Friday Reflection: The philosophical butcher

Steve Perkin wonders if there is a reason butchers have a good sense of humour.

butcher at his work table

Butchers are a humorous lot. It must come from spending their waking hours hacking at dead animals. If you don’t create some laughs, you become as emotionally deceased as the stuff on the chopping block in front of you.

My butcher, Glenn, is always providing a laugh. Like yesterday when we were discussing how the rest of Australia has turned on us Victorians, which he and I are.

“Now I know what it’s like to barrack for Collingwood,” he said.

If you don’t know, the Collingwood Footy Club in the AFL is hated by everybody who doesn’t barrack for Collingwood.

I don’t care much for Collingwood. As a working journalist in the 1970s, covering games at their home ground, Victoria Park, it was eye-opening for all the wrong reasons.

Win or lose, you’d get spat on by people in the crowd as you made your way to the rooms after the game to check injuries and reports.

One game against Sydney saw the crowd riot. Players, Swans officials and journos got trapped in the Sydney rooms by wild Magpie fans, upset at a shock loss. They wouldn’t let us out.

The umpires were escorted out of the ground by police and were told to leave their cars overnight and get them the following day. I got home about three hours after the final siren, and without a police escort.

Anyway, back to comical butchers.

My dad reckons he once asked the butcher for some lamb chops. “And make them lean,” he added.

“Which way?” replied the butcher.

That might have been a joke that Dad had heard somewhere, but for me it reflects a butcher’s thought process. It’s as if every customer offers the potential for a comedic break from blood and guts.

My mum’s name was Peggy. Every time she went into the butcher shop, he’d say: “Peggy Sue, how do you do?” Mum loved it.

And for the record, the woman who inspired Buddy Holly to sing Peggy Sue lived to be 78 and claimed to be the first registered female plumber in California.

Most butchers I know are missing at least one finger, which is hardly surprising given they work with knives all day. I’ve always wondered if they took the severed finger and tossed it into the pet mince. Like the butcher who backed into his mincer and got a little behind in his work.

My first sporting hero was John Peck, footy player and butcher. He was a full-forward who kicked goals and belted blokes in that era of VFL/AFL football when belting blokes was just part of the game and not what it is today.

I think ‘Pecky’ had all his fingers, but I’m not sure.

My first paid job as a kid was to unfold newspapers and take them down to the butcher’s where he’d give me a few shillings. I was quite young and I don’t recall the butcher being funny, although he said his wife was named Patty and he called her ‘Meat’.

I do remember saying once to a butcher that I’d enjoyed the pork chops I’d bought from him the week before. “Yes,” he said, “that was my favourite pig.”

And I remember a dog. He belonged to a friend and his name was Scruffy, and every day he’d walk out the front gate, go 100m up to the pedestrian crossing, wait for somebody to press the lights, cross the busy four-lane road, and sit outside the butcher’s shop.

And every time, the butcher would come out and give Scruffy a bone, and Scruffy would walk off back home, crossing again at the lights.

He did this for 10 years and the butcher cried when told that Scruffy had died.

I could tell you more butcher stories, but they’re offal.

Friday Reflection is your chance to write on any topic that stirs you. Simply send your contribution to [email protected]. The editor will select one offering to run each week and the writer will receive a $20 gift voucher.

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