitive world of 1960’s London advertising, was the fact my services came for free! The pictures here offer a record of what was in effect, my first career, and looking back at some of them now raises a whole gamut of emotions for reasons explained in the captions…

The man in this photo is my actual biological father, seen here together with your’s truly, my older brother and my mother. This was a government sponsored ad for the London Rubber Company (now known as Durex), as part of their 1960 “family planning” drive. Thus, the four of us represented the ideal British family, which was exquisitely ironic, given that my father’s take on family planning was of a very different order to that of Her Majesty’s Government. Within days of this shot being taken he had upped and left, and I was never to set eyes on him again. Even more paradoxical is that this is the only photo I have of him with me. The fact he’s actually holding my hand makes this an object of peculiar fascination. It’s also interesting to note in this context that my father was an advertising man, and years later, when we watched Mad Men, my mother would point out the uncanny similarities between her ex-husband and the Ted Draper character…
These are from an ad for Johnson’s Baby Powder. They date from shortly after the Family Planning shot. The hands and head are those of my much-missed, late mother, and for me there is a powerful poignancy in these images, well beyond any commercial “message”…
An ad for a very different kind of rubber object from the first. This was for Pirelli tyres and the guy driving is “my Pirelli father” – a fact I was blissfully unaware of during the shoot…
These photos with the late model and actor Norman Lambert, were my final turn as a child model. The ad was for Van Huesen shirts and if you look carefully at the image on the left, you can see that my eyes are swollen. Unfortunately, the director, innocent of my family history, early in the shoot, instructed me to “smile at daddy…”, causing me to burst into tears! Not only did it take about half-an-hour for me to regain my composure, it meant hours of work for Sidney’s touch-up photo-artist to “fix” my eyes. I should say though, that my Van Heusen “daddy”, Norman, was exceptionally patient and kind, and moreover, I was allowed to keep the set of wooden blocks. But after that, Sidney mostly resorted to professional child models, presuming they were made of sterner stuff!