I am going out to dinner tonight so just needed a snack to put me on until then. Out of the blue the memory of crisp sandwiches returned. When I was in the 6th form at school we had the privilege of going out at break times and lunch. It was usually down to the local shop but on Mondays when feeling loaded with money, I had my dinner money burning a hole in my pocket, I was sometimes tempted to blow most of it on a chinese restaurant lunchtime special. We are talking 1968 here, chinese takeaways were attracting a credible opposition market to fish and chips and had even reached the quiet backwaters of Sudbury in Suffolk. Coming from Yorkshire too, fish and chips were less frequently observed in Suffolk and often of dubious quality compared to my earliest memories back in Barnsley.
Anyway we had outgrown school dinners but my parents refused to give me a packed lunch and insisted on me taking school dinners. I hope my mum does not get to read this because I don’t think she ever realised that I did not routinely hand it over for the requisite five tickets on a Monday morning. The freedom to wander the streets of Sudbury was making me re-think my lunchtime strategy and with a mate we often stopped outside this new-fangled thing called a Chinese Restaurant. Peering in we saw people eating strange mixtures of food which had never got near my table at home. Though my food at home was wholesome and plentiful, it was rigidly english and the Sunday lunch of yorkshire pudding with gravy followed by meat (beef, pork, chicken as we became wealthier interestingly) and roasties, mash and veg was my highlight. It was not until university in 1971 that i first tasted spaghetti out of a packet and not out of a tin covered in horrible tomato sauce and it took me some months before a curry passed my lips, though it was not an encouraging start but that’s another story.
After a couple of weeks of lingering outside the restaurant we decided to use our dinner money the following week for the lunchtime special which was soup and a main course plus a drink. If my memory is right it was 6/d – Six shillings. (decimilisation not coming in until 1971 I think)
So with great anticipation. some ceremony and a lot of trepidation we went for our first meal the following Monday. I felt so guilty not handing in my dinner money and remembered memorizing the lunch menu in case asked at home though I never was. It would be fanciful to think I can remember what I had that day. Though we went quite a few times over the next 2 years and my memories are of chicken and sweet corn soup, Chop suey or chow mein and chinese tea. The later I recall was a mistake on our first visit when we did not understand the waiter when he asked what drink we wanted. He brought us chinese tea and explained that this drink would help clear the palate. I liked tea anyway and so enjoyed it, though without milk was strange, but I have loved it ever since. This was sophisticated eating, a whole new culture of food and done illicitly with a frisson of excitement arising from it. I realise to the modern 16 year old this would appear somewhat tame but for us it was adventure and we did not have McDonald’s, kfc and the like to eat cheap lunches. We moved on in Year 2 as we managed to get in the pubs the landlord turning a blind eye to our school uniforms as long as we drank sensibly and given we had little money what else could we do!!
But this left me with a problem. Day One of the week and most of my dinner money blown on exotic dishes. How to eke out my money to last through the week? I did have pocket money and a paper round but i was beginning to drink beer at the pub next to the youth club so needed to preserve my money. I needed a cheap and sustainable source of food for the rest of the week. Enter the crisp sandwich.
The shop down the road from the school had these wonderful fresh breadcakes every day. I think my love of bread started here because Mothers Pride white sliced is all I remember at home, although we got pikelets on special occasions. These breadcakes, were fresh and moorish and very cheap maybe 3d a bun. So sandwiches were to be the solution. The only problem being what to put in them. I could not buy a sandwich the price seem to rocket up and this would mean going to another shop. Sometimes the bread cakes were hot and so I could simply munch on them just like that. One day I bought a packet of Golden Wonder Cheese and Onion crisps, just joining the market at the time to compete with Smiths crisps with the blue salt bags (always difficult to find and often soggy and when you did find them you often got two or three bags!!) Smiths then brought out salt and vinegar and the three core flavours were there to delight. Being lazy, instead of eating the bread cake and the crisps separately, I piled them in together – the result a sumptuous crisp sandwich. My sixth form lunches were born until beer took over in the upper sixth.
This was no repetitive diet. I could have plain one day, cheese and onion the next and salt and vinegar and with a chinese meal that was four days of the week with a balanced diet. The more exotic hedgehog, smokey bacon, cheese and chive and roast chicken were to come too late for me to have more variety and panache in my lunch time menu. I loved them then and, as I have just discovered, but this time with barbecue flavoured crisps and ciabatta bread (I have gone upmarket in the last 40 years!!) they are just as moorish.
I was a 10 and a half stone weakling when I went to university and the eating of lots of carbs and a steady, if stodgy, diet had done me no harm. I was fit and enjoyed most sports. Fatally the influence of beer in my university years and a succession of late evening meals made me the man I am today! Perhaps I should return to crisp sandwiches and chinese lunches oh of course…………………….. that is what I am doing!!!!!!!!!!