A scrap from the deep fat fryer that is my brain.
My memory is absolutely rubbish. I struggle to remember anything wordy, which is a real pain for somebody who absolutely loves to sing in the shower. I suspect that I have never sung a lyric entirely correctly in my life. Friends will quote films, films that I’ve seen a half dozen times, and I’ll barely catch on, let alone be able to continue the quote or throw one back. It’s a terrific shame and has killed many a conversation for me. Luckily, though, I am still half decent in a pub quiz and can remember capital cities with ease.
Funnily enough, I don’t remember if my memory has always been this bad. I think that when I was a teenager it was at least a little better – though everything seemed sharper back then. I worry that the years of crazy – often black out drunk – nights that followed my eighteenth birthday have done me some real damage in the brains department. Mum has often warned me about killing my brain cells via alcohol, but you’ve got to take everything mums tell you with a pinch of salt nowadays. I also have a very hard head and, for some reason, I enjoyed nothing more than headbutting stuff whilst I was in secondary school. I earned quite a reputation as a result, but it was not what my brain needed at the time.
I don’t think my bad memory will be too detrimental for me, careerically or otherwise, and it’s probably not as bad as I think. The only time I ever really worry is when I try to remember a word or a name and just can’t. I’ll try and try for a minute or so, and then just give up and wait for the word to creep up on me and settle back in the vocabulary vault in my brain all of its own accord. It comes to me eventually, but it’s a hopeless feeling when I forget a word. Maybe this is normal? I have never tried to remember a word as somebody else. Is this normal? Please tell me this is normal.
My memory is wonderful too, though. I mean it’s really terrific in some ways. Sometimes it comes alive out of nowhere and repeats the exact feeling I had in a precise long ago moment. I have these vivid memories of things that happened years back project through me, emotionally and chemically, in intense whole of body HD, triggered quite suddenly by the changing of the season or just a smell or something.
For instance, I am often reminded of the time that I was thirteen (or something like that, my memory isn’t that good) carrying warm fish and chips home in a backpack on a cold autumn evening. That feeling of being trusted to go out on a dark night to get the food mixed with that feeling of ‘do I have to!?’ The cold bite of the autumn air, damp but in an infinitely fresh way that almost helps to make Autumn better than Summer (at least for the first few weeks of Autumn until you realise that you won’t feel that warm to the bone fleshy solar panel feeling again for another seven months). The orange street lights project against my mind as I walk there, smudged as if tiny suns flaring in a photograph.
I reach the fish and chip shop, heave open the metal clad front door, and am hit suddenly with all of the warmth in the world. The fish and chip shop is one big room with white tiles from floor to ceiling and a light that shines far paler than the coldish street lamps outside. The shop front is all window; the sight of golden batter behind glass counter being the ultimate advert to passers by. There are no chairs, just an open floor and a queue of hungry humans folded along the glass and chrome display counter and down the side wall. The thick air carries an immense smell. A smell that tastes precisely like fish and chips – a kind of greasiness that walks the line between divine and revolting, pulled closer to the divine by the tang of salt and the sweet slow burn of vinegar. I eat the air one deep inhale at a time. Suddenly I’m salivating. Then I do the business. I reel off the order with a confidence that puberty seems to have sucked out of me. ‘Salt and vinegar, Love?’ I nod, mesmerised. I stare as the fish lady – sturdy, brown hair under a little white hat, comfortingly unattractive – serves three portions of golden fish and thickset chips into crisp white paper, watching, listening intently as she folds and crinkles the edges inwards with rapid precision. A beautiful galatea white package stained with puddles of delicious grease and vinegar.
I take the bundles from off of the counter and put them away in my backpack one at a time taking great care not to squash anything sacred. They are so warm to touch, so comforting as the dark night outside fights the whitish light of the shop for supremacy in the air between the double glazed windowpane. The backpack is a small black number with a fire-red cat on it, a very cool backpack I think my brother must have used for school. I put it on and immediately my spine and all of the incredibly important and sensitive nerves within it are plunged into ecstasy as heat radiates from the fish and chips and into my central nervous system. It’s like injecting warm heaven straight into my bones on a deep-dark frozen evening – for fish and chips are hard drugs, if you really think about it. I am so incredibly comfortable as I walk out of the shop and smile my sincere thanks to the busy fish and chip folk. Even the weight of the bag on my back brings comfort as I head back up the short road to my home. I am immune to the cold. I am immune to everything. With fish and chips on my back, I am immortal.
Back at home my parents are busy readying the table. I may be the Hermes of the operation, but this is a team effort. Plates are warmed in the oven, knives and forks are arranged, the ketchup bottle is shaken and glasses are filled with refreshing water. Most importantly though, a couple of slices of buttery white bread are prepared. The journey home flies by, and I arrive with the food still toasty warm, each individual chip shop package providing heat for the other in a glorious hot food orgy on my back.
Eating fish and chips is a kind of considered chaos. So eager am I to consume, especially once the smell permeates the paper and wafts into my home, that I tear the packaging off with reckless abandon. Holding the loose edge of the paper up, gravity spins the food down towards my plate, unraveling the once tightly wrapped package, sending the food tumbling out with a vinegar softened thud. I immediately pick up a chip and put it into my mouth where the salt and vinegar does some kind of primal dance on my taste buds and the warm, fluffy potato mainlines love and comfort into my stomach. Only now, one irresistible chip down, can I begin to rearrange my plate – separating chips from fish and squirting ketchup liberally (significant dipping pool of tangy red joy on a specifically cleared spot of white plate and NOT dribbled over whole meal). The Simpsons is on the television, but does not get the attention it would typically deserve. We as a family are silent, lost in a fish and chip daze – hypnotised and absorbed – but we are absolutely together, sending telepathic love-rays to each other between glorious mouthfuls. I see a look on my little brother’s face that radiates so much happiness and innocent pleasure that I am immediately infected with the same happiness, which is far greater than even my own fish supper happiness. No words, just infinitely groovy chip shop vibes.
I take a slice of already buttered bread and put it on my side plate. I have been planning my fish and chip butty since I put the fish dinners into my backpack. Constructing such sandwiches is what I was born to do. Ketchup on first, spread with knife for even distribution. Smaller, often crunchy, chips lined up in uniform rows covering exactly half of the surface of the bread slice. Fish distributed over the top before folding in half to make a sandwich. I mean just writing that felt like an unhealthy thing to do. You couldn’t eat that kind of thing too often, if you wanted to live past fifty, for instance. But when it’s been a couple of months, and you’ve walked the whole five minutes to the chip shop and back, you’re allowed. And if it did kill me? Well so be it. I mean a fish and chip butty really is the crème de la crème. The absolute bee’s knees. The cod’s bollocks. The fluffy salt and vinegar saturated chips, the crunch of batter, the tender, meaty fish all cut through by the acidity of the ketchup and brought together in a buttered bread hug of accessible luxury. People have fought wars over things far less important to humanity than the fish and chip butty. I would go to war for one. I would kill people for a fish and chip butty. I would fight you all.
Now this is the sad thing about fish and chips. Once I have finished eating, I feel awful. I mean just dreadful. I’m uncomfortable. I’m in genuine pain. All of that grease that seemed, for some reason, to be actually quite nice just twenty minutes ago is now inside of me. My insides are greasy. Water no longer works. I have a sip of and I just need another one. Five pints of water cannot quench a fish and chip thirst. “I’m never doing that again” I say. I am thirteen years old and I have a hangover. I am a sweet and tender thirteen year old boy and I already know what it’s like to drink ten pints of special brew and still wake up the next day to tell the tale. And it’s a well known fact that hangovers only get worse with age. Thirteen year old me is lucky. My poor father sat opposite me, despite having a house-wide reputation for his guts of steel, must be in absolute ruins.
And yet, much like a drinking hangover, I immediately know that I will abuse my body in this way again, and that I will take great deep down pleasure in doing so. I am a twisted little 13 year old with that hardwired death drive found in all of us. I don’t know it yet, but I hate myself. Is the pleasure worth the pain, I ask? Not immediately. But is the pain in a way its own kind of pleasure? Once it has passed, I think that it might be.
We clear the paper into the bin in an attempt to rid the room of the once sweet smell that has now morphed into the acrid reek of regret. It clings to the air like social cigarette smoke on your favourite t-shirt. The plates stay on the table. We are all too heavy to operate the dishwasher Mr Bosch has blessed us with, regardless of how easy it is to use. We collapse on our respective sofa seats in front of the telebox. The room is silent apart from the murmur of some person or another on the screen. The Simpsons has probably become Hollyoaks and nobody has been conscious enough to notice and do something about it. We stare into space and think about what we have done. This brings us together. This is our burden to carry as a family. We know exactly how each other feels. We understand. Fish and chips have built us up, shown us the view from on top of the world, and then hurled us back down into the greasy pits of indigestion hell. Now we have nothing left in this world but each other and our pain.
Anyway – that all happened. It was a long time ago and it happened and I can travel to that place in my memory with great ease. But If you asked me to quote the short, tender passage Oliver Tate wrote for Jordana Bevan on the night that they lost their virginity together in my favourite film Submarine I’d tell you that, even though I really like it a lot and have heard it twenty times, I can’t remember it. But I can remember that exact night when I was thirteen or something and we had fish and chips. I remember how it tasted, how the rooms I was in looked and most vividly the swooping pulsating joyous chemical feelings that I felt in my stomach. I can literally feel them.
I get really frustrated by my memory sometimes, it’s prevented me from joining in with many a film-based joke. But I still love it to Pluto and back. Thank you for the memories, Memory.
Read Below by James Bradwell