It’s summer on Aberdeen beach and visitors to the coastline have gradually been returning from lockdown to cafe culture and a blast of invigorating sunshine.
Yet even though there hasn’t been much to laugh about during the last 18 months, the Granite City has a venue where bacon sarnies are always accompanied by bon mots and sausage butties with snappy one-liners.
The Inversnecky Cafe, one of those douce little establishments, which used to play host to Alex Ferguson’s fabled Aberdeen team after their training sessions on the sand, is well-known on the esplanade as providing hearty fare and a stonking view of the North Sea – if the haar stays away.
But in 2015 owner Martin Vicca decided to create something different with a daily joke scrawled on a sandwich board outside the premises.
And the initiative has captured people’s imaginations so much that the wisecracks have been liked and shared all across the globe.
Every day the clientele is served up references to Venn diagrams, Hollywood films, DIY, classic rock hits, social commentary, puns and other verbal cracks.
They are often excellent, occasionally excruciating, but locals and tourists alike have grown accustomed to their dose of humour in an often grey world.
As Jackie Nugent, one of the punters enjoying breakfast, told me when I made a trip to the ‘Snecky’ last year: “We have been coming here for a long time and we like the food and the smell of the sea, but it’s great that we are served up a little chuckle before we have even walked in the door.”
There was one instance when Mr Vicca told his customers why he had struggled to cut the grass – with a nod to The Clash.
As the board proclaimed: “I fought the lawn and the lawn won.”
And, in a reference to a band closer to home – The Proclaimers – one of my favourites of all the signs used the sort of phrases you would find in any standard contract such as “subject to status” and “estimate only”.
It finished with the words “The Disclaimers”. And subsequently went viral.
The entrepreneurial Mr Vicca has covered myriad subjects since he started cracking jokes alongside eggs in 2015 and likes to keep his customers on their toes, even as he whets their palates.
He said: “At the start, we got the board so we could highlight the daily specials, but I remember talking to the staff and remarking to them: ‘Let’s see if we can make them laugh’.
“I try to mix it up and change it regularly and, as you might expect, some efforts work better than others.
“But I can tell you there have been plenty of times where folk have driven past the cafe and done a double-take before reversing to have a second look.
“I’m not claiming it is all my own work. A lot of the references are things I hear from customers or the other staff members and family and friends.
“But it doesn’t really matter if they succeed in putting a smile on your face.”
The cafe has been a welcoming place for generations of Dons players ever since the days when Fergie, the catalyst for Aberdeen’s European Cup Winners Cup win in 1983, used to take the squad there after training sessions on the beach in the bleak midwinter.
And, as recently as 2019, just months before the Covid curtain descended, former Pittodrie striker Sam Cosgrove lit up a youngster’s day at the ‘Snecky’.
Let’s allow Mr Vicca to pick up the thread.
He said: “The whole Aberdeen team were in one morning and they behaved impeccably, but then, just as they were about to leave the cafe, Sam Cosgrove saw a young lad, who was maybe aged eight or nine, eyeing him, but who was far too shy to ask for a selfie.
“Well, Sam went over and asked the wee lad if he wanted one. And he did. He took the time to do this and went over and spoke to him, so well done, sir!”
Life hasn’t been easy for most businesses even before the pandemic, but Mr Vicca is fully aware that establishments that rely on a lot of summer trade have to stand out in some way.
His inspiration stretches from The Two Ronnies to The Fast Show and Peter Kay and infrequently strays into surreal territory.
The latest boards have featured food-related jokes and references to desserts and not trifling with the affections of others.
He happily admitted: “I know it can be a bit hit and miss, but if you don’t like one, there will be another along the next day – and that is a promise.”
A promise indeed – from the chairman of the boards!