SUMMER’S lease, as a Stratford bard so succinctly put it, hath all too short a date. The nights are drawing in, the leaves are beginning to droop and the news grows darker by the day. There is no need here to count the ways that life as we know it is about to change utterly, and not for the better: war, drought, floods, famine, frostbite, bin strikes, Liz Truss. You could be forgiven for thinking that things really can’t get much worse.

Trust me, they can. Last week, as I flipped from one grim newspaper page to another, I spied an article that sent my blood pressure soaring ever higher. It was based on one of those surveys which make you wonder about the cognitive ability of those who commission them. That, though, is a topic for another column. This one is concerned with a much more pressing matter, namely the grim revelation that young people, specifically those aged between 18 and 24, do not consider fish and chips their top takeaway meal.

While I attempted to digest this information, more unpalatable facts came to light. Chinese food, it seems, is what the youth of today prefer while very few of them, a mere one per cent, say they would opt for Mexican. On this at least we are in agreement, having never quite seen the point of twice frying beans. Studying the poll’s revelations even more closely, I note that “support” for fish and chips rises through the generations. By the time we reach the over-65s they retain their pre-eminent spot in the nation’s affections. I hasten to add that this is not yet a cohort of which I am a member.

I do not need to spell out to the gourmands who read The Herald the potentially cataclysmic implications of this "research". As time takes its irrevocable toll, and older folk surrender to the deep fat fryer, fish and chips will slowly but surely disappear forever from our diets. The young are attracted to the novel while wrinklies relish the tried and tested. My late father, for example, who never looked happier than when presented with a fish supper, would have thought me daft if I ever suggested that he have chicken chow mein instead. He recognised, as I do, that there are some things that are immutable, that make this country what it is.

This may be why – and here’s another astonishing finding of the aforementioned poll – 25% of Leave voters plighted their troth to fish and chips in contrast to a pathetic 16% of Remainers. Moreover, Tory voters are more pro fish and chips and eating them than are Labour and LibDem supporters. Where followers of the SNP stand the survey does not say. What I can say is that have you ever seen Nicola Sturgeon (despite her surname!) with even a poke of chips in her mitts? If that doesn’t say all we need to know about these isles now I don’t know what does.

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These are, of course, tough times for everyone and those in the fish and chip industry are no exception. In the not so distant past no high street was worthy of the name if it didn’t boast at least one chippy called The Codfather or Come Fry With Me. Proximity to a good one could send the price of nearby properties soaring. Now it’s estimated that if things go on as they are more than half of them will close. Meanwhile the price of a fish supper rises with the tide. Mingling with Fringe crowds in Edinburgh last week I came across a mobile shop selling haddock and chips for £12. Nor, from what I could see, was the portion generous. I was almost inclined to form a picket line.

History buffs will know the origins of fish and chip shops. Like so many things worthy of hymning, they can be traced to Italy. In the early years of the last century, countless poverty-stricken Italians emigrated to these shores and not a few found their way north. Who knows who the genius was who first discovered the elixir we all came to lust after, but my guess is he was probably called Leonardo. Noting that fish and potatoes were in plentiful supply, and that covered in batter and drowned in oil they tasted sublime, he opened for business and the rest is obvious from the popularity of elastic waistbands. Quite why no one in his homeland thought of this remains as mysterious as the demise of the Etruscans. Indeed, to this day you will not find any fish and chip shops in the whole of Italy.

There is, however, in the lovely Tuscan hilltop town of Barga, from where many Scottish Italians hailed, a fish and chip festival. This August this “Sagra del Pesce e Patate” celebrated its 40th anniversary, so you will now have to wait a year before you can savour its delights. Its website suggests you “close your eyes and inhale deeply and the smells could transport you to almost any Scottish town centre”, which strikes me as a rather backhanded compliment. But I am reliably informed that, as the smell of woodsmoke wafts across the gorgeous countryside, combining with the aroma of thousands of fish suppers, the faithful fall into the kind of trance than can only be described as religious.

The Italians, of course, have a proper reverence for food and drink. In my travels there I have happened upon festivals for lentils and sausages, to name but two. Here, meanwhile, we are bereft of such celebrations. Were we more enlightened we would, for example, celebrate mince pies (one of the great street foods), black pudding and porridge, all washed down with our other national drink. Imagine what a boost to tourism such events might be. Nothing, though, compares with fish and chips which, when sprinkled with salt and vinegar, is a dish of pure edible gold, especially when insulated in a copy of this venerable newspaper. Just writing those words makes my lips smack. Surely the bard himself had a fish supper in his mind when he wrote: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and gives this life to thee.”

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