Whilst Bristol’s Harbourside is ever-changing, some things at Underfall Yard have remained perfectly the same. For many years now, Fridays at the Yard have bought with them fried breakfasts, door stop sandwiches and a tradition of celebrating the end of the week by sitting down and sharing a greasy, well-deserved meal. James Clarke started working at Underfall Yard in 1998, as a boat builder and fondly remembers the traditional Friday breakfasts eaten at Popeye’s café. He recalls the sausages, bacon, beans and ‘chunks of white bread thick with marge’, preceded by ‘argy bargy’ between the workers, keen to be first in line for their meal. In fact Popeye’s was, however, the only place James ever remembers seeing any ‘aggro’ between workers of Underfall. He recalled:
“In the café on a Friday morning if you jumped the queue trying to get to the bacon then someone would definitely pull you down pretty quick [laughs] – don’t get between a boat-builder and his bacon sandwich, I’ll tell you that.”
Over 20 years later, John Ostins, a wooden boat builder known to all at the Yard as Ostins, tells a similar tale of Friday’s filled with food. However, now it is Lockside café sandwiches that are shared between workers rather than Popeye’s English breakfasts. Laughing all the while, Ostins recalls the ceremonial sandwich Friday’s, which marked ‘a celebration of the end of the week’. He says;
‘So we order around 10 o’clock and someone will cycle off or walk off and pick them up about quarter to eleven… It is normally a piece of scrap wood that is picked up out of one of the wood bins and just a blunt pencil and that is what is used kind of to take the order. You walk around and ask people what they want and then phone up the Lockside and order it’.
He even laughs, remembering the tense atmosphere that arises if 10 o’clock comes around and no orders have been taken! When the sandwiches arrive, Ostins says the workers sit around on ‘the wood piles in front of the main shed’, and their 15-minute break easily runs over, as the food is enjoyed over shared stories and good company. When the sandwiches are finished the games begin, as tinfoil wrapping is screwed up and thrown into the furthest away bin, something Ostins boasts he is the best at. John even remembers a week when he attempted to ‘opt out’ of sandwich day, bringing a homemade lunch instead. It was a mistake he only made once, because “you can get a little bit of stick because it is quite a tradition to be upholding”.
The stories shared by these two men show that while the food may be different, the café’s may have closed and new traditions are joining the old, Friday’s remain a special day at Underfall Yard. Their warm stories and fond memories of sitting, sharing, laughing and eating show that the day to day traditions of working life at Underfall yard have remained wonderfully in tact.
Written by Mary Carr, Volunteer Writer for Underfall Yard Trust. Find out about volunteering at Underfall Yard.