Unbuttoned and wonderfully well observed, George Melly’s Owning Up (1965), a memoir of his time as vocalist with Mick Mulligan’s Magnolia Band, is one of the funniest books of the post-war era. Any reader with an average endowment of humour will find themselves frequently laughing out loud, with the possible exception of the inhabitants of Birmingham (‘The Arsehole of England’). He transports the reader to the seedy bohemia of the late Fifties and early Sixties before the arrival of the pop revolution and its screaming entourage that so bemused Melly and his fellow jazzers. Food makes an occasional appearance in Melly’s earthy panorama, as in this account of the Liverpudlian trombonist Frank Parr
He was extremely limited in what he would eat… Fried food, especially bacon and eggs, headed the list; then came cold meat and salad, and that was about the lot. Any other food, soup for instance or cheese, came under the heading of ‘pretentious bullocks’, but even in the case of food he did like, his attitude was decidedly odd, He would crouch over his plate, knife and fork at the ready in his clenched fists, and glare down at the harmless egg and inoffensive bacon, enunciating, as though it were part of some barbarous and sadistic ritual, the words ‘I’ll murder it.’ What followed, a mixture of jabbing, tearing, stuffing, grinding and gulping, was a distressing spectacle.
Melly also sketches a passionate ode to the pleasures of late-night al fresco dining in Manchester
‘There also existed in Manchester a service which until surprisingly recently existed nowhere outside London, somewhere to eat in the small hours. All round Piccadilly were pie stalls which sold marvellous hot pies: steak and kidney, meat and potato, cheese and onion. The fierce physical pleasures of biting into one of these, a little drunk in the frosty night, is enough, even in retrospect, to fill the mouth with saliva.
There was also a very disgusting all-night restaurant where, one midnight, a drunk American speared a long thin sausage, a part of the ‘Mixed Grill’, and shouted at the pathetic waitress who had just banged it down in front of him, ‘What do you call this for Chris’ sake? A goddam dog’s cock?’
Photo credit: Terence J Sullivan on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND