Since we started our stories six months ago, we have spoken to a vast and wonderful mix of people. The common thread though is that near the beginning they all had a line something like… “and when I left school, I decided to….”. Well, this week’s Big Personality has no such start; he has been working at the same job since he was ten years old, growing and developing in skill and maturity but remaining steadfastly loyal to his life’s calling and his base in Perth’s North Methven Street. A fifth generation butcher, Beaton Lindsay has broken the mould of our Big Personality tales by showing how a life unaltered by change can make for the most fascinating of chats.
DG Lindsay’s on Perth’s North Methven Street was the only place my granddad and nana would buy their meat. I remember standing, holding his hand and peering into rows of cows hanging in the back shop, which in the late seventies was still covered in sawdust. This was a place where you could order your meat in any unit of measurement you liked and they knew instinctively what it meant.
“Gies twa or puckle slices of biled ham.” “No quite half a pund o’ sausages.” “A bit ham shank – enough for the soup pot.” It fascinated five year old me that the man behind the counter knew how big my nana’s soup pot was and what my Grandad’s puckle meant, but he did. It was a family business serving families and after an hour chatting to Beaton, I realise that nothing has changed – except the sawdust! – and that this is exactly as it remains.
We start by him trying to establish if he’s fourth or fifth generation and the story goes back to 1863 when the Lindsay’s were chemists in India. By the time they’d reached Scotland they were butchers and two brothers opened two shops, JR Lindsay in St Leonard’s Street and DG Lindsay in Methven Street – the later was Beaton’s great, great grandfather and we settle on him being generation number five.
As a woman who has changed her mind a thousand times, career included, I am fascinated at whether the expectation to take over a family business of this nature is welcomed in all its glory or if there is ever resentment?
He looks at me with a puzzled expression.
“There’s never resentment. This is my heritage Nicki, it’s all I’ve known my entire life. When I was allowed in to start, to help out, I was just so excited to be on that delivery bike I’d never have thought to question it. After that, it’s been a journey like anyone else’s. Well, I think it has – like I say, I don’t know any different but I know I feel lucky to do what I do and have what I have.”
“I started as a message boy when I was in P5, so about 10 years old. It was 1980 and I had my bike with the basket on the front and off I’d go delivering meat to our customers in Muirton and North Muirton. I could barely reach the peddles – I had to cycle into the kerb to get a foot down to stop. It was brilliant – the tips in muirton were amazing. I worked every morning from 7am to 8am before school and then every afternoon from 4pm to 6pm and all day Saturdays. £8 a week wages and my tips; I thought I was made.”
Beaton left school at 16 years old, ready for his apprenticeship to start. He spent two days a week at Perth College and the remainder of his time in the shop with his Dad and Alistair ‘Dusty’ Miller. The traditional methods and values that were instilled in him at this time went a lot further than making sausages and pies. He was taught what it meant to run a service for the people who were loyal to his family and their staff.
“Perth College was great – and it was a couple of days doing something different. I was in the first wave of YTS butchers and we were in there doing all the theory and learning how to bone out and cut. But it was in the shop I learned about my business. I started on the manufacturing like any other apprentice; Dusty took me under his wing, showing me the ropes and making sure I was doing it all properly. It was everything from making pies to cleaning up, but it was the standards that were drummed into me that I remember clearly. Anyone can make a steak pie. To make a great steak pie you had to care about everything that you did – from trimming the meat to cleaning the counter. That’s what I learned from my Dad and Dusty. Traditional methods and standards that count.”
Beaton is 44 years old and looking at him, you’d probably guess him there or thereabouts. But when you listen to him, he has that wonderful, straight-down-the-line, no nonsense manner that is usually the reserve of older people. He is upbeat and positive, happy to talk about his life and his shop, animated in his chat. You pick immediately that his obvious respect for his Dad and Dusty, comes from a place of genuine warmth and affection and is as unwavering as the standards they taught him.
“Dusty was a huge part of my life. He helped teach me what I needed to know to eventually take over the business. It mattered to him that I was following tradition – I mattered to him. I know it sounds a bit cheesy but we are like a family. We don’t have a high turnaround of staff, Frank Gannon who works for me is 72 years old. Ian Gillan was with us 30 years before he retired and he still comes in gives us a wee hand behind the counter at Christmas. Robbie has been 20 years and Brian has been 14 – and he’s just in his thirties. When you work with people in that way you become everything to each other; some days I’m like a dad and an agony aunt and a boss all rolled into one!”
With 34 years working in the same business he must have seen it all. The changes must be etched into his own working life. The sawdust on the floor has gone for a start, and I can only imagine the paperwork now compared to what it was in 1986 when he started his apprenticeship.
“The sawdust was great because it kept everything clean, grease free and it stopped you slipping. You’ll never see a floor as clean as it was when you swept up the dust at the end of a day. But with that came other issues. I remember back in the early eighties when Health and Safety were at loggerheads with Environmental Health trying to find a solution that would keep both camps happy. To be honest, I’ve really grown up in an environment where paperwork was part of it all – my dad’s generation probably saw the biggest change.”
We talk about paperwork and I’m expecting to hear the usual complaints that anyone in a food environment has about this necessary evil. But true to himself, Beaton is far more philosophical and sensible about the whole thing.
“It’s been the biggest change without doubt but a pound of mince is still a pound of mince. There were butchers who fought against it and wouldn’t change their practice, but where are they now? The paperwork and standards separated the good from the bad and so now, there are no bad butchers. We were always thorough; we just had to start recording it all. There are only three proper butchers left in the city centre so I’d say my dad knew what he was doing!”
We’re sitting in the The Quality Café just down the road from his shop, and as the chat flows a recurring theme appears. Standards. Beaton is unapologetic in his decision to remain true to his teachings and is certain that it is the reason they have not only survived the butcher shop cull, but also why they now enjoy loyalty from second and third generation customers.
“It’s not difficult. You set out your stall and if it’s not broken you don’t fix it. Our steak pies have been the best around for decades – why would you mess with that recipe? We’ve added new lines into the product range over the years because you have to move with the times and this is where I’ve been able to make my mark on the business. Consumers are a different breed today than they were in the eighties, because we want convenience. Things like the stir fries and chicken highlanders are there to make folks lives easier. And as much as you might think its busy working mums and dads that have driven this, it’s often older, single people who like a wee treat for themselves without the fuss of making it all. Folk want something you can make in five minutes or stick in the oven while you jump in the shower. We all do!”
I ask if the supermarket takeover in recent years has affected his business and how the change in our shopping habits have impacted on his trade. As a passionate foodie it worries me that one day we’re going to wake up and there will be no butcher’s shops or greengrocers due to a lack of custom or interest.
“Aye, of course the supermarkets have affected us over the years – we’re time poor and it’s easier to get everything at once, all under one roof. But you know, last year we saw a change back and I started to see new faces and people coming in to buy their meat from me before heading along to Martins for their fruit and veg. It’s gradual, but it’s happening.
I think it’s down to value for money. Cheaper doesn’t mean better value and when you compare what you get from us, with what you get from a supermarket it’s night and day. We’re just better. We can’t compete on cost, because we give the farmers who supply us a fair price for the meat. So I pay a fair price to them and you pay a fair price to me and in return we look after that meat and give people that best possible product that we can.
Our meat is dry hung and matured on the bone; supermarkets don’t do that because it loses weight. We trim our meat so it’s appealing and you’re not paying for what will end up in the bin. When I see the shoddy cuts lined up in supermarkets I’m embarrassed for my trade. But for Lindsays, and others like us, it’s worked in our favour because people are starting to come back round. It’s has raised confidence in what butcher shops do and set us apart.”
I want to chat a bit more about the fair price he talks about. That morning I’d been reading an article about the cost of a litre of milk being less than that of a litre of water. It’s an outrageous abuse of our farmers and I want to know where a business like Beaton’s fits into the chain.
“We buy our cows and lambs from George McFadzean out the road. Our pigs come from Blairgowrie. We’ve been buying local since before it was trendy; hanging the meat for flavour like I explained. It’s hard to make comment because I’ve seen so many changes in my years visiting the ring and buying beasts; none of its easy and people don’t always see the longterm impact of selling in bulk to supermarkets. So, I can only speak for Lindsay’s and the people we buy from – this is right for us and our customers. Whenever folk ask me where the meat is from I tell them if they live nearby they’ve probably passed it upright and mooing a few weeks ago.”
Beaton’s dad is still in the business a few mornings a week - having retired only eight years ago he’s not quite ready to let go fully! There is no hint at this being a problem, no desire to get him out and have the place to himself.
“No way! He’s not getting to leave, he does all my morning paperwork. Listen, this is a family business and my move into running things was as gradual as his move to complete retirement and that’s how it should be. My wife runs the office now, we’re all a team and it takes everyone to make it work. You know how it is running a business; you need to be a person and a half. You never switch off, always needing to look at another part of the operation. Having my dad still in helping is brilliant.”
His wife, I discover has been running the office since they married 14 years ago. She’s a Perth girl, and many of you will remember her as the very glam, super smiley Louise from McEwen’s Clarins counter. They met when Beaton was 27, married in 2000 and very quickly (like really quickly!) had their eldest daughter, Olivia. He’s grinning at this, anniversary and daughter’s birthday being the same year isn’t something that matters to me (unmarried mother of 21 year old that I am) but you can tell he doesn’t want me getting the wrong impression. It suits his old fashioned values, suits his personality that I’m in no way misinformed about how he feels about his wife.
“We were due to get married anyway, and then we found out about Olivia. Five years later along came Lola and our family was complete. Olivia helps out in the shop now, earning her wages like we all did. She’s like me at that age; I look at her and see myself. She’s brilliant at the pies and manufacturing and she helps out behind the counter on Saturdays and holidays. It’s great to see.”
I wonder how a family man and business owner keeps himself sane; is there life outside the shop?
“Aye, course there is. But I always tell the kids the shop is like an awkward sibling. It has to come first! That’s what keeps our family fed and everyone’s bills paid so we all need to be accepting of that. Folk ask me my favourite cut of meat and I tell them it’s what’s left in the window at the end of the day – my dad would say you never eat what you can sell! I’m proud that we provide a great service to our customers and that we spend time and attention getting it right; those are the values I was brought up with and that’s what I’m passing to my girls. But I do like to get out in the kayak on a Sunday!”
His face cranks up a smile, he knows he’s surprised me and that this was not where I expected this story to lead. Beaton it turns out, is a bit of an adrenalin junkie. He likes his sport to hurt. Out comes stories of his motorbike trials, which started at age four when his Dad bought him his first wee bike.
“My dad was the Scottish Champion at road racing back in the day so I started early. I kept going until I was about 30 and then when the kids came along I slowed down a bit. But you need a release or you’ll go mad. So I started white water kayaking and we go all over the place with it. When I hit the water my head clears and I’m not the boss, or a dad or a husband. I’m just Beaton, with my paddle and my pals. That’s my idea of a great rest.”
His professional life has moved on a bit as well, with a recent appointment to President of the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders. I’d argue this isn’t really a move away but it does get him out the shop every now and then so I suppose it’s as close as he’ll get to a move!
“I’m the third generation of Lindsays to hold the post; my dad and granddad were both Presidents so it’s a huge honour for me. The federation is important because it’s the only body that fights to keep the trade fair and progressing. It offers training and helps with apprentices. We need this in our profession to make sure we have longevity.”
Beaton talks about finding apprentices and confesses he has an old school approach that involves asking around and never bothering with job centre adverts. He is passionate about training the next generation and ensuring his trade is kept alive with new blood coming through.
“You have to train the young ones. You have to be prepared to take time out of your live and make sure they have a trade they love and will stick at. I’ll call up guidance teachers and ask who they have that is keen, with a good work ethic. I’ll train the right person to our standards but you’ll never make a butcher out a boy that isn’t interested in timekeeping or cleaning up after himself. It’s the attitude that will make a good butcher.”
I hear the reference to boys and wonder if his girls aren’t in line for it. Is it still a man’s job? Will Olivia and Lola join the family firm?
“Who knows - you can’t predict it. In my day it was the son who stepped in and whether that’s right or wrong it’s just how it was. My sister helped in the shop but she was never interested in staying on. If my girls wanted it, I’d happily give them an apprenticeship but we’ll need to wait and see.
They do help me out around Perth at my WRI talks though, my wee helpers. I was asked to speak at one and what I failed to realise was that once you’d talked to one WRI, you were on a circuit! I’m always at a talk but I’m a bit of a one trick pony – if you’ve seen me once that’s it! My two girls are quite the wee performers, they take after Louise who sings and does theatre at Ad Lib. So they come along with me now and help take the heat off their Dad. They’ve got wee butcher jackets and they’re full of the chat. In fact, Olivia has more or less taken over now – she could do it without me…. We’re a good team, all of us. You see the women at the talks and then in they come to the shop. Its great.”
This idea of being part of a family that is a team, that has taken a business and kept it alive through five generations, is one you seldom hear now. The small independent family businesses are becoming fewer and it’s with great respect that I look at this man, my age, who has stuck to his principles and his family’s tradition and somehow come through it, still up for a laugh and a bit of fun, fitting it all into the crazy, fast-paced lifestyle that comes with a 21st century business and family.
“You have to laugh, you have to enjoy yourself. Look, just because it’s a big responsibility doesn’t mean it’s not fun. I love where I am and how I fit into things. North Methven Street is my street – I was born there in the flat above the shop and lived there until I was about 10. Then my working life started and it has always been there. I bought the same flat from my granddad and after we were married Louise and I set up home there and both girls lived in it until just a few years ago. I love it all – all the wee independent family businesses around me are what it’s all about. Marians across the road, they’re a right laugh those two. Henderson’s next door, Bailey’s on the corner, the wee sewing shop who rent from us. It’s a happy life my Dad has given me.”
I look across that this easy going man. A butcher’s boy from the day he was born. Never knew it any other way he says. When I decided to ask Beaton to be our Big Personality, it was with some trepidation. How do you fill a page with one job in one street in Perth? Well, it would seem the answer is ‘easily’. You fill it with values, integrity, a thankful heart and the element of surprise. The final word must go to Beaton.
“Mainly I’m proud of my Dad. He worked hard for me, to make sure that the shop was there for me and my family. It’s just my turn to steer it, that’s all.”
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