[Fish and Chip Shop (1954) David Hockney]
One of my most formative experiences was nothing to do with books or education or travel. Instead, it was working in a fish and chip shop twice a week while I was at school. Every Thursday, for three years, I would go home, have a quick cup of tea, change clothes, and walk up to the tiny Sea Shell chippy in what was effectively the front room of a small terraced house. For two hours, I would wrap up fish, chips, peas, curry sauce, steak and kidney puddings, scratchings and pies, all the while getting hungrier and hungrier. I'd watch the light fade, the windows steam up, and know that this little place was a warm, bright beacon on a cold winter's evening, from where customers could take home damp, steaming, vinegary, newspaper-wrapped packages of hot food. Afterwards, I'd walk home with my own packet and a pocket full of articles saved from the newspaper pile, and I'd come back for a much busier session on Saturday lunchtime which never had the same warm, friendly, chatty atmosphere as those Thursday tea-times in winter.
What I really wanted, though, was a Saturday job in clean, dry, over-lit M&S, but that never happened, and now I'm glad it didn't. The chippy was far more fun (I worked with my best friend from primary school), even if we did overheat and smell terrible when we got out - and I still love fish and chips and the sight of a good, old-fashioned fish and chip shop. This is why I was so struck by the print shown in the Hockney film and, yesterday, by the wonderful photo by Edwin Smith at the excellent exhibition I visited. Both capture the joy of a good chippy when it's dull or dark outside. As do the other images I've found.
['Ideal' Fish and Chip Shop, London (1958), Edwin Smith]
It's nearly always dull, murky, drizzly or overcast when the best painters and photographers are around.
[Fish and Chips (1938-39) Fred Laidler (one of the 'Pitmen Painters'), Woodhorn Museum]
And the interior lighting is invariably minimal and plain.
[The Fried Fish Shop (1936) Cliff Rowe, Leicester]
But the artists portray the chippies the havens they were and are for busy families and people eating on their own, children running errands, and cold, hungry customers of all ages. Chippies are incredibly down to earth places, and a vital part of a community - the very things I liked so much about the Sea Shell.
[Fried Fish Shop (c1907) Stanislawa De Karlowska, Tate]
We still have fish and chips on a regular basis and drive out of our way to go to a good one, and I don't mind it when the packages steam up the car and leave it smelling of vinegar for a good day or so. I miss the newspaper wrapping, but at least you don't eat ink with your chips any more, and I haven't yet found a southern chippy that does decent curry sauce.
[Wet Friday (1975) Norman Cornish, another 'Pitman Painter', Laing Art Gallery]
Nevertheless, London has plenty of good fish and chip shops (there's also a good guide). I went to a birthday party at the very good Golden Hind recently - an inspired location - and I've been wanting try Poppies and Kerbisher & Malt for a while. We always go to the Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop when we are there, and we still have fish and chips when we go back to visit family in Stockport. You just can't take the girl out of the fish and chip shop, especially at this time of year.