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Roasting in Hell's KitchenTemper Tantrums, F Words, and the Pursuit of Perfection
By Gordon Ramsay
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Gordon Ramsay
All right reserved.
The first thing I can remember? The Barras--in Glasgow. It's a market--the roughest, most extraordinary place, people bustling, full of second-hand shit. Of course, we were used to second-hand shit. In that sense, I had a Barras kind of a childhood. But things needn't really have been that bad. Mostly, the way our life was depended on whether or not Dad was working--and when I was born, in Thornhill Maternity Hospital in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, he was working. Amazingly enough.
Until I was six months old, we lived in Bridge of Weir, which was a comfortable and rather leafy place in the countryside just outside Glasgow. Dad, who'd swum for Scotland at the age of fifteen--an achievement that went right to his head, if you ask me--was a swimming baths manager there. And after that, we moved to his home town, Port Glasgow--a bit less salubrious, but still okay--where he was to manage another pool. Everything would have been fine had he been able to keep his mouth shut. But he never could. Sure as night followed day, he would soon fall out with someone and get the sack; that was the pattern. And because our home often came with his job, once the job was gone, we were homeless. Time to move. That was the story of our lives. We were hopelessly itinerant.
What kind of people were my parents? Dadwas a hard-drinking womaniser, a man to whom it was impossible to say 'no'. He was competitive, as much with his children as with anyone else, and he was gobby, very gobby--he prided himself on telling the truth, even though he was in no position to lecture other people. Mum was, and still is, softer, more innocent, though tough underneath it all. She's had to be, over the years. I was named after my father, another Gordon, but I think I look more like her: the fair hair, the squashy face. I have her strength too: the ability to keep going no matter whatever life throws at you.
Mum can't remember her mother at all: my grandmother died when she was just twenty-six, giving birth to my aunt. As a child, she was moved around a lot, like a misaddressed parcel, until, finally, she wound up in a children's home. I don't think her stepmother wanted her around, and her father, a van driver, had turned to drink. But she liked it, despite the fact that she was separated from her father and her siblings--it was safe, clean and ordered. The trouble was that it also made her vulnerable. Hardly surprising that she married my father--the first man she clapped eyes on--when her own family life had been so hard. She just wanted someone to love. Dad was a bad lot, but at least he was her bad lot.
By the age of fifteen, it was time for her to make her own way in the world. First of all, she worked as a children's nanny. Then, at sixteen, she began training as a nurse. She moved into a nurses' home--a carbolic soap and waxed floors kind of a place--where the regime was as strict as that of any kitchen. In the outside world, it was the Sixties: espresso bars had reached Glasgow and all the girls were trotting round in short skirts and white lipstick. But not Mum. To go out at all, a 'late pass' was needed, and that only gave you until ten o'clock. One Monday night, she got a pass so that she could go highland dancing with a girlfriend of hers. But when they got to the venue, the place was closed. That was when the adrenalin kicked in. Why shouldn't they take themselves off to the dance hall proper, like any other teenagers? So that was what they did. A man asked Mum to dance, and that was my father, his eye always on the main chance. He played in the band there, and she thought he was a superstar. She was only sixteen, after all. And when it got late, and time was running out and there was a danger of missing the bus, all Mum could think of was the nightmare of having to ask the night sister to take her and her friend back over to their accommodation. Then he and his friend offered to drive them back in his car. Well, she thought that was unbelievably exciting, glamorous even. He was a singer. She'd never met a singer before.
After that, they met up regularly, any time she wasn't on duty. When she turned seventeen, they married--on 31 January, 1964, in Glasgow Registry Office. It was a mean kind of a wedding. No guests, just two witnesses, no white dress for her, and nothing doing afterwards, not even a drink. His parents were very strict. His father, who worked as a butcher for Dewhursts, was a church elder. Kissing, cuddling, any kind of affection was strictly forbidden. My Mum puts a lot of my father's problems in life down to this austere behaviour. She has a vivid memory of a day about two weeks after she was married. Her new parents-in-law had a room they saved for best, all antimacassars and ornaments. Her father-in-law took Dad aside into that room, and her mother-in-law took Mum into another room, and then she asked Mum if she was expecting a baby.
'No, I'm not,' said Mum, a bit put out.
'Then why did you go and get married?' asked her new mother-in-law.
I've often asked Mum this question myself. It's a difficult one. I'm glad I'm here, obviously. But my father was such a bastard, and he treated her so badly, that it's hard, sometimes, not to wonder why she stayed with him. Her answer is always the same. 'He wanted to get married, and I thought "Oh, it would be nice to have my own home and my own children".' But she knew he was trouble, right from the start.
Excerpted from Roasting in Hell's Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay Copyright © 2006 by Gordon Ramsay. Excerpted by permission.
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