Winkles, Dixon of Dock Green and Charlton Athletic FC

winklesJulia, who lives near the seaside in Brighton, has sent us a story about something she used to have for tea on Saturdays when she was a child, something that people just don’t eat anymore – winkles.

During the summer, I went to the seaside on the Suffolk coast one Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t a particularly sunny day but the weather was perfect for a stroll along the beach, and maybe a promenade along the pier with a nice cup of tea at the end of it. The end of my promenade that is, not the pier. As well as a good few lungfuls of bracing sea air I was looking forward a bit of fresh seafood, maybe some cockles, brown shrimps, a few winkles or maybe a whelk or two. I hadn’t had any for years.

When I was a kid we sometimes had them on visits to the seaside. I remember my Grandma taking my brother and I to Brighton for the day. Our treat was a wind-swept ride along the seafront on the open-top bus and a couple of pennies to play the slot machines on the pier. Grandma’s treat was a plate of cockles and whelks sprinkled with sharp malt vinegar, with a slice of brown bread and butter on the side. Cockles, whelks and winkles used to be standard seafront promenade fare. On my recent seaside trip I could have had burgers and hot dogs, ice creams and over-priced confectionery, but a half pint of winkles?  No such luck.

Julia’s lovely little story is about her childhood mollusc memories. We liked it because it involves football.

Charlton Athletic ca 1960

Charlton Athletic at The Valley - mid 1960s

As a girl her Saturday afternoons were often spent at The Valley in south east London, home to Charlton Athletic FC. In those days men went to football proudly sporting a rosette in their team’s colours, while small boys would urge their team on by making a heck of a racket with wooden football rattles.  In the 1950s Charlton were a big club in the top division, attracting crowds in excess of forty thousand. They reached Cup finals at Wembley in two consecutive years and won the FA Cup the second time, beating Burnley 1-0. By the time Julia was being taken along to watch them they had slipped to the second division. But we don’t think Charlton’s slide from glory was Julia’s fault.

So whilst her father and brother watched the match from the terraces, Julia and her sister would, after a few somersaults, spend long periods of the game hanging upside-down from the barriers wondering why everybody got so worked up about football. When half-time came around they all enjoyed a cup of hot, beefy Bovril. At the end of the match they went home to Greenwich for tea. The fire would be blazing away in the kitchen, there would be a cloth laid on the table. As an aside, Julia points out that as the kitchen was the warmest room in the house, it was where they had their baths, in front of the fire, with their pyjamas warming on the clothes horse until they were practically singed.

But back to Saturday evening tea at Julia’s, a couple of pints of winkles bought from the winkle man, who sold them from his bicycle. And blow me, here’s Rolf Harris with a song about winkles.

The cooked winkles would be prised from their shells with a pin, and eaten with slices of bread and butter along with sticks of crunchy celery.  The celery stood in a large glass of water, and wasn’t popped into the mouth until its end had been vigorously dabbed in loads of salt. On special occasions, for example when Charlton won, there would be Arctic Roll for afters. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Arctic Roll, it’s a sponge roll, rather like Swiss roll, filled with vanilla ice cream. Nigel Slater has described it, rather unfairly we think, as like eating ‘frozen carpet’. But in those days it was the dog’s wotsits. (Ho ho – Spellcheck wanted to correct that to ‘dogs’ wetsuits’) Oh happy days.

And to round things off nicely round at Julia’s house, mum did the washing up and then the whole family gathered round the telly in time to watch everyone’s favourite bobby on the beat at the time, Dixon of Dock Green. Evenin’ all.

Here are a couple of recipe ideas

Hot winkles for Saturday suppershere’s how

Another Saturday evening favouritehomemade fishcakes

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