There were none but Scotsmen present at the event in question so we cannot claim to have a reliable account of what went on, but, according to at least one scurvy Caledonian, it began with a general malaise that settled on the city of Glasgow. A restless dissatisfaction held the entire population in its grip. Blandly and blindly, the people went through their daily routines, stopping at the chip shop for breakfast, lunch, tea, and after-last-call snacks. They ordered haddock, cod, blood sausage, haggii, scotch pies, pork pies, and pizza slices, all of them rolled in batter, deep fried, and served with thick, jaundiced, fat-soaked chips. And though their bellies were filled as usual and their unkempt Highland whiskers well-oiled in the process, something was missing. Scottish eating habits remained as disgusting as ever, but the thrill, for the Scots, was gone. Even visitors, strangers to local custom, had ceased to gape in horror and amazement when catching sight of the natives choking down their oleaginous dinners, and the Department of Tourism recorded a decrease in revenue as a result. From the lowliest benighted blue-faced Pict to the faculty of the Department of Bellicose Nationalism at the University of Strathclyde, the entire nation felt a slight but demoralizing affront to its pride. Once word made its way north of Hadrian’s Wall that Cockneys had taken to eating curry-sauce sundaes for dessert, it was clear to all that something had to be done.
Scottish cuisine was in crisis. Rancorous debate in the newly convened Scottish House of Parliament led to the resignation of Hamish McHamish, Honourable Minister for Mince and Tatties. But hopelessly divided as it was along religious and clan lines, the House could take no decisive steps. The MPs eventually agreed to disagree–and of course to continue throwing large rocks at one another.
It was in this tense and desperate atmosphere that a band of plucky patriots from the Gorbels decided to take matters into their own hands. Clutching Celtics scarves and banners for security, they convened at the Kilt and Thistle to brainstorm over a few pints and drams. They all agreed that the Scottish method of food preparation–rolling in batter and deep frying at a low enough temperature to allow for maximum grease absorption and save a few pennies on heating costs–was sound. All they really needed was something new to apply this method to. Something novel, disgusting, and utterly unwholesome. Donald MacDonald suggested the potato, and was amazed to learn that that is the primary constituent of chips. A motion to try battered Rangers-fan was narrowly defeated, the slim majority arguing that such a measure might prove divisive to the nation. The new dish had to be something all Scotsmen–even treacherous Protestant bastards–could enjoy. Campbell Campbell put forward the idea of Irn Bru (an unpleasant fizzy drink), for which he was head-butted.
Stymied, they fell silent and turned to more drink for solace. Then, when all seemed hopeless, it happened. From the television above the bar, a skirl of pipes signaled the end of “Piss Off, Ye Wee Shite!”, a situation comedy based on the trials of an extra-large family in Aberdeen, and loosely based on “Eight is Enough.” The second in the series of commercials that followed featured a member of the Bay City Rollers—the blonde one with only one eyebrow whose name no one can ever remember. Grinning, he held up a Marathon bar (known to the civilized world as a Snickers bar) and said, “I like them. They’re full of nuts.” Candy bars! Candy bars were the answer. Not the Marathon bar, of course, which was disqualified owing to the presence of nuts, arguably a nutritious and wholesome element, but the Mars bar, which contained nothing even remotely natural. That would do the trick. Donald MacDonald was dispatched to the corner store to steal a dozen Mars bars while the others finished their drinks, then they all went out in search of the nearest chip shop. As fate would have it, it was Akmed’s Kebab’n’Cod. At first the Bengali proprietor pretended not to understand the strange demands the men made of him, then he refused outright. But they continued to press him, and in the end he acquiesced, on the condition that they stop kicking him and allow him to get up off the floor. Reluctantly, the men agreed and handed Akmed the Mars bars, which he duly prepared in accordance with their specific instructions.
Whether the result tasted good, whether the men actually enjoyed their battered deep-fried Mars bars—of this nothing can be said with confidence. But what was certain, what could be seen that day in each gleaming patriotic eye, in the swaggering grin that flashed beneath each grease-soaked ginger beard dripping with melted nougat, was that Scotland had reclaimed primacy in the realm of culinary travesty.
From the caber tossers of Skye, to the haggis-herds of John-o-Groats, to the drunkards of Glasgow and the junkies of Edinburgh, the nation could rest easy–its pride had been restored. The Cockneys might have their curry-sauce ice cream dessert, but the Scots had done them one better–their deep-fried Mars bar is a dinner, which is to say it should be served with chips.
Excerpted from Grand Mal Practice, a novella.
Originally posted Jan 24, 2011