In my memory, the sun was always shining. I’m sure that it must have rained. This was mid-seventies England after all.
Almost every Saturday, after my brother and father had returned from football practice, mum and I would journey to our nearest chip shop for the Saturday lunchtime treat. It was only half a mile away, but to my little legs, it was in another land.
Sometimes we walked, but most often we would cycle. Me on my Raleigh Fourteen, mum on an old black bicycle which looked as though it might have been owned by Mary Poppins. It was probably no more than twenty years old, but appeared Edwardian. Or possibly Victorian, which means that Mary Poppins must have bought hers second-hand. She loved that bicycle, and I remember sharing her tears when a clumsy neighbour ran his car into it. Fortunately it was leaning against a wall at the time, not in use. Unfortunately, it was irreparable.
The journey took us out of our middle-class comfort zone towards a less leafy and busier part of town. Still quite young, I had just started to notice that there were houses smaller than ours, and where the only place to park your car was on the road. Unlike us, there was only one car per house. I was slightly scared of one particular road, flanked either side with vehicles, and I was glad not to be alone. Twelve years later I would dread being asked to navigate along that same road by my driving instructor. On Saturday mornings, the younger me would be rewarded for my bravery with fish and chips.
Our chip shop was, at that time, run from the side of another shop. Almost round the back. There was only a short counter and even on a Saturday lunchtime, the queue would spill onto the pavement. By the time I was old enough to visit on a Friday evening, the chippy had expanded into the adjacent shop, acquired a larger counter and customers had somewhere to sit to wait for their takeaway. Back in the mid-seventies, the queue for a Friday night fish supper must have stretched past several nearby houses.
Enjoying fish and chips is more than just eating. It starts when you are close enough to smell the food being prepared. As the chip-shop door was left open, our meal ‘commenced’ as we secured our bikes to a nearby lamppost. My mother unhooked her basket from the handlebars. It was a large gondola basket. I had a mini version which I too unhooked. My role in proceedings would be to carry the ‘mushy peas’ back home in my little basket.
The next phase of the meal takes place whilst standing in the queue. Nowadays I might spend that time changing my mind about what to order, but back then choices were from a limited menu and in your wait the increasingly strong smell built the anticipation of pleasures to come. You would never smell fish, just frying chips and the sharpness of vinegar on a satisfied customer’s purchase as they left the shop and you were one step closer.
Stepping inside the shop you knew you had reached the holy grail. Enormous jars of pickled eggs (YUK!) sat on the counter. They still make me think of eyeballs in a horror movie to this day. I watched them with a mixture of suspicion and fear until it was our turn. The shop owner silently moved the chips around in the fryer whilst his ruddy-faced wife took our order. I wondered if she eat all the leftovers at the end of a day.
“Three fish and chips please. No vinegar on one of the portion of chips. Oh, and two cartons of mushy peas please.”
I hated vinegar with a passion, and if ‘my’ chips (which I shared with mum) suffered even the slightest contamination from another portion, this little princess would be sulky all day.
Our fish would be wrapped together, and each portion of chips had its own parcel. All wrapped in greaseproof paper then each parcel cloaked in newspaper to keep it warm.
We left the shop heads high, smiling at the queue. We have our lunch, you still have to wait for yours. Be patient and you will be rewarded.
Baskets re-hooked and bicycles unsecured we headed back home. The return journey seemed longer, the scent of our lunch calling to us, tempting us to pull over and try just one chip. I split my attention between the road ahead and my little basket of jade green jewels.
Upon return we hastily leave the bikes in the driveway and head indoors to dish up. My brother and father are already waiting. A family of four enjoying a greasy smelly treat together, mine with no vinegar but lashings of tomato ketchup (ironically laced with vinegar). How the food stayed warm on the journey back I’ll never know. Magic newspaper? It was probably almost cold, but memory has a habit of glossing over such details.
We have knives and forks but are allowed to eat the chips with our fingers if we wish. A special Saturday treat.
Ref: Writing101, Day 10 Prompt: Tell us something about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
Yes, I am weeks behind, will complete the course in my own sweet time…..