Fresh fish

Fresh fish


Fish and chips are right up there among the great British institutions, going back to, shit, probably Anglo Saxon times. Legend has it that Raedwald, the East Anglian ruler who claimed Bretwalda (Kingship of all England) opened the first Norfolk chippie in 623AD, before going off to fight some Celts. There’s no finer smell on a Friday night than a British fish and chip shop in full fry. Tucking into a nice juicy cod and chips with lashings of salt and vinegar, eaten out of the paper, is one of the great pleasures of life, the gastronomic equivalent of a week-long BJ from Paris Hilton. I’m guessing. She hasn’t actually called yet. But hey, it can only be a matter of time.

For anyone living outside the UK let me begin by explaining just what a big deal this is. We Brits are a nation of chip connoisseurs. Some of us like them golden and chunky with a crispy outer edge. Others prefer them tender and succulent, perfectly chip-shaped wedges of potato that droop over like floppy penises when you hold them upright, then melt in your mouth. There are as many varieties of chip as there are months in the year, and when you discover a chippie that fries them just as you like, it’s like falling in love.

Until two months ago my local chippie had always been The Golden Cod Piece on Long Stratton High Street. It’s right there on my route home, and the chips are so good the queues often stretch onto the pavement. There is another chippie in Long Stratton, less than a hundred yards away, just around the corner on Swan Lane, called Tony’s Plaice, but in twenty years it’s never occurred to me to get my chips there, any more than I’d consider supporting a different football team, or swapping my parents for someone else’s. It’s something you just don’t do.

It was about two months ago, I’d had a mouldy day in the office at UK Cash Cowboys. Our asshole of a CEO, Cleopatra LeGrande, had been giving my asshole of a boss, Dick Holder, a hard time, and he’d been passing it down the line. ‘Shit rolls downhill, Bukowski,’ he’s always telling me, when he breaks the news that I have to work late again to save his ass. When Legrande fucks up Dick’s day he fucks up mine. LeGrande was having a shit-fit over our falling market share. She’d instructed Dick to rush out a new personal loan for fiscally challenged lesbian dwarves with a two thousand percent interest rate. Dick was charging round the office like a dog with two dicks threatening to line us up and anally hump us over the boardroom table if we didn’t get the national marketing campaign signed off and out the fucking door like yesterday.

Brain frazzled, it was already 8pm by the time I got away from the office and began my thirty-minute drive home down the A140. As I headed south the stress slowly melted from my body. My shoulders freed up for the first time that day. I loosened my tie and let out a whoopee cushion of a sigh. Shit, well hello weekend. That first glass of wine was going to taste like Nicole Scherzinger’s bathwater. I hit Talksport on the radio and everything was well with the world.

Twenty minutes later I’m rolling down the hill into Long Stratton High Street, drawn toward the welcoming glow from The Golden Cod Piece’s windows. As I near the chippie I’m like, shit, no, that so fucking sucks. The queue is the longest I’ve ever seen. It must stretch along the pavement at least thirty yards, right up to the estate agent near The Swan pub. After the kind of day I’ve had I so don’t need this.  All the way home I’ve been anticipating those hot succulent taste bombs exploding on my tongue. Now this. I slow down for the car park, double checking the length of the queue. The closer I get, the longer it looks. I estimate a forty minute wait at least. I just don’t need this shit. By the time I park up and join the end of the queue it stretches right up to the door of The Swan, so I’m standing in the middle of a crowd of suicide-pact smokers huddled on the pavement cradling their pints of flat lager. What a fucking break. I can feel the stress from earlier in the day flooding back into my bloodstream, flexing its muscles to fuck up my evening. Big time. Times like these I wish I was a smoker. The queue shuffles along like an arthritic caterpillar, barely moving a yard in five minutes. This is the only downside to Friday nights. The day the whole fucking nation buys fish and chips for tea. And they all seem to be standing in my queue. No doubt each ordering four large cod and chips, one small hake and chips, two plaice, one scampi, three roast chicken, four battered sausages, a fried pineapple fritter and eight portions of mushy peas, and on second thoughts make the small hake a large one.

I check my watch. It’s twenty to nine and I’m still thirty minutes from the chip shop door. I really really don’t need this shit. Finally, after standing in the same spot for eight minutes without moving an inch, I throw in the towel. I have a bag of oven fries in the freezer at home and a fresh loaf in the car. It won’t be the same but I need that glass of Rioja soon or I might spontaneously combust into a puff of smoke. Walking back to my car I pass the other Long Stratton chippie, Tony’s Plaice. Most nights it’s like the Marie Celeste after a redundancy round. Long Stratton may be a two-chippie town, but for over a decade The Golden Cod Piece has been handing Tony’s Plaice its ass on a plate, with batter bits and a portion of mushy peas on the side. Tony’s Plaice cowers in a dark corner of the shopping precinct trying to pick up passing trade like a down-at-heel hooker in the car park of a Vegas hotel. Except for tonight. As I approach I notice to my surprise that the queue actually stretches outside. Not much, but its two-guy tail is definitely on the pavement. This is a real first. A twenty year event. Nearing the door my nostrils twitch at the aroma billowing out on a cloud of steam, a punch in the guts to a hungry man. I have no idea what their shit tastes like but it smells good to me. What the hell, I join the queue. Standing there I glance through the steamy windows. I notice they’ve hired a couple of girls to work the counter. Hot young girls. Even from ten yards away through the misted up glass, you can feel their heat.

For as long as I can remember they’ve had an old Greek-looking guy working the till, who I took to be the eponymous Tony. He has two swarthy lads working the fryers, presumably his sons. Their hangdog expressions don’t exactly yank you off the pavement when you walk past. But these girls, they are something else. As my place in the queue nears the open doorway I get a better view. They look about eighteen or nineteen, like something off of Geordie Shore, in their spray on blue and green tee-shirts and thigh-filled jeans. Both have long brown hair. The one in the blue tee-shirt has her hair gathered up at the back, with a little ringlet hanging down in front of each ear. The other’s hangs in two long platted ropes, which drape over her shoulders and come to rest on the shelf of her pushed-up titties. These girls belong in a nightclub, not behind the counter of a village chippie. Already I can feel my first chubby of the evening coming on. The babes have made up faces, perfect lippy and wide mouthfuls of broad white teeth which they flash at all the punters while engaging in flirty smalltalk. They seem on first name terms with several of the customers. The little name badges pinned to their tee-shirts at nipple height, like targets for the eyes, introduce them as Charmel and Tiffany. You couldn’t make it up.

Here’s the best bit. Charmel and Tiffany are good. Damn good. Working the fryers, the scoops, the salt and vinegar shakers, the crisp white paper and brown bags, they dazzle us with a blur of movement, a cheeky grin, a bit of banter, a pout, a saucy wink. What they’re doing – as they shovel and scoop, as they bundle and wrap with Dickensian workhouse industriousness – is working us punters too. All of us. It’s genius. In the face of such hotness and sure-handed proficiency, the old Greek guy has been relegated to joining his sons behind the fryers. There the three of them sweat away, struggling to keep up with the speed of the chip babes as they race through our orders at boob-jiggling speed. Soon it’s my turn. As I approach the counter the blue-wrapped Charmel greets me with the kind of smile you see on toothpaste ads, or porn DVDs. So I’ve heard. Her sparkling eyes radiate friendliness, youth and fecundity.

‘C-cod and chips please,’ I stammer.

‘Small or large?’ Charmel asks, singeing my hair with a blazing smile. I feel blessed, kissed by the gods that this sweet vision of hotness has spoken to me.

‘Large, please,’ I say. Normally I order small but this is no time to seem less than a man. If this girl had asked me to eat a bucketful of her deep-fried battered tampons I’d have ordered three portions, super-size.

‘Salt and vinegar?’

‘Er, no thanks.’

In a blur of movement Tiffany slides open the glass door and reaches in for a shimmering slab of golden cod with her silver tongs, then shovels three hardcore scuttles of chips into the waiting paper, which Charmel folds and wraps at warp speed. The whole thing has been accomplished in twenty seconds. As they swivel and dip, shovel and wrap, their agile limbs move easily under their shrink-wrapped tees. Their breasts and smiles send out girl messages. Woman messages. Which each man in the queue decodes in their own secret way.

‘Would you like a bag?’ asks Charmel, which I almost hear as ‘would you like a blow job?’ She widens her eyes momentarily.

‘If it’s not too much trouble,’ I say, ‘that would be brill’. Charmel’s twinkly smile doubles in intensity as she cracks open a brown paper bag and slides my wrapped cod and chips inside.

‘Enjoy… and have a nice evening!’ she grins, handing over the bag.

‘See you next week!’ adds Tiffany, flashing those big doe eyes over the top of the hot steel and glass cabinet. It isn’t so much a question, as an instruction. A command that goes in my ears, down my spine and straight into my boxer shorts. See you next week.

‘Yeah, you too guys, thanks,’ I say, doing my best not to trip over the step on my way out.

Hungry as I am, when I get home the first thing I do is knock one out over their faces while my chips keep warm on the radiator. One has to have priorities in life.

What do you know. All these years I’ve been shunning Tony’s Plaice as if it were a clapped out whore who’d give me an STD just by looking at me. As it turns out, his cod and chips are actually not bad. It’s true to say Charmel and Tiffany may have enhanced my appetite a little. The Golden Cod Piece is now history as far as I’m concerned. They’ve had their chance and they blew it. Now I look forward to my drive home on a Friday night even more than before. Did I tell you I’m now on first name terms with Tiff and Charmel? They have this special smile they reserve just for me. We have the crack about football and the weather. They’re big Canaries fans, so I’ve memorised all the players’ names so I can shoot the shit as they flirt with me over the counter as they speed-wrap my Friday Night Special. They know I go home and jerk off over their faces, just like every other guy who now queues up outside Tony’s Plaice through rain and snow. It’s called marketing. And here’s the thing. Over the last two months I’ve noticed the queue growing noticeably longer outside Tony’s Plaice, as word gets out about the eye-candy. Whereas the queue outside The Golden Cod Piece is definitely shrinking. That old Greek guy is onto something. I’ve come to the conclusion Tony’s a marketing genius. His product might be shit but he knows how to advertise. He knows how to sell. My boss at UK Cash Cowboys, Dick Holder, could learn a thing or two from him. Sex sells, as I’m always telling him. We need more skin in our ads, I say. More hotness, more leg. More hot young lips and eyes with tight denimed asses and pushed up titties. Don’t be an idiot, Dick says, it’s not right for our brand. We’re in the respectability segment. Thirty somethings, young aspirers and empty nesters. Brand positioning is key. As he draws a phone number salary and rides the sales figures over a cliff. Fucking schmuck.

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