Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Off the A96, a few miles from Inverurie you’ll find the quintessential Scottish honky-tonk housed in a single-decker bus parked permanently in a small lay-by. There are always several cars parked there, testifying that people do frequent the bus. Whenever Amber and I whizzed down the road from Aberdeen toward Cottarton, we’d notice an official road sign pointing right, saying, “Hot Food”. As if this was the last chance to eat before you headed off into the bare hills, where the only residents are sheep. We’re not great fans of local eating establishments. They're genuine but sparse. In a Huntly cafe, if you inadvisedly order a cappuccino, they serve you a cup of --- get it, “instant cappuccino.” To make the coffee appear Italian, the waiter cups a hand about his lips and makes fake cappuccino sounds. In an Inverurie café, the waiter froths your milk, then adds drip coffee to it, and calls it a cappuccino. Toto, somehow I don’t think we’re in Italy any more. So, when we stopped by Roy’s Bus, as it’s locally known, we didn’t try to order cappuccino. Amber had just got off a transatlantic flight from Houston. Her nerves were shot. She doesn’t pretend to be anything but the most nervous flyer. We were looking for something to help her feel the ground under her feet.
The Bus, analogous to Doctor Who’s Tardis, is a bus on the outside and a café on the inside with two rows of tables and chairs. Space is distorted so that the bus’s inside feels much larger than its outside. Several other customers were there; the waitress moved rapidly taking orders and delivering them. We ordered coffee --- no European funny business please --- and she brought us a cup of hearty, brewed coffee. Couldn’t have tasted better. Jerked us both awake. Then came the Scottish Breakfast, comprising of fried eggs, bacon, ham sausage, black pudding, baked beans and a fried tomato. Perhaps in such a charming place with windows on every side,giving us a 360 degree view, the food tasted especially good. I savoured every bite. The Scots are unpretentious about their food. They don’t try to compete with chefs from other countries. What they cook, they cook well, whether haggis, soups, breakfast, savoury pies, stovies or fish and chips. Scots are good with simple meat dishes. If you want healthy, organic meat or fish, there’s plenty of it here. Local butchers will sell you meat, derived from animals and farms that they know well. In Aberdeen you can buy fish that comes straight from the docks. For most people, eating out is not as common as in the States. Home cooking is preferred, partly because restaurants tend to be expensive, and most people feel that their home cooking tastes better. Plus, there’s the ambiance of a warm home, and the home table that’s special.
Roy’s Bus is special, a true wayside café for travellers on their way somewhere else, and who want something more than to gulp down a pre-packaged sandwich and a bag of potato crisps, all the time with one hand on the wheel. It’s definitely a place to relax, and to hang out. Local kids call the bus, “The Hangover Bus” because it’s a good first stop on Sunday mornings, to cure the hangover from a Saturday night blow-out. One local said he liked to sit there with his coffee and do research. Others study for exams. I can’t think of a better place to write. You’ll meet every character you might want to put into a story. I think I’ll start my next novel there.