Loving fish and chips as a kid to protecting fish friers now!
My Dad was in the Royal Air Force when I was a nipper. He was an engine fitter, working on planes like the Victor, the Valiant and the Vulcan Bomber. During the Cuba Crisis in 1962, we were stationed at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. We never saw him for the full 4 days and nights. He likes to say now that he played his part in preventing World War 3, but now, at 96, that is another story.
Growing up in RAF stations during the Sixties was a pretty isolated existence. Usually several miles from the nearest town because of the aircraft noise, we were pretty self-sufficient, and invariably the primary school was near to the Married Quarters, so we were very much on our own. We had a sweet shop, the NAAFI supermarket, a Barbers and a Ladies Hairdressers, and that was just about all that was allowed.
Fish and Chips therefore, were a very rare treat. Not many people had cars to drive to the nearest chippy, but occasionally someone would volunteer, the word would then go around the neighbourhood, which invariably resulted in an order for “Fish and Chips… 24 times please…”
In fact, when I think about it now, fish and chips was virtually the only hot food takeaway that there was in those days. I’d never heard of an Indian Takeaway, or Chinese, and I’d no idea what a pizza was. I’d heard of them, but I didn’t know what one was. After all, this was “Foreign Food”, and we Brits didn’t touch the stuff. Spaghetti wasn’t foreign food, because it came in a tin from Heinz, so that was alright. But pizza! Not a chance.
When my Dad was de-mobbed in 1968, we moved to Yorkshire. It was then that I was more than delighted to realise that Fish and Chips didn’t have to be restricted to a once in every 6 weeks experience, as there seemed to be a chippy on virtually every street corner. With some careful fiscal control of my weekly 3 shilling (15P) pocket money, I could indulge my passion whenever I wanted. And I did, regularly. Often walking home from junior school and later from the Secondary Modern, open wrapped, with plenty of salt and vinegar, held aloft in yesterday’s newspaper, from prying hands after a free chip or two.
Fast forward now to the glorious Summer of 1976. If you were there, you’ll remember it forever. Wall to wall sunshine for weeks and weeks. In those days, every self-respecting 16 year old had to have a moped, and I was no exception. My mates all had flash Honda CB50’s and Yamaha FS1E’s, but I could only afford a second hand Puch VD50, from some country on the other side of the Iron Curtain, which had a step
through frame, and all the street cred of a pair of strap on roller skates. But I loved that moped – it was my first motorised vehicle and it took me everywhere.
One such excursion was to North Yorkshire. Straight up the A1, before it was classed as a motorway, and sort of turn left. Setting off at 7am, and at a steady 35 MPH flat out, we arrived first at the delightfully named village of Appletreewick for a cooling dip in the River Wharfe, then on to nearby Grassington for some lunch. There is a lovely market square, edged by shops and public houses, and there I noticed a queue of perhaps 40 people, all stood chatting in the sunshine. Intrigued, we sauntered across to find they were all waiting patiently for the local chippy to open. Apparently, this chippy only opened Friday evenings and Saturday lunchtimes, but were regarded as the best fish and chips in Yorkshire. I overheard one couple saying they regularly drove from Skipton, but I didn’t think anything about it at the time, until I realised later that it was a 19 mile round trip.
We had to experience this! And I have to tell you, sat on that market square, under a shading tree, that those fish and chips were little short of spectacular. After queueing for 30 minutes I was too hungry to even think about working out what the magic ingredients were, perhaps real ale in the batter, lager maybe? – I’ll never know now.
I returned to Grassington several years later. The chippy was still there, but the queue was not. The previous owner had obviously sold up, and retired to his mansion on the Costa Del Sol, taking his millions with him, and sadly the preparation methods and secret recipes that had made his fortune. If only he had passed them on….
Fast forward again to the mid 80’s. I had already been in business as an Insurance Broker for a couple of years, when an insurance company offered me a facility to insure Fish and Chip shops. And the rest, as they say, is history.
We now arrange insurance cover for literally thousands of chippies throughout the UK, including Northern Ireland.
How curious that my favourite food is now putting food on my table, and how proud we are to be Associate Members of the National Federation of Fish Friers.