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.”
“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?