In search of the perfect ‘kicker’

There’s a chap in the world of Scottish advertising who is famous. Normally, when you think of ‘famous’ people in advertising your mind goes to the likes of Sir Martin Sorrell, John Hegarty, David Ogilvy or Trevor Beattie.  I’m thinking of someone who should be much more exalted though….  Les Watt.

Les is a big man in many, many ways.  There’s his size for one, he’s an ex rugby player with calves bigger than most people’s thighs; there’s his reputation; particularly amongst directors and advertising producers.  Les learnt his trade (the production and ‘traffic’ side of advertising – actually making the ads if you will) from the bottom up and he didn’t bull shit. He didn’t pretend to know it all. At first those on the opposite side of the table found this charming and disarming. Later though, rather like Annikin Skywalker on his path to the dark side, they soon realised that because of this approach, generally he did know it all – and generally therefore, he knew where the margin was, the workarounds and the tricks of the trade.  He earned, in short, respect.  So Les brings in high quality advertising at a fraction of the cost of big London agencies, and some great stuff there is too (have a look: www.leith.co.uk – and check out their beer).

But Les is famous for something different in my book, handy though it was to have him on your side. No, for me, Les is famous for his ‘kickers’.

The world of advertising, especially for aspiring marketeers is seen as glamourous; larging it with creative types and getting to chat to the Producer and the ‘DP’; mixing it with known faces from the acting world and often in exotic locations.

In reality though, it’s a grind.  Early starts, a lot of sitting around; multiple takes with actors who should know better; a workforce that work to rule, and more typically stroppy directors who give the impression that they’re only filming your advert because Hollywood have put them on hold (again).   So it’s a blessing to get to the end of the evening and be able to have a couple of hours to yourself without hearing ‘Cut!’ yet a-bloody-gain.

And typically the evenings involve hunting out a meal, often at unsociable hours, and grabbing a few beers.

Now with Les, even if it is well beyond the bewitching hour, restaurant staff chuntering under their breath with the desire to head home, it is still never to late to take your time over a meal.     You go through the menu; order your starter and main; a few beers.  And then the inevitable words. “How about a few kickers to get us going?”.

The intonation alone says, “Och no, these are on top of everything else” without it actually being said.  And only Les chooses the kickers.  With menu laid out in front of him like the first reading of the Magna Carta, he works his way through with an increasingly slack-jawed waiter jotting them down.

And they arrive. Plate after plate of whatever the local vicinity specialise in. My first shoot with Les was in Barcelona, so you can imagine…. tapas galore.  There were a dozen of us at the table, and I kid you not, enough kickers for 50.  But we cleared them, every last one.  And then the starter arrived…..

I tell you this little tale because ‘beer and kickers’ for me are now part of my lexicon.  I actively hunt them out. When I’m abroad in particular, it’s a great opportunity to seek out something a little bit special to go with your first beer. Tapenade and slow cooked bread? Sardine and caper on a basil & plum tomato salad?  Any form of cheese. Oh yes, Les would be proud (although if he saw the quantity I order, he’d probably be a little mocking too).

Les Watt

The imperious Les Watt. Enjoying a Scottish pre Kicker Kicker.

But in the UK it’s more troublesome – more troublesome because we have our own rituals.  Crisps of course – and frankly there are few poor crisps in the UK. Ready Salted Walkers are never disappointing, and some Pipers, Burts or Kettle Chips are a bonus.  Phileas Fogg used to do little bags of their tortillas (in the days before Doritos, these were the genuine article), and we used to get the train to The Bridge in Topsham, rip open the bags in the middle of the table to share them out over pints of Bass or Broadside. Or at The Yew Tree in Cauldon Low, there the whole food offering consisted of (and likely still does) pies. They were kept on the bar under a glass cloche, and when you ordered one you were asked if “You want a bit of muzzy with that?”. Fantastic.

But there’s only one snack that I find invariably lets you down, and it is the epitomy of British Snackology:  pork scratchings.

Have you tried any recently?  Typically the versions you get nowadays seem to use popcorn technology.  They are so light and fluffy and aerated that they have lost the whole point.   Where are the layers of skin and fat?  Where are the short bristly bits of pig hair that sizzle off in your mouth?  Where is the heavy spicing?

I realise now that I was spoiled in the way of the Scratching. A friend of mine from Primary School was the son of a butcher on Stoke market.  Their stand is still their today under the Potteries centre, and we used to get discount bags of scratchings which were bigger than your head.  We’d then go round to Dave’s house and eat the lot with his infernal home brew.  But by heck, they were cracking scratchings. Long, thick, bristling with hair and fat, you had to fight them with your teeth just to make an impression. They were, in short, awesome.

And at last someone is trying to make scratchings of this quality available more widely.  You may have heard of the three chaps (including Matthew Fort, ex Guardian restaurant critic and now Great British Menu judge) who organised a whole meal where each course (including pud) featured scratchings. Their creation, Mr Trotters, are jolly good (mrtrotter.com).   They’re actually made just up the road from me in Rugeley, and frankly any scratchings that come from the Scratching Belt of Staffordshire to the West Midlands will be good.  These are made from all British pork (a rarity if you think about it, most of the bacon and ham we eat has come on a Viking Raid from Denmark), and are ‘slow cooked’.  I think this latter claim is is a bit of marketing nonsense, because ultimately the product speaks for itself. They’re grand – keep a look out for them and support them if you see them. (My only gripe is that they have been cut a bit too short and the bags are too small  – this has clearly been done to reduce the calorie intake, but let’s be honest, calories are not top of mind to those of us who partake in scratchings).   I’m sure range extensions will follow, and they should certainly consider some with even bolder spicing, then we will have a British ‘kicker’ to be truly proud of.

Mr Trotter 2

Mr Trotter. You might be looking proud now Sir, but you won’t be after the abattoir.

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles 2012

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