Geoffrey Shryhane’s Wigan World

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane
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IN 1938 – Wiganers loved pies. So what’s new?

As I’ve said a million times before, we live in changing days. True, smoking is still killing off some of our good Wigan folks. But the atmosphere’s clean and folks have the choice of eating healthily whilst some others prefer over-flavoured cheap rubbish.

It was ever thus. When George Orwell came to Wigan in 1936, he was keen to observer popular local food.

He found the general health of Wiganers to be good.

But Orwell was greatly struck by the badness of everyone’s teeth. The gnashers of the working class were rotten. Even the teeth of the very young had a curiously frail look and were of the wrong colour – semi-translucent, he said.

In one house where the average age was 36, only a boy of 15 had any teeth of their own. Wiganers were apparently keen to have false teeth because they were financed by their health insurance. This was considered economically wise. The general opinion was to “get shut of your teeth as soon as possible because they would cause you nothing but trouble in later life”.

Orwell recorded that in Wigan there were 160 pubs, equal to one to every 500 of the population. Yet drunkenness was not common.

The author found Wigan had 147 sweet shops – one for every 590 people.

On the food front, he said the bread in Wigan was “very bad” and noted there were immense sales of cheap, ready-made meat pies. So what’s altered then?

The front and veg were of poor quality and locals’ favourite dish was tripe and cow heel.

It has been suggested that the local food shops missed a trick by not selling tripe pies. Oh the very thought of one – yuck.

OH for goodness sake, get me a Jaffa.

My plea comes after the food experts say we should, for our health’s sake, be eating seven portions of fruit and veg a day...and not five as we’ve been recommended.

I come from parents who were almost strangers to fruit and vegetables. They always wanted “something that’s look over a wall” and whatever it was, it had to be fried.

The black-bottom wasn’t a dance in our house in 1955. It was the chip pan.

The odd motley looking carrot came sliced and out of a tin. Fruit was to be taken to the poor unfortunates in hospital.

I blame it on the war.

All the shortages and managing on an ounce of this and a gram of that and a whiff of the other. And what about half a toffee for a family of six.

Lard, as far as I’m aware, that essential frying fat, was not on ration.

When John and Hilda Rigby came round with their horse-pulled fruit and veg cart, my dear old mam bought spuds and an occasional colly.

One of the problems was that very often people bought foods in very small quantities

Times have moved on. But old habits die hard and whilst I do eat fruit and veg, I tell the truth and say I much prefer a packet of chocolate biscuits or fish and chips with millions of calories.

And another admission – I’d rather poke out my own eyes than embark on the gargantuan task of peeling an orange.

Seems to me that everything folks like food-wise is bad for them.

Better get peeling some grapes.