Saturday May 14, 2005
It was a little overcast when I got to Spilsby at lunchtime, and there was a small, chilly wind. I had a few errands to run, and the intention to pick up a bag of fish and chips to take back home for my lunch.
When I got to the chippy I found it packed with customers waiting for a batch of chips to finish frying, and the place was all warm and steamy. And so nice. I scriggled in, found myself a place at the end of the queue, and settled in to wait my turn.
This exact situation is one that’s been repeated throughout my life. Saturday. Fish and chips. The sizzle and steam of the big open friers. The low-level chatter of people chatting, now and then livening with a burst of humour. Green painted walls. Why so often this particular shade of pale, chalky green, I wonder?
I shifted from leg to leg until I found a comfortable stance, one I could maintain long enough to see the job done, and found my mind wandering…
There was a chippy close by my main childhood home, in Sutton. Surrey, as it was then, but since subsumed within the urban sprawl of Outer London. Often as not it was my job to walk across Oliver Road, down Constance Hill, and left along Lower Road. Past the radio shop on the corner where we took the accumulator for our wireless set to be recharged. Past the mysterious shop with painted windows where an ill-tempered bloke would hop out like a jack-in-a-box, to chase us kids away, and into the chippy. It was London, really, even then, and the crowd was noisier than the one in Spilsby. Part of this was due to the time. It was at the very end of WWII, and people valued social contact of the cheerful kind back then.
On one particular visit, I was idly playing with my pocket money—a silver sixpence—and managed to drop it into the void between a plywood screen and the side window of the shop entrance. A great commotion ensued as sympathetic adults tried to comfort a small boy’s dismay at the loss of his week’s treat money. Some bright spark produced a cane, stuck a blob of gooey bubble gum to the end of it, and tried valiantly to retrive the vagrant coin. All to no avail. In the spirit of the time, a whip-round was carried out and I was soon clutching a fist-full of pennies and ha’pennies to make up my sixpence. I shoved them safely into my pocket and gave my thanks, all hot and embarassed at the fuss. People cared about children then.
Some time later, probably a couple of years, the shop was being refitted, the green paint scraped from the windows and the plywood screen removed, no longer needed now that the bombing was over and blackout regulations lifted. Bright as a button, I turned up and demanded my sixpence when the side screen was demolished. Sure enough, there it was, nestled in a corner along with a cluster of dusty cobwebs and long deceased spiders. I seem to remember the carpenter pulling the coin out, wiping it on his sleeve, spitting on it for good luck, and pressing it into my palm. Wish I could remember some of the conversation but it’s gone. I could fictionalize it of course. Perhaps I shall, one day.
I have a host of similarly faded and dusty memories of my boyhood that pop up unbidden when I’m in a situation that stimulates my memory. I ought to write them down, if only in note form. Perhaps I shall, one day.