Picture Post

The whiff of nostalgia coming off this photo is as strong as the smell of grease and vinegar probably was in the air.

That lovely little chip shop is glowing with fuggy, frying-tonight warmth, and the kids are a perfect lost-childhood vision of anoraks, jumpers, and bikes, looking so happy with what is probably their Friday night treat. Then there’s the boy sitting on the wall wearing on his feet what we called “basketball boots” that you used to get in Woolworth’s. They were like cheap, generic Converse hi-tops in an era when we didn’t know what Converse were. I spent a large part of my childhood in those so seeing them is really the icing on the memory cake — or the batter on the sausage.

This record makes me glow almost as much as that photo does, some sublime Latin Soul from 1972.

Download: Under The Street Lamp – Joe Bataan (mp3)

Commercial Break

God knows how many years ago this was but I still can’t eat onion rings without getting this song stuck in my head.

“Pure ground beef that you cook like a steak and serve like a steak” – but tastes nothing like an actual steak.

Cox’s Orange Pippins

Wonderful article here about the long-standing Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen shop in Spitalfield’s Market whose owner in the 1960s used to design and print his own greengrocer’s price tags using type that he’d hand-drawn (beautifully) himself. I hate to say they don’t make them like that anymore but in this case they really don’t make them like that anymore.

Besides the lovely typography and the warm glow you get from thinking about the care this man put into his work, the names of the produce sound almost like poetry to me now: Ripe Williams, Dunn’s Seedlings, Rome Beauty, Cox’s Orange Pippins, and conjure up childhood memories of the ruddy-faced fruit and veg sellers at North End Road market in Fulham calling out their wares and prices in thick working class voices trying to entice the passing housewives to buy. Which makes it all sound like some rosy Victorian Mary Poppins fantasy but thankfully that’s one thing that they still do.

Download: Apples – Ian Dury (mp3)

The Cost of Frying

I don’t think it’s the cheapest anymore, last time I had a portion of chips it cost me a pound — a pound! for a bag of chips! — and having fish with it will set you back a fiver in London, so it’s probably not the working-class staple it once was. There used to be a line going out the door of my local chip shop (which is still there!) every Friday night with people buying fish and chips for the whole family, that’d cost quite a few quid now.

But I suppose “cheap” is all relative, I still remember the day chips went up from 10p to 12p. My mum sent me and my sister to the chippie one night to get some chips for our tea, both of us clutching a 10p coin in our eager little hands, only to find when we got there that they had gone up in price and we had to go back home to get the extra money. You could say we were crying all the way from the chip shop. Ho ho.

Download: There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis – Kirsty MacColl (mp3)

Did you ever do this when you were a kid? Go into a chip shop right before they closed and ask “Got any chips left?” When they said “Yes” you shouted “Serves you right for cooking so many!” and then run out of the shop. Oh, what wits we were.

This is the Modern World

You wouldn’t think something as ordinary as this Lard wrapper would have any deep meaning whatsoever but one look at that and I’m in our kitchen in the 1970s and mum is cooking Sunday dinner, putting big lumps of it in the roasting tin to cook the meat and potatoes in. The product itself is nostalgic enough, from back when people happily cooked things in pig fat (and apparently are starting to again) but it’s the Sainsbury’s wrapper that adds the extra Proustian layer to it.

The image comes from a book called Own Label which is all about the (at the time) radically modern packaging design of Sainsbury’s supermarkets own products from 1962-1977. Not, on the face of it, the most riveting subject for non-designers (or a lot of designers either for that matter) but if you are a certain age, seeing this stuff all collected together stirs not just admiration for the design but a whole flood of memories of going to the supermarket when you were a kid — and with their shelves stocked with this bold packaging Sainsbury’s left a more vivid impression than Tesco’s or The Co-Op.

Sainsbury’s were quite the forward-thinking company in the 60s, not only with these designs but they pioneered the whole concept of the own-brand product and their new, convenient “super” markets were where modern mums shopped. These days this graphic and minimalist style might seem more appropriate for pharmaceuticals than food but back then “modernism” hadn’t yet become a dirty word synonymous with ugly tower blocks and desolate shopping precincts and still meant optimistic progress toward a bright, shiny future when the world would be all efficient clean lines designed by clever men in suits. In this brave new world food would be convenient and modern too which even extended to feeding babies, like a lot of people my age I was bottle fed because artificial milk was seen as being better and more “advanced” than the natural kind.

Though they have a certain amount of retro cool I doubt if these would sell today, “progress” failed and the future went out of style sometime in the early 1970s, at least when it comes to things you eat. Not surprisingly people now prefer their food to look like it was grown by farmers and not men in white coats.

Speaking of mod-ernism…

Download: Shopping – The Jam (mp3)

Risky Biscuits

Be careful next time you have a cup of tea and a biccie, according to a recent survey 50% of British people have been injured in a biscuit-related accident at one time or other. These range from burning their fingers trying to retrieve soggy bits of Digestive fallen into a mug of hot tea, dropping biscuit tins on their feet, to somehow poking themselves in the eye with a biscuit. The severity of that last one probably depends on what sort of biscuit it was, a Garibaldi has some sharp edges which could be nasty while a Jammie Dodger would probably only cause mild bruising at worst.

Surprisingly, the most lethal biscuit of them all is the innocent-looking Custard Cream which tops the danger chart with a “Biscuit Injury Threat Evaluation” score of 5.63. Personally I always thought there was something sinister about Happy Faces and I’ve never entirely trusted Fig Rolls which are really little cakes deviously pretending to be biscuits for some shifty reason.

Download: Accidents Will Happen (live) – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (mp3)

Air Pie and Windy Pudding

When I was a kid I’d ask my mum what was for tea and she’d sometimes jokingly reply “Air Pie and Windy Pudding, with a cup of Fresh Air.” Apparently this was something her mother used to say to her when she was young but I was wondering if anyone else knew this expression or if it was just peculiar to my family.

Download: Life Is A Minestrone – 10cc (mp3)

Only a vaguely related song but it has a “food” theme which will do. One of their best singles I think, despite the rampant clever-dickery of the lyrics.

Where’s the beef?

“On this occasion,” said Jack, “that’s exactly where you’re wrong. You’re all here as my guests, and you can order anything you like. The tab for this is being picked up by the British Leyland Motor Corporation, so expense is no object. Go for it, chaps. Let your imaginations run wild.
Roy ordered fillet steak and chips, Colin ordered fillet steak and chips, Bill ordered fillet steak, chips and peas, and Jack, who went to the South of France for his holidays, ordered fillet steak with chips, peas and mushrooms on the side, a touch of sophistication that was not lost on the others.”
Jonathan Coe
The Rotters Club

This little scene really captures the dismal state of English dining in the 1970s and the nation’s unsophisticated tastebuds in the days before any of us had ever heard of Balsamic Vinegar or Chilean Sea Bass and everyone’s idea of upmarket grub was steak — always with chips. I don’t want to come across like one of the Four Yorkshiremen or anything but I don’t think I even ate a steak until I was in my late teens (I mean a proper one, not some frozen Findus thing made out of unknown cow parts) and I don’t remember my mother ever cooking one at home, I assume because it was too expensive. I don’t think it was something anybody had at home back then, it was a luxury treat you had in a restaurant when you were “pushing the boat out” or if someone else was paying, like above, though back then “steak” usually meant a puny overcooked fillet served up in a Berni Inn or Angus Steak House.

I ate more “real” meat at school (though I dread to think where that Liver came from) than I did at home where my diet was 99% packaged, processed and artificially-flavoured: spam fritters, fish paste sandwiches, instant mash, Pot Noodles, Findus Crispy Pancakes (God knows what they were made from) tinned meat pies, boil-in-the-bag Cod, and “international cuisine” meant Vesta Instant Chow Mein which came in a box. Pudding was usually something powdered and instant (and totally artificial) like Angel Delight. We rarely went out to eat either (unless you count the Wimpy Bar) except for when my Dad took my sister and me out for the day and we’d have lunch at this Italian place in Kensington (which, amazingly, is still there) where he’d eat this weird thing called a Lasagne — he was sophisticated my old man, he’d been to Paris! — while I’d always have double egg and chips, a meal that still gives me a Proustian rush back to my childhood.

With all the tinned, frozen, instant, and boiled-in-the-bag rubbish we were eating in it’s no wonder we all looked so ill and pasty back then, the shit food adding to the general sickly air that seems to hang over the 1970s. Watch a TV show like The Sweeney and everyone looks like they smell of chip fat and ashtrays and has skin like an uncooked pork sausage (all that beige polyester didn’t help the complexion either).

But at least we were thin. I was surprised to find out that we actually ate more calories in the 1970s than we do today but we still looked like rickety runts, while the vast smorgasbord of cheap food and dining options we have now is creating a nation of obese tubbies. I don’t think it was because everyone was working out either, back then a gym was a place you only went when you were at school. Perhaps just getting through the day in 1970s England kept us slim, we didn’t spend all day on our bums in front of a computer and drive everywhere. So maybe the next slimming fad should be “The 1970s Diet”: wake up in a freezing cold flat, walk five miles to work, stand on your feet in a factory all day, carry your shopping home from the supermarket, eat a pile of spam fritters, instant mash and processed peas for tea, have a big bowl of Angel Delight, smoke twenty Rothman’s, and the weight will just fall off.

Download: Barbecue – Orange Juice (mp3)
Download: Bangers and Mash – Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren (mp3)



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The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com

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