HE seemed like a nice chap, but he had killed two people. That wasn’t the only way in which he had changed the face of the village though.
Within two miles of our house were five fish and chip shops of varying qualities, one being owned by a bloke called Stanley Matthews, which always amused me.
Between one and three times a week, depending on which shift my dad was on at the factory, we would have something from the chippy. It can hardly have been the healthiest lifestyle, but it was all I ever wanted to eat as a child.
It was usually me that got sent, remembering the order off by heart and adding up the cost as I stood in the queue, which sometimes stretched right round the block.
The people serving worked fast and efficiently, which meant the queue soon reduced, but then would come the kicker — the man from the mill carrying a huge box was in front of you. “Ah’ll ‘ave fish and chips 28 times, 22 lots wi’ scraps on, 19 wi’ salt ‘n’ vinegar, six wi’ just salt on and three with nowt on. I want 12 lots o’ mushy peas, six bread cakes, nine fish on their own and 13 bags o’ chips. Can I also have eight scones (it’s a north and west Yorkshire thing that goes batter, potato, fish, potato, batter) and 12 cans of coke. An’ can you write on t’wrapping what’s what, ta?” This added a good 15 minutes or so on to your journey and would enforce a run home to make up time, only to be greeted by my dad saying “where the hell have you been?”
The reason for the massive queues was the fact that fish and chip shops were the only takeaway option back then. Strangely, we had an Italian restaurant which opened around the same time as the Italian hairdressers, though the owners were not related. Another Italian family, also not connected, also moved into the village — we were in danger of becoming the Med of north Yorkshire.
Then it all kicked off — an American diner (Swifty’s), Pizza and Indian takeaways and a Cantonese, but none of that before the Wing Wah brought Chinese food to the village and Johnny, the owner, pioneered taking racist taunts that accompanied an order with a smile, making sure generations after him didn’t have to.
What was going on? Suddenly people, who had only a year or so ago been nervous at the prospect of tackling a lasagne or a French stick as they called baguettes back then, were suddenly chomping away on all sorts as the Wing Wah led Cross Hills’ culinary revolution.
Decades on, four of the five chippies are still open (though the closure of the mills and the lack of people stopping off for a bag of chips after eight pints of an evening has led to their owners restricting opening hours), the Italian is a fine dining place, the Cantonese is no longer a restaurant, the pub does decent food (it didn’t do any aside from crisps, pork scratchings and bacon fries when I lived there), there are several Indian takeaways and the pioneering Chinese lives on in the form of Peking Cuisine.
When people utter the name of Johnny, the owner of the Wing Wah, the older ones still follow it with “he’s killed two people in separate accidents in his car, you know. They say it’s ‘cos he couldn’t see over the steering wheel.” Sadly, at least the first part of that was true, but he did so much more.