The Half-Life of Chips

There is a Golden Moment in the life of a takeaway chip. You just have to be there for it. You have to be ready.

You are handed your bag of chips over the tall tile and aluminium counter. You reach up and it comes down to you from on high. I won’t say like manna from heaven but you get the gist. You hand over your money. The exact amount, if possible, you can’t miss the Golden Moment on account of having fussed with change.

You leave the takeaway, nodding to those who are waiting, smiling sympathetically at those who are still wondering if everyone has their shout in. The door closes behind you.

Now you either climb into your car or start the walk home. Let’s explore the car option, which is my own life, my own experience. I never walk with my chips. This statement describes precisely how posh I am.

You get into your car and place the chips on the passenger seat beside you. It is time to ferry these puppies home so that your waiting family can enjoy them as hot and as fresh as is humanly possible.

But wait. Bide a wee. For now is that moment.

The Golden Moment.

Don’t drive off just yet. Poke at the chip bag with a single index finger. Feel that brown paper sturdiness. Allow a small aperture to be formed in the top, such that a single chip can be gently teased out.

This is the chip. Look at it. Just look at it.

It is still deep fat fryer hot. That vinegar, so recently sprinkled on top, has not yet had time to run off and down towards the bottom of the bag. It still clings to the surface of the chip, glistening in the streetlight.

Don’t wait any longer, eat it.

It is the simply the perfect incarnation of a chip. Any moment before this will find it too hot, too bewildered from all that shaking and salting and bagging. Any moment after and the deterioration has already begun, the cooling, the congealing.

This is the Golden Moment.

Have another. And another.

Now it’s time to drive, to get this precious cargo home. You turn your headlights on and indicate to pull out but the stream of cars is steady and nobody is of a mind to let you out. Eventually, there’s a gap. You accelerate away, keeping within all limits but yet mindful that there is a clock running here. With every second that passes, the chips are losing some minuscule part of their charm and you know from long experience that their zenith has already been passed.

You drive and drive and, all the time, you are reaching your left hand into that enlarged aperture and pulling chips out of the bag and eating them. These might not be the exact equal of that magic chip from a few moments ago but they are still fresh and hot enough to be simply wonderful.

You drive and drive and soon you are home. The chips are delivered and dispensed. You eat your own share, minus the ones you already had, and they are fine but nowhere close to those clandestine ones you stole while in the car. Not even close to being close.

This is why you are always glad to be the one who goes for the chips. It may be raining, the chipper may be packed out and sullen, but you are so amply rewarded with that golden moment, in the street or in your car, when you find yourself alone with the food. That magical time together.

And when your wife and children shake the top bag of chips and comment how there seem to be less of them every week, you only nod and smile and suggest that perhaps next week there may be more.

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

We don't have a chip shop within walking distance of our flat but we do have a chip van which faithfully parks outside the Co-Op most nights. In the somewhere-around-fifteen years we've lived here I doubt I've succumbed to temptation more than ten times and I cannot recall a single occasion where I was disappointed in their offering. (My lack of self-control, yes.) I really didn't need to read more than a line or two of your post to get it. I get it. I have a phrase I use every now and then and it might've even wheedled its way into a novel or a short story but I'm not going to check: That's not chippy chips. Chippy chips, the gold standard. Never in my life, and I include my childhood where health concerns were far less of an issue, has anyone been able to replicate the chip shop chip. Not even my mum although her suet dumplings have only ever once been matched (although not bettered) in a café by the bus terminus in Newcastle and I'm only telling you that now because she's dead and there's no way of it getting back to her.

As a child it was not unusual for me to be handed a ten bob note and being told to cycle down to the chip shop. I never needed to be told twice. Of course I'm looking back with pink-tinted specs on but there was some point in my life when something insidious happened. Maybe it was when they stopped wrapping chips in yesterday's newspapers. I don't know. But they changed. Now don't get me wrong, they were still good, very good but they weren't perfect. So I'm pleased for you, dead pleased, that somewhere on the Emerald Isle the magic lives on. And jealous as hell.