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The Rim Worlds

... out on the Galactic Rim things are very iffy and if you fart really hard your're liable to blow yourself on to an Alternate Time Track.

A Bertram Chandler.

The Mentor No: 38 - Jun 1982
(Cover Kerrie Hanlon)

The Mentor No: 38 - Jun 1982


Grimes, my series character, acquired a nickname early in his career. Gutsy Grimes. This has nothing to do with his courage but refers to his liking for
food. As so often is the case with series characters he takes after his creator.

In my younger days, when I was an apprentice and then a junior officer in a tramp steamer company notorious for its meanness, I became something of an expert on what are now called convenience foods. In those times very few merchant vessels ran to domestic refrigeration. Before leaving port to begin what was usually a long voyage the big icebox on the poop would be stocked with fresh provisions - meat, fish and vegetables - and blocks of ice. For the first week or so the feeding would not be too bad. And then, as the ice melted, the process of putrefaction would begin. Finally, after all hands bad been subsisting on a diet of boiled potatoes end butter, the master would order that what was left in the icebox be jettisoned to feed the sharks and the gulls and the stocks of preserved foodstuffs broached. There would be a “salt horse” straight from the “harness cask” and salt pork. I am still fond of corned beef - but the refined version that one buys from the butcher’s shop is nothing like as flavour- some as the salt beef of those “good” old days. There would be the various things in cans.

Canned beans have changed very little over the years and are still a good stand-by. But I do, now and again, pine for them in their original form, when they were known as pork and beans. That piece of salt pork was never very large but it added something. And then, quite suddenly, it vanished altogether. Canned corned beef seems to have maintained its standard and I still like it. Canned corned mutton was… boring. I never see it around now, nor do I want to. There were canned sardines, of course but they were much, much bettor when they were embalmed in olive oil. There was canned salmon. There were canned kippers - so-so - and canned pilchards and herrings. A most unpopular fish was canned smoked haddock; it had the texture and flavour of cardboard,

There were the various things that required heating up. One that sticks in the memory was Ox Cheek. Despite its off-putting name it was a quite tasty, meaty stew. The sausages were good, so was the tinned rabbit. The chicken, however, was invariably flavourless.

After a few years in tramp steamers I graduated to vessels of a much higher class, with capacious cold storerooms. For every day of a voyage, no matter how long, there would be fresh meat and vegetables every day. Canned foods were carried only to be regarded as occasional luxuries rather than necessities - tinned fruit and icecream as a dessert, a salmon salad as a lunchtime first course, and so on.

At home I usually keep a few tins as stand-by foodstuffs. Sardines - the genuine Portuguese ones when I can find them - salmon and tuna, both of which later can be used in fried rice or a kedgeree. Beans, of course, and corned beef, with which, at short notice, I can produce what I call “lazy man’s chili con carne”, (Slice and saute onions, add chili powder and chopped garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice, stir in cubes of corned beef and cook through, serve with boiled rice.)

Now and again, however, I find myself in a situation where I must either subsist on convenience foods or starve.