Let me tell you the story of another fish and chip shop owner. A woman too..not arrogant, nor opinionated or accusative…Oh, she was not a quiet retiring type. She had the voice and stride like a sergeant major..she would call for her child and he would hear her loud and clear half a mile away!…and woe betide him if he didn’t heed her call.
But she ran the Marino fish shop..a shop built by her fisherman husband at the high spot of the carpark that led to the rocky beach there at Marino Rocks..the beach of our neighbourhood..the gathering place of a mix of many nations , ages, young folk of both genders..young teens of the boomer generation who framed a collective there of social sharing and support that relied upon Mrs. Fookes’s generosity as the backbone of our little collective…she was a saint, even if she didn’t realise it.
Marino Rocks was the end of the railway-line stop, with it’s inhabitants of Dutch, Latvian, Scottish, German, Irish and some of dubious parentage altogether!…but they became ‘fellow travelers’ in that poverty enriched neighbourhood in the foothills on the edge of the sea.
By a coincidental twist of fate, while the adults, survivors of a world war, in some cases two wars, an economic depression that impoverished so many, were a motley collection of spiritually broken , in many cases physically broken individuals, who were subjected to the corrupting influence of conservative thinking and propaganda that drove a wedge of fear into their susceptible hearts, their “multi-mix” children, with an improved diet of high protein, clean water, fresh air and unsupervised, unregulated freedom on the wide beaches of the gulf, grew into wild free-spirited youths, who found rebellion against the restraints of conservative lifestyle as easy as diving off “Sharkey rock” into a crystal- clear , cool ocean. The young men and women that grew from such a healthy outdoors environment, grew bodies that glowed with a shimmering water-silvered endowment that drew the jealousy of the gods! The sea –water that ran from their bodies when re-alighting onto ‘Sharkey rock’ after a dive revealed all the beauty that nature could encompass in desire and comeliness in a youthful human form…their hungry eyes rejoiced in each other with a pagan worship of mother nature’s creation.
Having no money and no capacity to travel far, all the children congregated in a tribal-like conglomerate on the beaches . There was nothing in the stultifying doctrine of Catholicism or the Protestant work ethic that could not be laughed off under the pagan influence of sun , sea and surf and the merciful salvation of Fookes’s Fish and Chip Shop.
Ahh!..Mrs. Fookes..never did she know how much she helped create a revolution in her own small way, by her unconnected generosity to the local kids. From behind the counter of that unique fish and chippery, she contributed to the making of “baby-boomer” revolutionaries. She may have had a stride like a parade-ground Sergeant Major, and a voice to match..but her heart was of pure gold. She wasn’t like “Aunt Mary”, the railway porter on the train station who would line the kids up and threaten any delinquents that she would cut their heads off and put a cabbage in it’s place if’n she had any more cheek!
Mrs. Fookes saw how so many were scrawny kids hungry for a decent bit of daytime tucker, scrounging around for empty cool-drink bottles to cash in for a bob’s worth of chips..one of the kids would go inside with a few bottles at threepence each return deposit and Mrs Fookes would dish out more than a shillings chips and sometimes throw in a piece of fish that “was just laying around waiting for a mouth to eat “…and there’s a couple extra chips or a “ potato pattie for your little plump friend there at the door…he looks hungrier than the rest of you!” and the booty was all shared around amongst many..right down to greasy fingers dabbing up even the last salt grains..’all for one, one for all’…till she worked out a way to legitimise her care by pointing one day to some large empty glass jars in an alcove by the counter..”Listen you kids” she said in her commanding voice, “I want some interesting shells and things to make a sea-side display for the customers to look at while they wait..if you bring me something interesting or curious from the sea, I will give you some fish and chips in return…but it’s gotta be interesting, mind!” and she wagged a finger in warning to not try any silly buggers with her..and she meant it!..and she stuck to her word…The kids would bring their little treasures from Neptunes hoard and she’d exchange for tucker…Did anyone then realise what this meant, this system of barter ?..It meant freedom!..liberated from going home during the day for food..No longer under the parents watchful eyes the children were free to create their own sea-side society from morning to late afternoon,without oversight or consultation with adults!..God bless Mrs. Fookes!..and may a warm fire be forever burning in her hearth and warm slippers handy on a cold night…God bless her.
Mind you, she had to have a pretty tough hide to handle her fisherman husband ; Cuthbert Edgar Fookes…a stone-cutter by trade, fisherman by choice and garrulous old bastard by nature. Cuthbert and his sons had a fishers camp on the Yorke Peninsula, where they would set out to their secret fishing grounds and catch choice fish to clean and put on ice which Cuthbert would deliver straight back to the shop..never were fresher fish, more delicious fish and chips served to a long queue of faithful customers..five or more deep at the counter till a ticketing system had to be introduced.
Cuthbert would deliver his catch and then lean against the end of the counter smoking his big, fat meerschaum pipe and observing what he called ‘the idle rich” customers coming and going. He was a garrulous old bloke and the kids held their distance when he was around, saving their moments to barter with the kindly Mrs. Fookes when he was away.
One day , on a quiet afternoon, Cuthbert was “resting” on his arm at the end of the counter watching a matronly looking lady in heavy fur coat peruse with concerned expression and a pair of prinz nez opera glasses the trays of select fish in the display fridge…after several sweeps in this manner, Cuthbert could be observed huffing and puffing in an agitated way on his pipe..Cuthbert prided himself on the freshness and quality of his catch..Finally, the matron straightened up and dropping her glasses to her bosom, addressed Mrs. Fookes behind the counter.
“ Madam, “ she spoke in a ‘Toorak Gardens’ dialect ,“Are these fish frrrrresh?”.
This was too much for Cuthbert to take lying down! He swiftly sidled up to the lady and taking his pipe with a sudden but measured movement from his mouth , he looked her square in the eye and informed her in a mocking emulation of the lady’s own accent;
“Madam!…if they were any frrrrresher…they’d be indecent!” and he turned abruptly away to resume his place at the end of the counter..huffing and puffing at his pipe.
Now THAT is how decent folk run a fish and chippery.