“And then they had Chippy Tea on the way home.”
So wrote JRR Tolkien at the very end of The Lord of the Rings, the battles won, Sauron defeated, the One Ring destroyed, and friendships maintained.
Those final words in what is arguably the greatest saga written in the English language confirms one thing that binds us all together as a people, as humans, as rational beings, in an idea that goes all the way back to the early days of Christendom.
The great prophet, procrastinator and sometimes writer Douglas Adams once theorised that every civilisation in the universe had a concept called “Gin and tonics”, which formed part of an end-of-day ceremony relaxing from the rigours of life.
Be that as it may, any civilisation that thinks mixing something that tastes of horse’s piss with something else that tastes of horse’s piss, then serving it with ice and lemon as a means of relaxation deserves its ultimate destruction.
While Adams was correct vis-a-vis the universal proliferation of gin and tonics, what he failed to note was that this only applied to those sections of society who considered drinking horse’s piss a good thing.
Instead, scholars who have spent their lives and piddling research grants looking into this sort of thing say that what he should have noted was the idea of the Chippy Tea, which is both classless and doesn’t taste of the passed water of equine species.
Chippy Tea, then (known in some parts of the Union as Fish Supper) is the genuinely universal constant, a reward for a hard day at work that any sentient being can enjoy.
In its classic form, Chippy Tea is defined by its very British form: deep fried fish or deep fried sausage, accompanied by deep fried chipped potatoes, all wrapped in paper, which is itself deep fried, purchased from a fish and chip shop.
The connoisseur may embellish their chippy tea with additions from the chip shop menu, such as a pickled onion, a pickled egg, or a pickled deep fried Mars Bar.
And here’s the important part: There is no point-scoring among those who partake in a Chippy Tea, because Chippy Tea is an end unto itself, and it is considered bad form to criticise another diner’s choices.
This is important when you remember that the first Chippy Tea, in which Jesus himself fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish, resulted in absolutely nobody complaining about a) the portion sizes, b) the fact that the invention of chips was over a millennium away, and c) nobody having the wit to get a Deliveroo in.
Down the centuries, Chippy Tea (always capitalised, never preceded the definite article) on the way home followed the Lord Christ’s example that it is a reward for a job well done; or a pick-me-up for those times when (and to quote St Paul’s letter of complaint to the Romans) “it’s all turned to shit, lads”.
The Emperor Claudius brought Chippius Teaus to the people of the British Isles during the Roman invasion of AD40, but it didn’t reach what would become its true heartlands until Agricola’s campaign against the northern Celts in AD73.
From then on, Chippius Teaus became universal - at spearpoint if necessary - and a central part of culture under the Roman occupation. Indeed, a recently discovered midden at Hardian’s Wall turned up pages from the Daily Caesar newspaper, perfectly preserved in fat from Chippy Tea, inscribed with the words “Centurian Flavius - cod and large chips, salt and vinegar, mushy peas”.
One can only presume that following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, various invasions of Saxons, Vikings and anybody who thought they were hard enough, the idea of Chippy Tea on the way home remained part of the psyche of the people who would eventually become known as the Britons.
However, there are no written records until the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror, which mentioned such establishments as “Greasy Joe’s Chippy” in areas scores of miles away from fresh fish shops. Even then, the uncomprehending Normans tried to suppress Chippy Tea, and replace it with Gitanes and a Gallic Shrug, which - unsurprisingly - did not catch on among the more stoic Britons.
It’s at this point that you may be asking the very pertinent question “Why is it called Chippy Tea when potatoes were not introduced to Europe until the 16th Century?” The answer to this is simple: Shut up, you fool.
The more complicated answer is, however, “arrangements were made”.
Take, for example, King Henry V’s famous speech before the Battle of Agincourt on 25th October 1415. Most Shakespearen scholars know the words by heart:
“...we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition; and gentlemen in England now-a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
What is largely forgotten is Kenneth Branagh’s words immediately after, to whit:
“Chippy Tea on the way home, lads! The Earl of Westmoreland’s turn to pay.”
And it is here that the Bard of Stratford reminds us that if there were ever a controversy about Chippy Tea, it is that of whose turn it is to pay.
Among any group of people who regularly partake in Chippy Tea, there is always an Earl of Westmoreland, for whom it is always their turn to pay.
For some whose station in life to be the “Earl”, this is an honour, but for others it’s seen as a damn cheek, and often ends in violence in which the “Earl” is reminded of their place in the pecking order, usually through the means of a good kick in the fork. Hence the phrase “had his chips”.
The idea of Chippy Tea as a universal constant truly separate from the idea of the Adamsian “Gin and Tonics” comes, not surprisingly, from Marxist theory.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had both moved to England because of the poor quality of German Chippy Tea, with Engels complaining to anybody who would listen that “they’re the wurst, dude”.
It was in their 1848 treatise Das Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, otherwise known as The Communist Manifesto, that the magnificently hirsute duo seized the means of production of Fisch und Chips Abendessen from the public school-educated bourgeoisie (immortalised by the Bunteresque “Time of a feast, eh readers?”), and “plaiced” it back in the hands of the working proletariat.
Freed from the shackles of Capitalism, Chippy Tea was free to take root wherever one or more people thought they needed a heart attack wrapped in paper on the way home, provided somebody known locally as Greasy Joe had got their act together with a deep fat fryer and a premises that meets or exceeds local authority public health policies.
One would like to say that Chippy Tea is universal. And in a way it is. From the classic deep fried everything from Scotland’s central belt (the acknowledged global capital of Chippy Tea) to the refined and minimalist Chippy Tea Ceremonies in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto, there are few places in the multiverse where Chippy Tea is not celebrated.
And that one place where you’d be hard-pressed to find Chippy Tea is the United States of America.
The roots of this yawning gap in American culture go back to the 16th December 1773 and an event known as the Boston Tea Party, correctly known as the Boston Tea And Chip Batter Party.
Not only were the American Patriots flinging the East India Company’s tea into the harbour, but also 36 chests of concentrated fish and chip batter, an act against the hated Batter Tax which strangled Chippy Tea in the nascent United States at birth.
The only positive from this action was that the batter solidified in the waters of Boston Harbour, allowing the attackers to flee the British authorities, before having McDonald’s on the way home.
In a post-modern age riven by secularism, post-truth politics, and society divided in ways that previous power-mad dictators can only dream, Chippy Tea stands as a rock that binds us to our humanity.
But even a rock (deep-fried as an alternative to dwindling stocks of cod) is not immune from danger. We must keep our eyes open to attempts to dilute the power of Chippy Tea On The Way Home. Blasphemies like sweet potato fries and items derived from fancy cheeses are appearing, along with catering-sized vats of something called “non-brewed condiment” that claims to be vinegar.
This will not do.
Continuity Chippy Tea militants have vowed to put an end to these deviations from the One True Path, the lie of Hipster Chippy Tea, which must be destroyed along with their penny farthing delivery bikes.
Chippy Tea is part of national identity in a globalised marketplace. It defines us (largely as fat bastards), it is who we are.
For if we reach an age - even in a post nuclear wasteland, or crawling through the ashes of an extinction level giant asteroid collision - where we cannot pile into Greasy Joes and order “cod and chips twice, fish cake and chips, pie and chips, and a pickled egg” on a Friday night, then we as a people are lost.