The magic of the five-star chippy

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane
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My World with Geoffrey Shryhane...

Last week I stumbled across a story of a grand lady who had been riddling chips and battering fish in a local shop for almost half a century.

But she’s had to close the fryer lid for the last time – alas her health has let he down.

Any road up, as they say in posh Parbold, the little tale had me thinking about fish and chip shops of old and I’m glad that in Wigan, these wonderful on-the-move eateries are in fine shape.

The waft of frying fish is, to me, better than anything Coco Chanel ever invented.

I did hear on the grape-vine that in the Parisian days of old, Coco was always mad for a lightly battered fish.

But enough of this fantasy in the fat.

It’s easy to give away my age when I say that as a kid, a bag of chips was just three old pennies and a fish five pence.

The chip shop menus of old were limited to say the least. Fish, chips, peas, steak puddings and for those with a bit of extra cash to spare, the plaice. Imagine the consternation – nay delight – when the shops started to sell sausages.

Today, there are dozens of items on the fish and chip shop menu. Alas, the battered Mars seems to have been cast aside.

One of my favourite shops was on the old Wigan Market Square, opposite the bus station. The ever-busy emporium was popular with hungry travellers and their “babbies yeds” were said to be the best in town.

For the uninitiated, a “babbies yed” was and is a steak pud!

A fiend from the south couldn’t stop laughing after queuing and hearing a customer ask for “pea wet”. I reminded her that at least we has resisted the awful wriggling eel.

It was reckoned that no home in Wigan and district was more than half a mile from a chippy and to this day, the big day remains Friday. Maybe because of the religion habit of eating fish and not flesh.

It’s true, chips are dearer these days. But compared with half a century ago you get a lot more for your money. To me, the small portion is enough to satisfy an elephant. Another memory from the old days – customers taking basons which the chip shop owner put into a warming oven.

I suspect that on warm summer nights, folks on their walks call in for chips and eat them out of the paper. And yes, newspaper was used but was outlawed by ‘elf and safety years ago.

We can be sure of just one thing. Nothing stays the same. So in a way we can’t be sure of anything at all. Think about it.

I shall stay tight-lipped over the hateful, slimy, slippery new £5 note. Enough is enough. But now we are faced with the introduction of the new pound. And no longer will it be a “round pound” because its replacement is 12-sided.

It arrives in March and the fat old pound coin will cease to become legal tender in October. I’m dead sad. Honest.

It is estimated that of all the money stashed away, the pound coin is the savers’ favourite. For oldies, it must seem no time at all since the old pound note disappeared, to be replaced by the pound coin. In fact it was 1983.

The new “quid” on the block is made of two metals – a gold coloured outer ring and a silver coloured inner ring. It has a £ symbol that changes to the number 1 when the coin is seen from different angles. It’s also thinner and lighter.

Those in the know say every effort should be made to spend all your old £1 coins before October.

The new coin will be much harder to counterfeit.

The new (slippery) £10 note is due this summer and the new £20 note in three of four years’ time.

A lead monkey in a “lucky bag” from the Edwardian era took the life of little Lizzie Smith.

The Wigan Coroner, Mr Milligan, held an inquest into three-year-old Lily’s death which happened the previous day.

The child, he heard had died after swallowing a lead monkey five days before.

Albert Smith, the father said his daughter bought a half-penny lucky bag and the monkey was amongst the sweets.

He told how the toy became stuck in the child’s mouth. Her mother tried to get it out but failed and sent for Dr Pollard who ordered her to the Infirmary.

The girl could not swallow anything. Every time she cried she started screaming.

The Coroner heard the child had bought lucky bags before. All the children did. It was understood the lead toy was got out at the hospital.

Coroner: “It is a pity that the little girl was not taken to the Infirmary at once.”

The father said: “We put off bringing her in the expectation that the child would get rid of it, as the doctor thought she might.”

Miss Derbyshire, a shopkeeper, said she bought the bags from a traveller. Some people called them “hidden treasure packets”.


James Mauor, a goods guard, of 15 Pennyhurst Street, Wigan, was summoned by his wife, Mary, of Wilcock Street, for persistent cruelty.

The Court heard the couple had been married for 21 years and had seven children.

The defendant had often beaten his wife and owing to his conduct, she left him. A son said the father often ill-used his mother.

The defendant said some of his papers were missing. He wanted them back and was determined to be master in his own house. The case was adjourned and Mr Anders, the missionary, was asked to talk to both parties.

My Christmas present to myself... illustrated Wigan books by my well-respected colleague photographer Frank Orrell.

Talk about turning the pages and reliving local life.

In the first of a series of excellent books, Frank, of Shevington, writes about his early life and how he ended up spending his 40-year-plus career with a camera in his hand. They say he started with a Box Brownie.

The photos in the first volume are full of atmosphere as the young Frank snapped walking days and golden weddings, sports matches, and Wigan life in general.

But it was the essay detailing his school life that caught my eye. It’s well worth quoting here because it shows how punishment in some educational establishments went far too far.

In fact, there was downright cruelty. Now you’d get the authorities and police in.

I’ll let Frank tell his story:

“The Blessed John Rigby Grammar School was run by Christian Brothers and the so called ‘Brothers’ could be downright cruel.

One Brother in particular was sadistic. “He took Latin and history and a lad in my class used to be physically sick in fear just before lessons from him.

“He had a vicious temper and frequently would happily used one of the hard leather straps they were issued with.

“I was a terrified victim of his temper one day during a Latin lesson. He was manically striding around waving his strap because we couldn’t recite a particular Latin stanza.

“The Brother picked on me to stand up and attempt to rhyme it off. I was petrified and every time I got it wrong, he whacked me hard on my bare leg.

“By the time he’d had enough of my stumblings, I was in tears and pain and shortly afterwards my thigh was black and blue and swollen.”

Frank told me that during his time at John Rigby, 50 years ago, some teachers taught through fear. “It couldn’t happen now,” he said. “And thank goodness for that.”

Frank is releasing his brilliantly books at intervals. And the first is on sale at Ryding’s stall in the Market Hall and Wigan’s Museum of Life.

It’s the morning of Christmas Eve and in several Wigan shops, the glittery festive trappings are already packed away in giant boxes.

If you had left buying your baubles and tinsel to the very last minute... well tough.

In these every busy sell-most-things emporiums, Christmas was over before it had arrived.

When you read this, the modest decorations at No. 5 will have been put away for another year. Being a tad on the lazy side, I take the easy route with the tree – just cover it, still decorated, with a bin bag and put it at the back of the garage.

But cast off your post-festive blues because Easter is peeping over the horizon.

And I can report with certainty that Easter eggs are already on sale at Shevington. And not those diddy cream eggs, but big eggs in big boxes.

My colleague Phil Wilkinson – a self-confessed chocoholic – has already fallen at the first hurdle and sampled a couple of boxed eggs.

“I can’t resist chocolate, me” he told My World. “It calms me down when I get over-excited while reporting matches at the DW.”