Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 654: split up in a chip shop.
‘ I can’t believe you did that, Steve.’
‘Did what, Sarah?’
‘Talked to Sally like that.’
On the polished metal counter, portion-sized packets of tomato sauce are piled up in a plastic box. There is another box containing brown sauce. Sarah stands by the tomato sauce box. Steve by the brown. I’m alongside, by the wooden forks.
A man tends the frying machine. On the white tiles above there is a poster illustrating the sea fish of the British Isles, all of which appear unhappy. The haddock is furious. So too, from the look on its already unusual face, is the skate. The cod, with its back to the other fish, is in a huff. The pollock is fuming and the plaice – if I was required to make a diagnosis based purely on its facial expression – is on the edge of clinical depression. But the chip shop’s glummest expression, by far, is Steve’s. ‘She’s your friend, not mine,’ he says.
‘Well you could have been polite, Steve.’
The man stirring the boiling fat looks up and says, ‘Who’s next?’ Sarah and Steve are. But Sarah and Steve aren’t listening to him.
‘I can’t believe you said that to her.’
‘That she was mad.’
‘I didn’t say “You’re mad”, I said she wasn’t mad: “You’re looking well, Sally. Not mad at all.”’
‘“Not mad at all”! That’s worse than “mad”.’
‘How can it be?’
‘Because it’s a sneaky way of saying she is mad by saying she’s not mad.’
Puzzled by the internal logic of this last sentence, the chip shop man and I exchange a brief glance. Then he racks two sizzling fishcakes into the cabinet at the top of the fryer and says, ‘Can I take your order, please? We’re very busy tonight.’
The fish and chip shop is not very busy. I am the only other person in here, but I appreciate him trying to move things along.
‘I told you that she’s sensitive about her breakdown,’ says Sarah.
‘When?’ snaps Steve.
‘Just before we went in the bar, Steve.’
The appetising smell of frying fish is becoming unbearable; there is a chance I will eat Steve or Sally if they don’t hurry up and order. But they have no time for haddock, plaice or cod right now. They have reached the fulcrum of their relationship, the definitive moment in their time together.
‘It’s made me wonder what sort of person you really are, Steve,’ says Sarah, the first sobs in her voice.
‘Okay, I’ll tell you what sort of person I am.’
If I were Steve, this is where I would say: ‘I’m the sort of person who has been a bit of an arse tonight, and I’m truly sorry. The sort of person who is not only going to treat you to large cod and chips, with mushy peas if you want them, but also a can of fizzy pop which this gentleman behind the counter has been kind enough to chill in his refrigerator.’
But Steve is not me. ‘I’m the sort of person,’ he says, ‘who has just spent three terrible hours in a bar with his girlfriend’s mad best friend when he could have been…’
‘Could have been what, Steve?’
‘Could have been enjoying himself with someone he liked.’
Silence descends on the fish and chip shop. The skate’s scowl deepens. Sarah says nothing, she simply walks out of the door and Steve’s life.
The man looks at Steve. Steve looks at me.
‘Well,’ I say, ‘you going to order, then?’
Read more about Michael Hodges’ adventures.