Be Thankful: New Year’s Eve, Central Hotel, Glasgow, 1929

December 31, 2023 on 5:30 pm by Michael Grey | In News, Photographs, Stories, Tips | Comments Off on Be Thankful: New Year’s Eve, Central Hotel, Glasgow, 1929

For many of us, especially those living in the so-called developed world, 1929 was a watershed year. Among other things, this year marked the beginning of “The Great Depression” and, with it, real economic and social upheaval. It’s unlikely that your parents, grand-parents or great-grand parents – depending on your age, of course – were untouched by the significant fall-out from roiling economies and the resulting widespread feeling of human want across much of the world.

1929 was also the year that my Dad (aged one) and his folks and five siblings crossed the Atlantic aboard the SS Laurentic (third class). They left behind family, friends and home – forever the sad triumvirate of realities that forms the veil worn by most immigrants – anywhere and anytime. And especially by those driven to leave by mostly awful life circumstances.

My grandfather, Robert Grey, was a railway shunter, a heavy-going – and massively dangerous job. Shunting, as any good trainspotter will know, is the process in railway operations of sorting rolling stock (train “cars” or freight beds) into complete trains, or the reverse. I can’t think then there was a heavy call-out for “health and safety” protocols. In fact, between 1900 and 1939 over 1000 UK shunters died on the job. In light of what we see around us of terrible living conditions for people in many parts of the world – and immigrants, too – it is of some interest (to me) that the Grey family of seven lived in a sublet tenement – one room – on Cleveland Street in Glasgow’s Finnieston district, a ten minute walk – just by the way – to that great piping hang-out, The Park Bar. And, even in these days, The Park Bar was open and serving.

I wonder if Bob Grey took refuge there? I hope so. But, imagine. And the possibility of a welcoming refuge aside, times were plainly hard. And that’s surely an understatement. In fact, the total size of the labour force contracted in Lanarkshire by 55% between 1929 and the end of 1938. In that appalling backdrop its hard to imagine anything but hard edges in the Glasgow of 1929.

And yet, moneyed opulence could be found across town, less than a mile away.

Hanging in the kitchen is an interesting bit of ephemera (and a shout-out to my friend, Craig Turnbull: he (rightly) jokes at my love of the “e” word – and ephemera, for that matter): a genuine menu from the gala 1929 New Year’s Eve party at Glasgow’s “Central Hotel”. You’ll likely know, that’s the landmark building attached to Glasgow Central railway station, and, for a time – a long time – among the few hotels in the city that could offer a high-end room and an appropriately toity and highfalutin meal.

The paper card stock has great colours and the art nouveau style, too, so common of the time. And the food, check out the grub served to the (well-heeled) guests – and en français! (oooooh!):

o Nymphs of the Ocean (thinking “Prawn Mary Rose”)
o Turtle of the Cape (South Africa?)
o Some kind of hazelnut dish with a “Cinderella” treatment. I clearly need haute cusine education.
o Parisian potatoes (small balls of potatoes)
o Mushrooms in mousseline sauce

And on.

This old menu has always reminded me of Glasgow and The Central, much-loved places. And now, as The Bells are about to strike, it seems to me that this thing, this piece of paper, really stands for something else.

It reminds me that while the world, and life – for that matter – can be unfair. Screamingly so. The disparity that continues to grow (and it was a problem in 1929) between haves and have-nots is a real dilemma and one we need to face and make better.

And, yet, I think of my old Greys – and a MacBain, my Dad’s Mum – who lived, struggled and fought to thrive.

And I know they did. They likely didn’t have the luxury to think much about it – or reflect on the way of things an awful lot – as I am here – but they were grateful people. I think this fired their resilience.

And so, my Glasgow Central menu from a gilded party at that hotel on New Year’s Eve 94 years ago reminds me: count your blessings.

Be grateful.

We know happiness isn’t found in plates of “Nymphes de l’Ocean” or “Mousseline Champenoise”.

Far from it.

Happy New Year when it comes your way!

And bon appetit.


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