DEAR Gail Caddy (you’re brave – Ed),
Do you have any truffle mayonnaise to go on the excellent chips at your gaff at Cobb Gate? I’d get some in sharpish if I was you, because The Chipsymth is coming to Lyme and the Symths are anything but cheesy chips sellers.
I don’t mean to imply that you are cheesy, Lord forbid, clearly you are not and, as you know, I am a firm supporter of the campaign for your chip shop be made a World Heritage Site. I’m just tipping you the nod, you and Vic and Matt and Dave and all of the other many purveyors of chips in the town, there’s about to be more to life than cheesy chips. A preposterous concept, I agree, but apparently it’s true; the truffles are coming.
I love chips. If I had my way, as opposed to allowing fears of my engorging stomach to decide my food of choice, I would eat chips all the time. I would eat them for brunch with veggie bacon in between the sort of sliced white bread that contains about as much wheat as a trowel, I would eat them at lunch on the Cobb, poured into a newspaper which I would bring myself.
I would eat chips with brown sauce, chips with chilli sauce and, if I’d really had a lot to drink, chips with curry sauce. Although never with tomato sauce, clearly I am not a peasant.
Oh god, egg and chips, with peas, the finest dish on this planet. As I have written before, egg, chips and peas at Mrs G’s, the old and much-missed Harbour Café, was one of the most glorious examples of those old Easters and summers that used to be hot.
When I was a kid back then, after choir practice (yes, shut it) we would run down to the chippy opposite The Ship and, although this may read as ridiculous to you, I can still see us all queuing up on the right, slouching against that old light blue wall that was a partition and reaching up on tip toe to the black plastic counter to at last take your hot parcel wrapped in The Sunday People.
I remember all that, that and just completely relishing the chips being all hot and tangy and salty, oddly-cut as if they had been sliced by an epileptic, and each one burning your mouth until you’d dawdled at least to Mrs Dale’s at Mill Green, all the way flinging the long flaccid ones that would stick in your mates’ hair.
I think chips were thruppence then, but for a penny you could get a paper bag filled with the bits of batter that had fallen off the fish which you obviously would not be able to afford until you were at least 17. Scallops, that was our local name for that greasy batter. “Bag o’scallops, please”. We didn’t know.
There is something earthy, rather deliciously feral, about eating proper Lyme chips; all of those sticky fingers, the lip-smack of that smarting vinegar, far more pleasurable than forking those stringy fries. French or American – and albeit tasty, tasty, very, very tasty – they’re a bit weedy, if you know what I mean.
But Lyme chips, Lyme chips are the fast food equivalent of Stainsby Girls [look it up on YouTube], the love of a life. So in my capacity as a bit of a long-time fan, I feel it to be my duty to bring the attention of Lyme’s myriad chippies, pubs and caffs that The Chipsymth sounds a bit good. Besides the truffle topping, old Symthy will sell you chips exotica; an entire Ann Summers of saucy variations designed for raunchy mastication.
See below, from their own Facebook page: “The Chipsmyth is a street food business making hand-cut, home-made chipped potatoes, served with a range of toppings. From Sous Vide skirt steak with pickled pink onions, cheddar cheese, truffle mayonnaise and fresh thyme; to pulled pork with barbecue sauce and fresh coleslaw; to beef chilli with cheddar cheese, guacamole, salsa fresca and sour cream, and many more.”
Sous Vide skirt, no less. I had to look it up, thought it had something to do with a French bird. Either way it’s clearly posh. As is the hand-cut thing, the fresh thyme and the “salsa fresca” which sounds like a sex position.
The point is, they’re not rubbish, The Chipsysmths. The company is from Windsor, don’t you know, royal chips no less. I bet Andrew’s always popping out for a bit of pulled pork on top, top butty this. Which is why that I have no doubt that Lyme’s food traders will be naturally knocked out with delight to learn that, come the late May bank holiday, traditionally one of the busiest, cash-ringing weekends of any year, they will this year be competing in an already-crowded local market with The Chipsymths and other star cooks of The Dorset Street Food Festival.
The Dorset Street Food Festival, gosh, I bet that’s tasty; cider, Dorset knobs, Blackdown Hills ewes’ brie and pints of Scruttock’s Old Dirigible, “a traditional Wessex ale hand-brewed in a box of ferrets in Hardy’s back garden”. But no, as the location of The Chipsymsths’ HQ hints to the more nimble of mind, the cooks who make up the Dorset Street Food Festival are not exactly from over Beaminster way, nor will they be especially intending to promote the local delicacies of the area.
For other vendors at the event will be selling cuisine from Thailand, Italy, the USA, Malaysia and Spain, among other places, like Wales. So not exactly Dorset-like, like. Not a street festival of Dorset food. It took me a while to get it. The Dorset Street Food Festival isn’t about Dorset food, it’s a food festival which is coming to a Dorset street near you. Durr.
But I wonder whether the confusion of this same dyslexia lay behind the enthusiasm of officials at the town council to welcome the festival to Lyme? By the way, that’ll be the Lyme where there is now growing fury among local traders that the street festival could take out of the town thousands of pounds that might otherwise have gone into their tills.
Did our town clerks assume, quite reasonably, as you would, that the words Dorset and food implied that the festival might be a celebration of our fabulous county produce, and that Lyme, being the pearl of that county, would benefit from the record crowds drawn by the promise of an orgy of Dorset knobbing? Could have done, you don’t know. I did.
Clever that, the Dorset Street Food Festival, clever wording. I like word play. I thought they meant… But anyway, I suppose that explains why the Dorset Street Food Festival is not in fact headquartered in Dorset, nor even in a street, but in King’s Road, Cardiff – where it operates as the trading name of Hold Tight Ltd, a company which is based in Nottingham. From just up the road then. I probably went to Woodroffe with their dads.
How does it benefit local food traders?
Now, call me daft but how exactly does it benefit local food traders to be plunged into competition with rivals from Wales and the Midlands? How does that quite fit with Lyme’s “shop local” campaign? Oh I get it, the algorithm says that the money ploughed into the town by the visitors magnetized here by the “Dorset” bit will be more than the sum sucked out of it by the juicy joys of Cardiff; consequently the pubs will be full, Janet Wiscombe will have to put on extra staff and, ching, the council’s car parks will be overflowing. I see, the town overall benefits, but best not mention those who will not? Ah, I understand now. No of course I won’t mention the park and ride either, there’s no need for riots.
Um….is this entirely fair? I’m not being pejorative, I genuinely don’t know. I once ran a shop in Lyme, when I worked for Si the Fish at the Old Watch House, handily functioning as Britain’s only vegetarian fishmonger. I know from personal experience that it isn’t easy to make a quid running a shop; for starters the weather is mainly always against you, either it’s too wet, or it’s too hot. Or else the crowd’s gone because those rogues at Guitars On The Beach have gone and put a stripper up on their stage.
But do events bring so many more visitors to the town that their overall total spend trumps the individual loss of some traders? Is that OK? How? Or is it only the food festivals that pose a threat to the many local traders who depend on selling a bite? Are all other festivals to the town’s advantage? But then what would David Tucker down at the museum say if I instituted the Mary Anning Street Festival on the Cart Road? How delirious-happy would Max at the aquarium be if I promoted the Lyme No Need To Walk To The Cobb Starfish, Wrasse & Mullet-Feeding Festival outside the cinema?
I don’t think for one moment that anyone at or on the council thought that they would test their popularity by deliberately setting out to potentially hurt the businesses of Gail, Matt, Vic, Dave and the rest. But, as I have said before in private to many, Boomtown Regis, as we need to start thinking about it, needs an experienced events officer. It’s not an easy job, but the town’s new popularity has made it an essential one. Best put “must be able to unravel a cats’ cradle of a cock-up” on the job description.