Mark Andrews: Chips are down in the fight for our national dish
Gleaming red phone boxes, policemen pounding the beat in pointed hats. Men in flat caps playing dominoes in the snug of their local. Barely a week goes by without us losing part of the Britain we know and love.
But while we might gently harrumph when our local phone box is replaced by one of those horrible TV screens the telecommunications giants are trying to force on us, and we might be quietly resigned to the fact that bobbies on the beat went out with Dixon of Dock Green, I'm not entirely sure that Britain is ready for the next major blow to our national culture – the demise of the Great British Chippie.
The heady combination of fresh battered fish and fried potatoes has been crucial to the fabric of the nation since the days of Charles Dickens. Always a man with his finger on the pulse, the great author vividly described the 'husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil' in A Tale of Two Cities, and the 'fried fish warehouses' in Oliver Twist.
The rise of the fish-and-chip shop is heavily intertwined with our region's role in creating the modern world. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the large-scale consumption of sea-fish was largely the preserve of coastal communities. But just as workers of the industrial heartlands of the Midlands were demanding hearty, ready-cooked meals during their days of toil in the foundries, factories and collieries, Britain's rapidly-growing rail network meant that even the most landlocked areas could enjoy a ready supply of fresh fish.
So important were fish and chips to the national wellbeing, that during both world wars the British government ensured that there would always be a ready supply of the nation's favourite dish, come what may. During the Second World War, it was one of the few meals that was never subjected to any form of rationing. Those in government knew that if morale was to be maintained, those who were keeping the country running needed to know that they would always be able to enjoy their favourite meal.
It is perhaps inevitable, as people travel more widely and experience different types of food, that tastes have become more diverse over the past 60 or 70 years. Today's chippies have to compete with curry houses, kebab shops, pizza joints, Chinese takeaways, burger bars and chicken shacks, not to mention the ever-growing number of home-delivery services which are now proliferating the industry. But just as more channels television do not necessarily equate to better programmes, it is questionable whether so much choice is always a good thing.
If you really see how important fish and chips are to our heritage, visit either of those two great living tributes to this region, the Black Country Museum in Dudley or Blists Hill, near Ironbridge. Sure, the old shops and houses are fascinating, the furnaces a blast, and the pubs are great fun. But it is the olde-worlde fish-and-chip shops that have the queues snaking round the block. After all, you can't get much more British than queuing for fish and chips.
Trouble is, if we don't rally round and support our wonderful chip shops, that is exactly what they will become. Museum pieces.
There are few delights greater than a bag full of piping hot fish and chips, coated in crisp golden batter – the thicker and more orange the better. But if we don't do our patriotic duty by supporting our chippies, we are in danger of losing them forever.
Kaiser Bill couldn't shut down the Great British Chippie, neither could Hitler. Don't let Putin's war or rising inflation kill them off either. Treat yourself this week. Your chip shop needs you.