“She cooked the chips in the fire!?”
My mother was aghast. At six years old I’d never encountered ‘aghast’ before and I was also about to learn several important lessons in quick succession.
1. Don’t dob your friends in;
2. Don’t tell your mother about anything interesting that you hope to do again in future;
3. Don’t expect your mother to see the funny side of anything remotely dangerous.
I’d just returned, excited, from my friend Tracy Thomas’s house.
I was excited because I’d just had chips.
The chips were exciting because Tracy Thomas’s sister Roberta had cooked them for us —Tracy (9), Tracy’s younger sister (8), Wendy Rees from over the road (10), Stewart Morris (5) and me.
They were extra exciting because:
A. They were spectacularly good.
B. They’d been cooked in a blackened pan in an open fire.
C. Even I, at six years old, knew it was dangerous.
Oh, and D: Roberta was only ten or eleven herself and was cooking them because her parents were still at work.
My mother had collared me as I came skipping in. Her mum’s standard issue eagle eyes spotting the grease on my chin and the tomato sauce in my hair. I took after my dad, a notoriously messy eater. It was a dead give away.
Where have you been young man?
What have you been eating?
WHAT have YOU been EA-TING?
I caved in under my mother’s expert interrogation, the story came out.
It was the summer holidays and we’d been playing in the street all day. ‘Hide and Seek’, ‘Beth yw’r gloch Mr Blaidd’, ‘Queenie, Queenie Who’s got the ball?’ and ‘Best to Die’ (my favourite). We were tired and hungry.
Roberta, wise beyond her years, had invited us for chips, so naturally we all trooped off with her. We lived in the same type of council house, a Cornish style semi detached with two bedrooms and a boxroom. The houses all had an impressive Rayburn situated in the kitchen/living room. These fabulous black and cream stoves doubled as cookers and hotplates. They were also universally used to dry clothes on racks hung from the ceiling above.
The only problem was that the hotplate was never that hot. We had an electric cooker too (posh, see), so it didn't matter to us, but at that time the Thomas’s used the Rayburn for all their cooking. They were all right for making Welshcakes, but when you wanted enough heat to boil beef dripping for chips you had to open the fire door and stick the pan in.
Roberta was clearly expert at this and in short order produced an impressive pile of perfect crisp, soft, fluffy, hot chips. She tipped them onto a big blue and white oval plate in the middle of the table, salted them and patted out some blobs of tomato sauce from a huge glass bottle. We all tucked in.
As I related this to my mother I saw a cold sweat break out on her pale forehead. She sat down heavily in the armchair and took both my hands.
Look at me.
LOOK at me.
Now, you are going to promise NEVER to go to that house for food again.
I suddenly discovered a great interest for my sunburned kneecaps.
Go on. PROMISE.
I promise, I mumbled.
What? I can’t hear you.
Right. We’ll hear no more of it.
But we did. She told my dad when he came home, he was horrified.
She told my Gran when we went to visit, she was horrified (and SHE used to feed me RAW sausages).
She even told the neighbours, you can guess their reaction. We never had chips there again.
The only thing is, 49 years later they are still the best chips I’ve ever had.
I highly recommend the next time you have chips, have them liberally sprinkled with narrowly avoided disaster and seasoned with recklessness.
You won’t regret it.