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Fish on Friday by Olga Maughan

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Article by Olga Maughan ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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Even today, fish and chips from the chipper are, in my opinion, the tastiest of foods, especially if, like me, you were not allowed have them as a youngster. In our house, our Friday dinners consisted of egg and mash because we were not allowed meat. No amount of pleading would get you fish and chips from Macari’s. We would have to settle for the lovely smells of fish, chips and the distinct smell of too much vinegar of this much-envied dinner, as neighbours would walk past you with a rolled up newspaper under their arm. Later the newspaper was changed to a cream coloured paper like they used in the butchers. You could see the heat coming from the paper as they went happily home to feast on fish and chips that would never be placed on the dinner table in our house.

Now there was one friend of mine who also had no reason to visit Macari’s. Her mother was of the same opinion that you did not need to go to an Italian to have a good feed of fish and chips. “What would they know about fish and chips? Sure, isn’t it something they learned from the English? Isn’t that where fish and chips were invented?” Even though this family did not frequent Macari’s, they still had a good feed of fish and chips on Friday. This is where my friend lived, so, I would spend quite a lot of time around at her house, and mostly on Friday’s when you were sure to be asked in for tea if you were there when it was ready.

Every Friday morning her father, who was a great cyclist, would take off from Killester, where we lived and make his way to Howth Harbour to meet the fishermen coming in with their catch. He was an extraordinary man with a great power of endurance, it seemed, as when he came home with the fish in the pannier of his bike he would then take off for a hard day’s work, leaving his wife, Mrs Brown to wash and gut the fish and prepare the lovely batter she would deep fry it in later that evening. The potatoes were peeled and cut into fine chunky chips and would sit in a pot of water until it was time for tea.

I had to make sure I agreed with all my friend said as I didn’t want her to tell me to go home before tea time. I must keep her onside, be pleasant and let her have her way in everything if not, some other friend might just take my place at the table that evening.

Under no circumstances would I go home at five when I was expected, as this was the time in our house when the unappetising egg and mash would be served. I knew I would be looked for and my name called to see where I was; but when I did not appear they would carry on without me. At five thirty in the evening, Mr Brown would be heard whistling as he cycled down the road on his way home. Having put his bike in the shed, he washed and came into the kitchen, which, at this time, was already smelling as close to Macari’s as was possible. My mouth was watering. Then those lovely words that I loved to hear, “are you staying for your tea pet? Or are you expected home?” “Oh no,” I’d say, “I’m not expected home till seven.” I’d lie. And I would accept her offer as if it came as such a great surprise.

We made our way into the warm kitchen and were seated at a table with a floral design oilcloth atop. Knives and forks, salt and vinegar, two large plates of freshly bought white bread, buttered, ready to go and a pot of tea. And then Mrs Brown, with great care and pride would place that much-envied plate of fish and chips in front of you. “eat all that up now, or you won’t be asked to stop again,” she’d say. As if I needed telling. My mouth, again, would water as I got stuck into that lovely dinner.

Not every Friday was like this, of course, if there was not enough fish on the day no one would be asked to stop for tea. Or, if my friend and I had a falling out there was definitely not a hope in hell of fish on Friday. She would torment me now and again, she was no fool, and if we’d had an argument she would say, “you only come to see me on Friday just so my mam will ask you in for dinner” Aren’t children so cruel. I think of it now and I’m laughing. Wasn’t I just so devious? Home I’d go then, well satisfied, not needing anything else to eat or drink. I would have a plate of mash waiting for me, and the offer of a fried egg to go with it, but I refused; as I did not feel hungry and would probably not need another morsel till morning. “no matter, you can have potato cakes tomorrow for your tea.” I was told. At least that wasn’t so bad, a little more flavoursome with the added onion and fried on the pan, but still egg and mash.

I thought about Mrs Brown and the lovely food she had cooked. Why could every mother not cook like her? And then her voice, telling us all that “no Italian can cook fish and chips properly, they should stick to spaghetti.”

I didn’t mind where the fish and chip dinners were invented. I didn’t mind if it was Joseph Malin the Jewish immigrant, who it is said, was selling fish and chips in 1860, or Mr Lees, who is reputed to have sold fish and chips from a wooden hut in Mossley in Lancashire around the same time. However, a fried fish warehouse is mentioned in the novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, that was 1839, so, will we ever really know? My opinion, for what it’s worth; I would say the best fish and chips were invented in Mrs Brown’s kitchen. All I know is this, it was a wonderful meal when we were lucky enough to get some and even today, although now I know some will say it’s bad for you, and if you’re on a diet, it’s about 850 calories that’s been swallowed, but isn’t it worth every mouthful?

(c) Olga Maughan

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I was born in London and raised In Dublin and spent a lot of time in Kildare and Carlow when I was growing up. I worked for 3Com Ireland for as many years as they were in Dublin and loved every minute of it. With two members of the staff there, I walked across the Sahara Desert for charity, for seven long hot days, great experience. My husband and I moved to Cavan in 2004 where I worked for an Educational and Rehabilitation Centre, retiring last year at the age of 66, but I still volunteer with them in my spare time. Since I retired I have a lot more time to sit at my laptop to write and have had short stories published in Woman's Way Magazine. My interests are reading, writing and swimming, although I don't swim as much as I should.
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