Fish and chips in a newspaper

AT Peggotty’s Hut in Gorleston, fish-and-chips is an occasional treat, a delicious indulgence made the more piquant because we ration the cause of healthy eating and the argument that you can have too much of a good thing.

If we fancy eating out, we enjoy them in Fish ‘n’ Chick’n in the former Bloater Depot/Taylor’s on Regent Road, Harry Ramsden’s on Marine Parade, or in a fried fish shop with restaurant on a trip to Beccles.

For a reason I cannot fathom, tucking into fish and chips in the car makes them even tastier, and nowadays some establishments place them on a returnable tray and give you plastic forks. You need to keep a window open to ensure the smell does not linger, and the driver finds it tricky because the steering wheel is in the way, but nothing diminishes that appetising tang.

When eating at home is the favoured option, I have the choice of driving to fetch them from either The Fish Inn, near the Rainbow Co-op, or Pete ‘n’ Pams Plaice on Homefield Avenue, both in Bradwell. Their quality and service are both excellent, but at the latter – where they fry to order – I find more to read while waiting for it to be fried! A wall is covered by umpteen business cards offering services to the home owner, like building, plumbing and electrical work, painting and decorating, gardening, pond clearance, television aerial erecting, ceilings, kitchen fitting... Or you can enrol your five to 11- year-olds for a Basic French course or to attend a toddlers’ group, pay somebody to walk your dog or groom your cat, plan a party or wedding, hire a stretch limousine. A florist advertises, there are details about rescued cats, a computer printer is for sale, and local events are publicised.

My fish-and-chips are always ready before I have managed to scan all the items stuck to the wall, and I scurry home while the meal is still piping hot. If I happpened upon a card offering just what I wanted, I would not have a pen with me anyway (my days as a working journalist, never without notebook and pencil even off duty, are long past). Perhaps you peel the card off the wall so you can contact whoever stuck it there...

Recently one large, properly printed poster on another wall caught my attention: it announced that 2010 is the 150th anniversary of Britain’s favourite meal – yes, you’ve guessed it, “Fish-and-chips, still the nation’s favourite”. The internet website promised that to mark this “150th anniversary of the marriage of Fish with Chips, the National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF), in conjunction with our partners in the industry, are planning a year of promotional activities. There will be a series of events aimed at raising the profile of Fish and Chips at both a national and a local level.”

Well, the big anniversary year is nearly over, but I must admit that I have noticed nothing in the way of special events hereabouts.

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According to the website: “The first shops to sell Fish and Chips opened in 1860, one in London, the other in Lancashire. Each of the ingredients had existed separately for some time prior but got together in 1860 to make the perfect partnership.”

It is hard to believe that there was a time when a fish-and-chip shop sold nothing but those two staple items, apart from bottles of Corona and vinegar, and perhaps a bread roll. When folk from “up North” swelled our local population in the postwar years, mushy peas were added. Today the choice of fare is staggering – and in Pete ‘n’ Pams Plaice, and possibly in its competitors’ establishments too, the cooking is done without trans-fats, and there is even a gluten-free option for coeliacs.

The choice there was staggering: in addition to about 11 for fish-and-chips, I counted about 70 other items on offer: meats, vegetarian, melts, sausages, chicken, wraps, pizzas with a choice of umpteen pick-your-own was impossible to remember them all (and, of course, I was without pen or notebook).

Nowadays everything is wrapped in pristine white paper. Yet many of us can recall the years of paper shortages when old newspapers were used for outside wrapping, and you would sometimes take your papers to the shop for your own order.

Of course, the famed Great Yarmouth Market Place stalls are limited to chips only, and my simple tastes require only salt and vinegar sprinkled on them, so I shudder with distaste at the other options available: mayonnaise, onion vinegar, curry sauce, gravy... Ugh!

And from fish-and-chips to a more formal meal, the weekly lunch for Gorleston Rotarians at the St Edmunds Hotel on Marine Parade nearly 40 years ago.

As a member of the club, at that time I was speaker-finder, no easy task – and in summer, it was hard work striving to persuade some of the showbiz stars spending the season at Yarmouth theatres to come along to address us.

They were inaccessible, would not commit themselves and often failed to arrive (especially if a nice day meant the golf course was an irresistible attraction).

But one star was a gentleman, kept his word without constant reminders, was punctual and far from aloof, and proved to be a revelation. That was Norman Wisdom, the multi-talented entertainer who died this month, aged 95.

I will never forget the visit of this modest and unassuming man who was bill-topping at the ABC in Yarmouth in 1971.

One thing that endeared him to many of his audience of business and professional men was that despite his wealth (he owned a big yacht, and three years earlier lost a court appeal against paying tax on silver bullion invested in the United States), he believed in austerity, typified by the blue silk shirt he was wearing.

When he removed his jacket on that hot summer day, before air-conditioning, it revealed that his shirt sleeves had been shortened by a considerable tuck above the elbow. He explained that the shirt was one of a batch he bought in Hong Kong at a price so good that was prepared to have tucks in all the sleeves!

His informal address was a wealth of anecdotes, and he exhibited his musical versatility by “playing” violin, clarinet and drums, among other instruments...all mimed, because he had none of them with him.