Thanks to Deborah Roberts for the above photos.
Chip Shop Hop
A group of us gathered at the corner of Bath Road and Frome Park Road, initially in search of the legendary Rodborough Chip Machine
We then flexibly followed the score from walkwalkwalk – thanks to Clare Qualmann, Gail Burton and Serena Korda – (see at the end), so as to be part of a worldwide chip shop exploration. Our chip shop heritage pilgrimage took us from Bath Road to Cainscross, to Cashes Green to the High Street, to Simpsons, to Nelson Street and so to sunset and bed.
We had a lovely time chatting with staff in all the shops and explained our quest, emphasizing that this was not, as Deb Roberts put it, anything to do with ‘Chip Advisor’. Robin Treefellow wrote a poem especially for the occasion, which he performed in two different locations, once outside a cloth mill and once, natch, outside a chip shop.
Chips are not from Hell
they come from Heaven Highest
chips are winged angels
flying with greasy wings
coated in sparkling salt
into our contentious world
where they relieve our tearful cries
for help is here
the chips, the excellent and goodly chips
we partake of their ambrosia
soaked in vinegar
stubbled in salt
hot and rewarding between the teeth
as we swallow
the chip carries us up to the golden light
in the knowledge our troubles have passed
O, heavenly chips!
Sanctus, Sanctus, Excelsus
This is part of the overall project: A Wander is not a Slog
Other walks are scheduled for London, Greece (aiding refugees), Canada and the USA. It may be that our expedition is the only one in the world featuring chip shop poesy.
The piece immediately below is about the social history of chip shops within the context of the industrial revolution:
Common – Low- Coarse – Vulgar – Immodest – Inelegant – Indelicate – Plebeian – Uncouth – Uncultivated – Unrefined – Lower class – Working class – Humble – Mean – Simple – Plain – Obscure – Low born – Rude – Base – Unwashed
‘You’ve had your chips’
Fish and chips and football and fags and fog:
Steam trawlers off the Dogger Bank,
Or off Iceland or in Arctic waters,
Home to Hull and Aberdeen and Grimsby,
North Shields, Milford Haven,
And then the railway lines to Billingsgate.
While down at the other stations, railway halts,
Markets, depots and railway sidings:
Potatoes, peas, coke, gas, oil, lard;
While over in the engineering works:
Trays for fish, trays for chips,
Scuttles and scoops and baskets for spuds,
Batter bowls, fish slicers, cruets, egg whisks,
Washing, peeling and chopping machines,
Shop fittings, counters, chairs and tables and cloths.
And in the fish and chip shop:
Steam and smoke and condensation,
Eating with your fingers while reading
Last week’s newspaper’s football results;
Betting, the pools, a smell of beer,
Undomesticated housewives spurning cooking …
Such a loud and visible working class merriment
That fuelled middle class condescension,
Snobbery and suburban distaste:
As with Hemel Hempstead’s mayor in 1913:
‘I think that probably the fish frying trade
is the most terrible in existence.’
But seven years later came the music hall song:
‘Chips and Fish! Chips and Fish!
Eh! By gum it’s a Champion Dish!
Oh! What a smell when they fry ‘em,
Just get a penn’orth and try ‘em.
Put some Salt and Vinegar on, as much as ever you wish,
You can do, do, do without supper when you’ve
Had a bob’s worth o’ Chips and Fish!’
There were over 30,000 chip shops then,
Keeping the working class going through war,
The General Strike, the Great Depression,
Unemployment, short time working,
Debt, rent arrears, and shared kitchens,
With a welcome alternative
To the ubiquitous bread and dripping,
Bread and jam and milky tea,
I don’t know how many chip shops there are now,
But they still offer solace as well as sustenance,
For who can forget Jilted John:
‘I was so upset that I cried all the way to the chip shop’ –
But what happens when the last real chip shop closes for the last time?
‘You’ve had yer chips, mate.’
Unless we keep the real chip shop frying
And the chip shop red flag flying.
Inspired by a re-read of Fish & Chips and the British Working Class 1870-1940 John K. Walton Leicester University Press 2000
The Chip Shop Walk Score
‘To be practised in unknown cities (or parts of cities) or any place with potential for multiple chip shops. 1. Locate a chip shop. 2. Buy a bag of chips. 3. Have them wrapped ‘open’ to eat whilst walking. 4. Choose a direction to walk in. 5. Walk and eat. 6. When you locate another chip shop, repeat from step 2. 7. If you finish your chips before locating another chip shop, ask passers-by to point you towards one. 8. Cease when exhausted/sated … Best practised in a small group (sharing chips) in order to avoid chip poisoning. Can be adapted to other foodstuffs, depending on local ubiquity.’
We walked on August 16th: the 199th anniversary of Peterloo. We commemorated this tragedy with a reading of Oliver Lomax’s poem – each walker was given a copy of the poem to wrap around their chips and read as they walked. Here’s the first stanza:
I beg you will endeavour to preserve the most
perfect silence. Put your hand to the ground and
take its pulse.
The poem can be found in its entirety here: https://www.wcml.org.uk/blogs/Lynette-Cawthra/A-new-poem-about-Peterloo/