My wife and I were in a little fish and chip café in a seaside town the other day. We were debating whether or not you should tip the mushy peas from the ceramic pot on to your plate when a Yorkshire quartet walked in and we settled back to listen.
There were two women, one man, and a very small black and white dog with permanently startled ears. They had the confidence of people who’ve lived through a lot, and the loud voices of people who always have the telly turned up even though they all agree it’s just rubbish on there anyway. The waitress (yes, you’re right, it was a posh fish and chip café – waitresses as well as ceramic pots of peas) gave the menus out and the man took off his flat cap and said, “Right, let’s peruse the me-and-you,” and the two women laughed politely because you got the feeling he’d performed that particular bit of wordplay for decades in every café they’d ever been in. Actually, it was less a laugh and more an escape of breath, like the last gasp of a kettle that needs replacing.
The two ladies swiftly adopted their roles as straight-women to The Gagmaster. “Seafood platter,” he intoned, sepulchrally. The café hushed, waiting for the joke we all knew was coming. The man carried on, “I’m on a seafood diet. See food and eat it!” Now, it’s common knowledge that that joke is older than the planning permission for Hadrian’s Wall but the two women sniggered dutifully.
Neither of them seemed to be married to him and I invented a semi-tragic biography for him. In my mind he became a widower, married to the best mate of the two women. While his wife was alive they’d tolerated him and his self-assembly off-the-peg jokes because of her. And now she was gone he just tagged along with them, like a bad club turn who won’t get off the stage for the bingo to begin.
So then they did what I guessed they always did: they ignored him, and began their own conversation. “Does he still have it off the table?” the one with the bright red hair asked. Her mate, the one with the pink scarf, nodded. “Except on Sundays. He doesn’t on Sundays.” It took me a few seconds to work out they were talking about the dog.
Their fish and chips came. “I asked for a fish, not a whale!” the bloke said, indicating the cod that was hanging off his plate. The women smiled. “Does he still like The One Show?” the red haired woman said. “Oh aye,” her mate said. “He sits up like a statue all the way through. I think it’s the flashing lights.”
The man sensed he was losing his grip on the outing, and launched into a series of terrible fish-based puns. “It’s good this. No codding,” he said. I speculated that his wife hadn’t actually passed away, she’d just left him for a warehouseman in Hedon. The dog looked up and the woman in the pink scarf threw it a chip; the chip circled in the air a couple of times and the dog caught it and settled back down to munch. “Sign him up for Yorkshire!” the man said. Nobody laughed.