Close to the bone

FREMANTLE’S SUE JOHNSON gives us a Proustian take on her local, inspirational butcher, Frank, owner of FRANK’S GOURMET MEATS on Wray Avenue.

INSPIRATION is a rather grand sort of word.  

It has good, solid, Latin roots and its definition is noble.  

The people said to be inspiring often come from other places or other ages.  

They rear their heads from the pages of a book, or exist perhaps in a rarified environment.  

Lincoln’s principles, Shakespeare’s tragic verses, Luther King’s or Mandela’s utterances, or the actions of the man who paddles out to his mate when the latter is bumped off his board by a shark.  

One thinks of them as leaving their imprint on Everyman’s soul, and raising it above the humdrum.   

In-spirare: to breathe in. You breathe it in. Or it returns repeatedly to the forefront of your memory.  

The impact on your life, if it occurs at all, may well only do so many years later.

But as I approach this little place on an average suburban street, I feel inexplicably happy and understand that inspiration does not have to be grandiose.  

It is a small shopfront, 3-4 metres across, but every inch of its pavement, wall, window and door-frame is festooned in bright placards, lined with gaily-chalked boards.  

The first proclaims “Yes! We sell Haggis”, “AND black pudding” “AND square sausage” (but what is that?)  

Nearby, a big school board trumpets ITALIAN SAUSAGES, and underneath, so as to leave no doubt, I read fresh–dry; hot–mild; thin–thick; even yummy–tasty, emblazoned in silhouetted letters.  

Sometimes, a sausage is cooking, and passers-by can taste a morsel.  

• Frank Carbone.

Today, instead, a narrow placard with neat majuscules announces:- BUFFALO! CAMEL! EMU AND ROO! CROCODILE! and of course FREE-RANGE chickens, quails, rabbits….Every delicacy in a different colour, i.e. red, blue, black, yellow and white.  Is there some significance in this?  

Seriously, though, if that’s not enough cultural variety for you, try – next board – Spanish chorizos (green); Moroccan spicy lamb (red,); Chinese honey soy wings (mandarin purple); or the brooding German black kranskys. 

There’s something there for those with $10 in their pocket, and for those with $120.  

It’s such an abundance of choice. But this shop has never wanted for customers in the 23 years since I came across it, and these signs have been lovingly prepared over a very long time, so something else must account for this proliferation of publicity. 

As you leave, seven more boards call out stridently from over the street: “Have you tried our new goat’s casserole in red wine? Or the dog’s bones (three sizes)? We have 60 types of sausage, including PORK & FIG?” Are they serious? Sixty? Is this what they mean? Hey! I’d better go back in.

The point of all this is that Frank, the proprietor, is proud of what he has and confident about what he can offer. 

He gathers up his customers, regular and casual, and his workers, and carries them along in his enthusiasm. 

It has always been like this, and that, for starters, is inspiring.

I make my way in, unsurprisingly under a flag sticking out from the door-frame which portrays a jocund, moustachio’ed butcher.  

Once there, I really look around, and the more I see, the more I enjoy. A gigantic plastic wreath hangs over the main counter.  

A bunch of about 50 garlic bulbs strung nearby should sound the death-knell for any lurking vampires.  

The ceiling is a veritable Christmas feast of dangling pronouncements such as FIGHT LAMB-NESIA, and FUEL FOR MANKIND! And you can barely see the 60 types of sausage (never mind the winter fridge-full of bacon slabs, pork fat and pancetta) for the thank-you letters and Certificates of Appreciation taped to their containers.  

For example, the RSL made $33.50 from a Poppy Day auction gift; Bowling for Cambodia is hugely grateful; and in the middle, a child has scrawled: “Frank! You are the bestest butcher in the world.” All attest to his support for social justice causes: a modest but affecting philanthropy which also inspires.

The shop’s interior is vibrant this morning.  

Three workers rush around at top speed, creating an almost electrical buzz. Not a moment is wasted.

They are knowledgeable, energetic and committed, as is Frank himself who, like the butcher on the entrance banner, is moustachio’ed with keen, attentive eyes.  

He is alert to everything going on, and has eyes in the back of his head for what his staff are doing as well. 

He is a master of his trade.  

In 23 years, moreover, I have never known him not to be in his shop, he’s never been sick, absent, or even downcast.  The words of the Desiderata about valuing one’s work flash across my mind and I reflect that if ever there was one, this is a case of leadership by example.

It’s amusing that the first real conversation I’ve ever had with Frank centres on a small disagreement.  

“Just a couple of bacon rashers, please”, I say.

“OK. Fine. And look, I have a present for you —“  He shoves a packet of disposable gloves with the shop receipt attached towards me.

“These are not mine”.   

“They are. I was told you bought them here…”

“No, no, I promise I did not.  I never use disposable gloves. Didn’t even know you stocked them..”

The assistant is summoned and confirms that they’re mine, that I paid for them. “You must have put them up here with the goat casserole….” 

I give up, laugh, and take the proffered $5.00.  

Then find that I am again impressed, not only by the work ethic and honesty, but by his unwavering support for his employee’s version of events, however wrong it was.

Inspiration is not the monopoly of heroes and generals.  

It doesn’t need a celebrity to show up its true nature.  

What a person does and how he lives might quite simply resonate with aspects of your own and embody the way you’d like to be; perhaps he or she has stumbled upon the magic key to doing it better.  

I feel everyone should visit this little corner of Fremantle at least once, and although I can’t imagine it without Frank, I think its future is assured.

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