WHENEVER my hard-working mother was pushed for time in the kitchen on a weekday, I would suggest a single word: ‘Milton’s?’ The answer, happily, was usually in the affirmative.
Milton’s was a fish-and-chip shop about 100 yards from my home in Nelson, Lancashire. It was run by a dapper gent named Milton Walton, who took it over after the war.
The menu was minimalist, to say the least. There was battered fish, a portion of which in the 1960s cost 9d (about 4p in today’s money). There was fish scone; a piscine sliver sandwiched between two slices of peppery potato and battered (7d). And there was chips – a generous helping of which would set you back a tanner. So a delicious family meal of three fish, one scone and two lots of chips would be on the table for less than four bob (20p). No wonder there were queues around the block.
Milton would pooh-pooh any suggestion that he should increase his range by adding such fripperies as pies, mushy peas, gravy or, heaven forfend, curry sauce. He never worked weekends and from Monday to Friday was open from 11am to 1.30pm and 4pm to 6pm – Nelson folk tended to have ‘dinner’ at about noon, ‘tea’ at 5pm and ‘supper’ just before bedtime.
The 6pm limit ensured that there was never any danger of drunken riffraff from the Derby Hotel over the road besmirching Milton’s spotless premises. Not that any customer would have dared behave badly – being barred would have been a calamity.
In those days there were chippies galore but as his rivals added chicken, burgers, sausages and pies to their menus, Milton stuck to his guns. And his clientele stuck to Milton, right up to his retirement after 40 years behind the range. The only variation was at the time of year when new potatoes became cheaply available and these were quartered and fried instead of chips. They were known as chats, and the word would be emblazoned in large letters on the front window.
Fast forward to 2022 and the chip shop is still there http://www.holtsfishandchips.co.uk/ at 144, Scotland Road. And the queues still extend around the block. The owner for the last dozen years or so has been Lee Holt, who bought the business at the tender age of 24 having worked in chip shops since leaving school (like myself he attended Barrowford primary and Walton High, as Nelson Grammar became when it went comprehensive in 1972). The day after he completed his GCSEs he was offered a job at his local chippy in Nora Street, Barrowford, and he never looked back.
The main difference between Holt’s and Milton’s is that the shop is now a shrine to Burnley FC – Lee is a lifelong fan. He and his staff, who include his mum, Linda, all wear the club colours of claret and blue. Apart from that change he adopted the maxim ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ And within a couple of years of arriving, he was a winner in the National Fish and Chip Awards, named ‘best newcomer’. (Incidentally, the latest winner of the overall award is amusingly titled The Cod’s Scallops).
The menu has grown only slightly since Milton’s day. There are now pies, steak puddings and peas as well as fish and chips but there is still no room for sausages, burgers, chicken or any such ‘foreign muck’ as doner kebabs. What a contrast with the nearest chippy up the road which offers pizzas, paninis, doners, garlic bread, burger meals, chicken tikka wraps and just about everything else in the fast-food canon.
Lee has fresh haddock and plaice delivered daily from Aberdeen, via Manchester. The spuds he uses are Sagitta, Challenger, Performer, Markie, Accord and Maris Piper. At the time of writing, haddock and chips is £5.80 but with costs constantly rising the price is expected to increase before long.
Up to 1,000 meals a week fly out of the door with a loyal following having built up among the Asian community – Lee estimates a third of his customers are Muslim.
He still closes at weekends, to devote time to his family (three young daughters) and also, of course, to his beloved Burnley. I asked him what his reaction would be if someone came into the shop wearing the colours of the club’s hated rivals, Blackburn Rovers. He replied magnanimously: ‘We welcome anyone in the shop. Blackburn fans are more than welcome. No matter who you are, you join the queue and get treated equally.’
‘Hey kids! Bad news! I died this morning’
IT’S been quite a while since I raised the stylus from my column Off the Beaten Tracks, so I hope you’ll forgive me for returning to matters musical.
Today’s story is a terribly sad one involving a husband-and-wife duo named Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl after a song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXy82oMxQYs on Gillian Welch’s 1998 album Hell Among the Yearlings.
Derrick and Amy Ross began performing early this century in their home town of Bisbee, Arizona. He played guitar while she sang and played keyboards. As their website said, the name ‘hinted at their roots in the American West and established their identity as a determinedly two-person operation. The name also cast them as a couple of wanderers, too intoxicated with the possibilities of someplace else to settle down. Wherever they went, they brought a simple musical proposition: Her piano and voice, his acoustic guitar, a love of life’s little details and a sense of humour.’
Their eponymous first album appeared in 2003, followed by Just Like The Others three years later and Children of Fortune in 2010. From the latter comes the song, If Only I, in which Amy, who had fought a long battle with the immune disorder lupus, discusses the kind of legacy she would wish for when she is gone. In this accompanying video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMq7cW9aYAo their mutual love and admiration shines out as they dance around the floor.
In 2013, Amy died from a blood infection as a consequence of dialysis treatment for lupus. She was 40 and had been married for 13 years.
That day a message appeared on her Facebook page. It said: ‘Hey kids! Bad news! I died this morning and Derrick didn’t know how to tell you. I love you all and hope you go out and be nice to someone. Funerals are a bore so hopefully I don’t have one. Give Derrick some space. He stinks at this stuff so leave him be for now. Thanks for all the kindness. Please spread it around. – Whiskey.’
On the way home from the hospital where his wife had breathed her last, 39-year-old Derrick bought a gun. He shot himself that night.
A new post on Amy’s Facebook page said: ‘Sorry to bring more bad news but Derrick decided to join me at some point in the night last night. I thought it best you heard it from me. Enjoy every sandwich. We love and will miss you all. Go be nice to someone for us.’
The messages were written by the couple’s best friend, Doug Stanhope, a stand-up comic who was their next-door neighbour and landlord. Amy had given him access to her Facebook account.
Another friend, musician Jim Dustan, posted: ‘I remember the early days and the Bisbee days. We shared some treasured moments growing up. I will always cherish the way your music made me smile and how it inspired me. RIP Amy and Derrick, may you both find peace. Until we meet again someday.’
A PS from PG
I turned to Aunt Agatha, whose demeanour was now rather like that of one who, picking daisies on the railway, has just caught the down express in the small of the back.
PG Wodehouse: The Inimitable Jeeves