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SATURDAY SHORT STORY; Salmon, Lemon, Crunch By Julie Dove.

IAM eight years old and my mam and me are in Stockton at Robinsons wet fish shop. We've been here before. Well, hasn't everyone? You have to eat fish on certain days. I'm not quite sure when these are, but I know enough to know you have to.

Normally we have fish that is covered in breadcrumbs, golden orange against the white fish, shaped into fingers or odd triangle shapes. Best of all is when we have fish covered in golden batter, from the shop, with chips and mounds of glistening green sludgy mushy peas. We have this on Saturday, for dinner, when my mam has to work and dad is in charge.

His idea of cooking is to go to the shop and buy it. I go with him and stand in the queue. When we get inside he tells the people what we want and lifts me up so I can watch them shovel the piles of golden chips onto p aper. "Can we have scraps dad, can we?" He always says yes, but not to tell mam, it's our secret. But today we are buying salmon.

I've had salmon before. We have it most Sundays for tea when we go to my nan's. She opens a tin of John West, the contents slurp out onto a flat bowl. Nan gets a fork and carefully separates the silver grey skin from the disc of fish and then pulls the disc apart, into two crescents, and lifts out the white bones. She then puts the crescents into her special glass bowl and mashes the fish up with some pepper and vinegar. I know 'cause I like to watch her cook. We always have salmon with slices of cucumber and onion, also doused in malt vinegar, and salad. I like salad. Lettuce, cress and radishes that I grow with my grandad in the cold frame outside the back door. He grows cucumber and tomatoes in the greenhouse. We pick the salad fresh, me and Grandad, and Nan boils the new potatoes that we dig up and puts loads of butter in with chopped up mint ("which grows like a weed", or so Grandad says). She normally does hard-boiled eggs and lets me eat the yellow bit. I love the golden orb but hate the white. Dad says it's a waste but my nan doesn't care. We have our salmon and salad with loads of bread and butter and salad cream, all golden and gooey. I dip my potatoes in. I like the warm and cold together. Anyway this salmon is nothing like the salmon we normally have. I'm not sure it's salmon at all. The lady at Robinsons smiles at my mam and goes out the back. "Just getting the special order, Reg," she says to the man who works in the shop with her. She disappears out the back, through the door covered with the curtain made of strips of bright plastic, and comes back with this big silver fish.

The fish has no head and has been cut up the middle. She asks my mam if this is all right and mam smiles and gives her the money. She doesn't seem to have noticed that it's not right. The fish is wrapped in newspaper and put in mam's basket. We leave the shop and I'm happy and smiley because I know what's coming next. We go to Pacitto's. Mam gets a frothy coffee and buys me an ice-cream, a special one in a little glass bowl, with a yellow top. The bright golden halo of slushy lemon is already melting when she gets back to the table. Like the lava we learnt about at school, it runs down the white ice in yellow rivulets. This is heaven, me and my mam in the warm fug that is Pacitto's on a Saturday afternoon. I finish my ice-cream and we hurry to catch the bus. We buy lemons from a stall on the market. Noisy and busy, I clutch my mam's hand not wanting to get lost amongst the crowds that push to get to the bargains. We get home and the fish is put in the shed. It's too big for the fridge and anyway Mam's worried it might make the other food in the fridge smell. She puts on her pinny and gets out the baking stuff. We're going to make lemon ginger crunch, whatever that is. We have lemon meringue pie at Nan's, although I don't really like it. I like the meringue and the pastry but the lemon jammy bit in the middle is sour. Like the vinegar on the cucumber, it makes you suck your face in. This is different. Mam puts the biscuits into a carrier bag and, giving me a rolling pin, she stands me on a stool and tells me to bash the biscuits to bits. A bit strange as she goes mad if I drop a packet of biscuits before they're open: "No one wants crumbs to dip in their tea."

The grown-ups drink a lot of tea. I don't like it, but I like baking. She beats cream and lemon and condensed milk to make some filling and tips it onto the biscuits that are all hard now she's mixed them with butter and squashed them in a cake tin. Sunday, Grandad arrives with a bag of salad and new potatoes to go with the mystery salmon. I want to know how this lump of fish is going to go From 37 turn bright pink and fit into a tin, so I sit in the kitchen and watch, as she puts it in a big dish with white wine and lemon and some other bits I don't recognise. I like the wine bottle. There is a picture of a pretty lady and it's called Blue Nun, which I think sounds lovely. Mam beats eggs and adds olive oil from the chemist. We got it on the way home. I thought it was strange as no one had earache, but she said she needed two bottles. There is a torn-off sheet from the newspaper stuck above the kitchen table with a picture of a fish, covered in cucumber. The cucumber is arranged in slices to look like fish scales. Very nice it looks too. A lady called Delia has written about how to make it and I realise that's what my mam's doing. Normally she just cooks, she doesn't need someone to tell her how to do it. She's dead clever, my mam, and just knows. My dad and grandad are drinking the rest of the blue lady drink and they are laughing as they open another bottle. Nan pours me lemonade as the blue lady is grown-up pop. I'm going to get some of that when I grow up and drink it all myself. I'll not share it with them, serves them right for being mean. I wander off, I've lost interest now, I just want my dinner. I'm being called and there it is, the fish with the cucumber scales, the whipped cream sauce stuff - mayonnaise, my nan says - potatoes and salad. Not Sunday dinner but it looks nice, it looks like the picture in the paper. I try it but I don't like it. I want salad cream, not this eggy mess. I push the fish around the plate. I eat the potatoes. I don't think this Delia woman knows how to cook. The grown-ups are talking, my mam is going to make this dinner again for my dad's friends who are coming round for tea next week.

Except I'm confused as they keep saying they are coming for dinner, but I know it's tea they're coming for on Friday because I'm going to sleep at Nan's and were having fish and chips from the chippy for our tea. She's promised. Grandad's bringing me a bottle of lemonade back from the club and I know he'll get me crisps, with the little blue twist of salt, for later, another secret I mustn't tell my mam. I'm not supposed to eat ket. The lemon pie thing is on the table now, everyone is saying how nice it is - everyone except me. It's still sour and I don't like the raspberries from the garden, not enough sugar, though they make a pretty colour if you mash them with the lemon cream stuff. But it's all right because Dad goes into the kitchen and gets me a chocolate biscuit. I won't be eating that again. But tastes change. I grew older. I tried the blue lady drink, as it will always be known by my family, and don't like it, it's much too sweet. I like the lemon and love the salmon, as does everyone whose tried it and there have been many. The recipes have changed - less sugar, more lemon, crystallised ginger. More robust flavours that are no longer strange or foreign, flavours even young children eat. We no longer go to the chemist for olive oil. Why would we when our local supermarket has more than twenty varieties for sale and the local deli sells it on draught? My children laugh when I mention olive oil from the chemist, and as for putting it in your ear to cure ear-ache, I am sure they think I made it up, just as I must have made up or dreamt about market day in Stockton being hectic, not the limp affair it has become with a few knackered stalls and tired shoppers. They laugh about these things in much the same way as I thought condensed milk sandwiches were my mam's idea of a joke. "Mam, are you are all right?" The daydream stops.

Memories have a funny way of creeping up on you when you least expect it and here I am stood in my kitchen. Elle, my oldest daughter, doesn't live at home any more. She is planning to cook a special meal, something that she knows will work and impress. What would anyone in our family cook but poached salmon and lemon ginger crunch? She's rifling the bookshelves. No one eats lettuce, tomato and cucumber and calls it salad any more, I am informed, in the assured way only the young can manage. Delia is cast aside for Jamie or Nigella. They will have the solution as to what to serve with salmon. She studies recipes for cous cous and quinoa, asparagus and parmesan, although can you serve fish and cheese together? I sip my coffee and ponder this question. Elle wants to borrow the special lemon ginger crunch dish. It's not special, just the dish I always use, plain white china, no decoration. "Let the food do the talking, eh, Elle," and my daughter smiles and laughs. Opening a cupboard, she stretches to reach the dish. She moves the cut glass bowl - the salmon bowl from Sunday tea, tea at my Nan's. The sunlight, through the kitchen window, strikes the bowl and a rainbow of light shoots around the room, surrounding us, for a moment, with its golden glow.


Julie Dove was born and bought up on Teesside, returning to live in the Stockton area after 20 years spent in Newcastle where she met and married her husband. She has two teenage daughters. Currently studying for an MA in creative writing, Julie is busy fulfilling a dream to open a coffee shop, which will serve lemon ginger crunch.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 24, 2012
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