Times being what they are, the fish and chips were delivered. Paper carrier bags holding the paper-wrapped servings were lifted out of a brightly-coloured insulated bag by a delivery woman who stood at a social distance after placing the bag on the floor.
Cod and chips were unwrapped and a bottle of vinegar circulated. If there are smells in heaven, they must surely include Sarson’s Malt Vinegar, the smell of happiness.
Sarson’s has been a friend for as long as I can remember.
Sarson’s went over soggy chips wrapped in sheets from unsold newspapers. Like Liam Clancy once said of eating pig trotters wrapped up in copies of last week’s Munster Express, “there was eating and there was reading.” An over generous shake of the bottle and the paper became soggy and left newsprint on your hands.
Sarson’s went over bags of cockles bought from a stall at the harbour in Lyme Regis. The shellfish already had their own saltiness; a shake of the maroon-labelled bottle gave them a piquant flavour. If English seaside towns had a taste that captured a sense of the place, it was cockles and vinegar.
In undergraduate days, Sarson’s went over the huge portions of fish and chips my uncle would bring into his home in Kew in west London at teatime each Friday. “Now, who’s for what?” he would say; pretending that he had forgotten the order on his way home.
During ordination training in Dublin, Sarson’s went over fish and chips at the Wimpy in Rathmines on the occasional visits there. College food on Fridays was so bad that the extravagance of going to the Wimpy could be justified. The fish and chips came with tea served in battered aluminium pots and with slices of white bread thinly spread with butter. The food left you feeling full for hours afterwards
Sarson’s has always been there. Flick the lid and pour the vinegar over a bag of chips chips, and it is instantly summertime. There is a memory of sitting in a car with a bag of hot chips perched on a knee; there is the sound of seagulls and the noise diesel engines of boats; there is the laughter of a Friday evening when a whole weekend stretched ahead and Monday was an eternity away; there is a sense of all being well with the world.
Perhaps that is the real attraction of the Sarson’s, a whiff and, for just one moment, the realities outside fade away. So, if heaven has a scent, let it be malt vinegar.