One of the three men wobbled as they walked along the pavement, his left leg buckled and he fell to the ground, laughing. His right arm was held aloft, a can of beer held firmly in his left hand. His two companions turned and offered him assistance to stand up, their exchanges loud and slurred. They went into the fish and chip shop, debated what they would order, and then argued as to which of them would pay. The largest of them, a foot taller than the other two declared that this was his Christmas treat and proffered a £20 note.
It was a few minutes before nine o’clock, the scheduled closing time of the shop. The softly spoken man behind the counter turned to me to ask for my order, “cod and chips, please.”
“I’ll have to cook from fresh.”
Realising the time, I felt a moment of awkwardness, “if you are hoping to close, I can have something else.”
“It’s not a problem, it will take a few minutes though.”
The three men with their cans of beer sat at a table at the front of the shop. One called out to the staff at the counter, “we’re going outside for a smoke.” They rose noisily from their seats and went out through the glass door.
Other customers orders were filled and they left. Standing alone on the shop side of the counter with four staff on the other side, I tataljedd with the softly spoken man. “I’m sure you would prefer to be closing up now at the end of a long day.”
“No, even if you had come in at nine o’clock, we would have cooked your order. One day, at two o’clock, just as I was about to lock up, two older ladies came through the door. They each wanted a bag of chips. I said to myself, ‘do I really need to fry to £1.39 bags of chips? But I did. Then do you know what happened? They said, ‘there’s our bus,’ and they went out of the door. It doesn’t matter, though, there are many people who just come in to order chips and to just sit at the tables and to be with company.”
My cod and chips was ready and I paid the man at the till, a man twice the size of the softly-spoken man, who called out to the beer drinkers that their order was ready. They came in through the door and sat down at a table. It was ten minutes past the shop’s closing time, it did not seem likely they would have hurried through their meal. There was a sense of warmth walking up the street, not just from the cod and chips.