My memories of eating out and takeaways were very limited during my childhood, because on the whole it was an activity that we didn’t indulge in. The reason for this was partially cost. With a family of five, finances were in my mother’s hands, and were for the whole of my parents’ lives together. My dad used to get his pay packet and mum would take it from him and give him back his allowance of spending money. Mum would use the rest to pay for the mortgage, the rates, the bills, buy food, save for Christmas and holidays, and so on. My dad would use his money for petrol, cigarettes and for paying for golf. I think this practice was very common and I don’t really think that my dad was ever aware of how much most things cost. He never complained about this setup and probably was happy to let mum do the worrying. I must add that my mother’s earnings were not divvied-up in quite the same way. She kept hers separate, and it was a little nest-egg for buying her clothes, and for any unexpected bills. The other source of income was the Family Allowance and I remember going to the post office with her on Easterly Road to collect the money. It always seemed that everyone was getting money, either pensions or family allowance, and there were queues on the day it was available.
No, eating out was a rarity in my early years. It was something that we might do on a holiday and then it might mean fish and chips in a restaurant, where it was served on plates, with brown bread and butter, cut diagonally and pots of tea and extra hot water. It always seemed a bit of a posh thing to do, and we had to be on our best behaviour. Mostly though, it was fish and chips to take out and we would sit on the front, watch the waves crashing and feed the hungry gulls. Even this tended to be a rarity, as usually it was raining and we would sit in the car, windows steamed up, barely able to see any waves.
Once a week, we would have fish and chips. It saved my mother from having to cook and we all enjoyed them. We would have four or five ‘times’ of haddock and chips, with scraps. I loved the scraps, greasy but delicious and probably the cause of many a heart attack, including my dad’s, at 37. They were always cooked in lard in those days, and oil was seen as an innovation that probably came from the Europeans. Society was very different in the late 1950s, early sixties, and Harehills had a predominantly European population. There were some Polish, and some from other parts, but the primary school was white when I started, but times were changing and populations from other parts of the world were arriving and they brought aspects of their homes and cultures with them.
One of the major changes with the new arrivals was that they brought their cuisine with them and their culture of eating out. Indian restaurants, Italian restaurants, Turkish, Greek, Chinese and Japanese restaurants have grown in popularity, and when I was at high school at Roundhay I began to enjoy the varied places to eat out. Initially, the big challenge to the fish and chip dominance came from the USA. Kentucky Fried Chicken was the first alternative to the humble haddock and chips, but rather than being a replacement, it provided another day when mum didn’t have to cook. We were amazed by the Colonel’s secret herbs and spices and although the chips were not on a par with the good old chippy, the chicken was delicious and finger-licking good. What we didn’t realise was just how high in fat and salt they were, but I was young and didn’t care.
It was considerably later, when I had just started work, so it was probably 1976, when a group of us went down to London to see a new Miracle of Science exhibition. Holograms were on show and John B, Debbie and a few others drove down and we saw the exhibition, which was impressive, but not as magical as I had hoped. Afterwards, we went to a McDonald’s restaurant to have lunch. I don’t know when they came to the UK, but I had never seen one before. There were Wimpy Bars, but I don’t think I had ever been in one. The McDonald’s was more impressive to me in many ways. You ordered, and it magically appeared within seconds. I had never experienced anything like it. Fish and chips was usually more of a longer process, where you lined up, placed your order and then waited for it to be cooked. It could be quite a while, whilst you stood waiting for your name to be called out and you could collect the parcel of food, wrapped in white unprinted newspaper and covered then in printed newspaper. There was a specific smell to the warm parcel, as it gave off an aroma of paper, oil and fish. As you waited, you could listen in to conversations of those standing and learn a lot about what was happening in the district. Our local was Youngman’s on Easterly Road, but it wasn’t open every day and another alternative was the art déco one that is still on the Oakwood parade of shops. These two places were so popular that queues would stretch outside, and I am sure that the owners must have done very well.
We were a traditionalist fish and chip family, but sometimes we would also have mushy peas. I suppose mum and dad felt that a bit of a serving of vegetables would do us good. There were other things on offer, but we never really ventured into them, but we did take to another American introduction, ketchup. Heinz tomato sauce was a must. My brothers and I would slather it over our food and a bottle was lucky to last two meals. We had so much that you could barely taste anything but the sauce. Probably the best part of all though, was making chip butties. Bread and butter with slightly salted and vinegared chips arranged between the half slices were absolute heaven. There was something in the melted butter, Lurpack was the usual, the grease and warmth of the chip, blended with the white stodgy white loaf that was pure joy!
Getting back to McDonald’s, it was quite a new experience. The burgers were pretty tasteless, the bread rolls, sweet and lifeless, but the sauce and pickle was something I had never experienced. The fries were also unlike the chips I knew. I can’t say that I was as satisfied as I would have been, but the Coke with a large amount of ice was an added bonus. At the fish and chip shop we sometimes got a big bottle of Tizer or a bottle of Jusoda, but nothing like the quantity at McDonald’s. In reality, the vast majority of the drink that you got was ice, but sadly, I was impressed. The McDonald’s building was quite different from the chip shops as it was sparkling, coloured and decorated, and you could eat in, and it seemed to be the way of the future. This was indeed how it played out, but we didn’t know how dominant they would become.
The other restaurants that we started to go out to as a family, were Harry Ramsden’s at Guisely, and Bryan’s at Headingly. I do also remember going to Nash’s, both in town, and with my grandma, at Chapel Allerton. Each of these had good reputations and in the case of Harry Ramsden’s, national fame. Coaches would stop off just to allow people to dine in the large restaurant, with good service and silver (EPNS) tea sets. We only started going when my parents became more affluent, and we loved it. My parents still went to Bryan’s until they were getting on and my father had his final heart attack. I remember going with them and my wife and first son, shortly before my father’s passing, and Collin Welland of Z-Cars and Kes fame, was there. The streets around were parked out and it had a totally too small car park that was always full. One of the things that have stuck with me is using the fish knives. These strangely shaped implements were part of the night out and added to it being special.
I am sure that restaurants had existed for many, many years, but for simple ordinary families it was not a common experience. This changed as I became a teenager, and once I started to have jobs and had some disposable income, my group of friends frequented pubs, and then Indian restaurants. I can’t say that I was initially taken by spicy food, but it has become the thing to do when I return to Leeds. I don’t think that I have ever visited and not had at least one curry night. The other fashion that came in the seventies was the pizza, and the Acorn at Oakwood and the Flying Pizza on Street Lane became our regular venues. Basically, pizzas are cheese on toast with tomato paste and herbs, but they took off in a big way. They were cheap to produce, and I loved them, but then there were the other Italian dishes that offered a more varied taste. The Italian and Indian restaurants were different, as they were somewhere you could go for the night out, rather than after the pub. Many were licensed and wine could be drunk whilst you ate. Wine was replacing beer as the drink of favour for my friends and me. It was usually wine I would end up taking to parties and again we were developing more sophistication and our tastes. Wine came from Europe, mainly, and despite some of it being fairly cheap and nasty, it had an air of sophistication, even if the after-effects didn’t. I remember buying a bottle of Chablis from the off-licence near Pete’s and I drank it in his cellar whilst listening to progressive music and thoroughly enjoying myself, even though it tasted on a par with the vinegar on the fish and chips.
These were changing times. People were becoming more affluent, and they wanted more than the standard fare and standard beer. We wanted to experience more that the world had to offer. People were going on package holidays to Europe and were experiencing a broader cuisine, even though many older people wouldn’t try ‘foreign muck’, as they thought, and they wanted to experience some of these flavours back at home. There was also a move to more interesting beers. The mass-produced, soulless beer was losing popularity and a new movement, CAMRA, the campaign for real ale, was gaining momentum. My generation wanted more than our parents had, we wanted to do more than struggle to exist, and the consumer age was starting in earnest: better clothes, fashion, holidays, cars, freedom, sex, technology, were what we wanted, the world changed forever, and the rest is history, as they say!