Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Chip Shops: An Ideological Divide

Fish and chips. Chicken and chips. Fraught religious and political questions abound on these important topics. Everyone knows that Roman Catholics used to (and some still do) eat fish on Fridays as a form of denial. It wasn’t meat, you see. In Northern Ireland and the West of Scotland, and probably in Liverpool, where the division between Catholics and Protestants is particularly pronounced, this led to an interesting dietary sectarian divide. Some Protestants, who regarded themselves as taking their opposition to the Vicar of Rome seriously, wouldn’t go near the fishmongers or the chip shop on Fridays lest they be mistaken for left-footers. This was the amateur position.
Hardline Protestants knew that no one would mistake them for Roman Catholics. And indeed, most people from Belfast, Glasgow or Liverpool would be able to tell you whether someone else from that city was Catholic or Protestant the second he opened his mouth. In many cases, even earlier. Sample 1980s joke: Q: How do you know ET’s a Catholic? A: He looks like one.
So they would mob the chippy on Friday, buying haddock and chips (the insistence on cod is a southern English phenomenon) as if there were no tomorrow. That way there would be none left for the Papists.
Strangely, though, Bobby Sands, the IRA member who became Sinn Fein MP for West Belfast whilst on hunger strike in the Maze, was not thought to be a great hand for fish and chips. The supporters of Glasgow Rangers had at that time a chant (to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes) which began: “Could you go a chicken supper, Bobby Sands?”
The chicken, however, is not an animal aligned with the Republican movement in Ireland, but with the political party of that name in North America, which once promised voters a “chicken in every pot”. The fortune of Sir Antony Fisher, founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Atlas Foundation, which tirelessly spread the Good News about the free market, was based upon frozen chickens. And the keeping of chickens is an intrinsically conservative act, in much the same way as gardening is; the cultivation of homegrown produce and the husbandry of livestock requires property rights, foresight when providing for the future, frugality and diligence, as well as many other reactionary (or, I would say, enlightened) traits. Meanwhile, the Labour MP Austin Mitchell, so soundly Eurosceptic on many issues, but fundamentally protectionist in his attitude to the fishermen of his constituency (Grimsby), changed his name to Austin Haddock not long ago. Unfortunately, he has now changed it back, but he will always be Austin Haddock to me.
Both Protestants and Catholics would do well to remember that Our Lord chose Gallus Gallus as the animal which reproached St Peter for his denial of Him. Christ’s symbol, often seen on the back of motor cars, is the fish. I can’t be bothered switching into the Greek typeface again.
Fish supper, chicken supper. A theological and geopolitical minefield. This calls for a book, really.

I had to fish a wasp out of the chicks' box tonight. They were very upset.

sf: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K Dick.
crime: The Papers of Tony Veitch, William McIlvanney
if you don't know it: Towards the End of the morning, Michael Frayn
music: the songs of robert burns, jean redpath