Jane Flett

They rush into the chippie in the woozy rum hours after 3am, the hours of Formica and kebabs. They gather armfuls of greaseproof paper, pungent and vinegary, with small, scrabbled hands. Wee anteater hipsters, foraging.

They resemble bug-eyed thyroid kids, expressions as huge as fists. Undoubtedly, their nails are dirty and feet unclean. They reek of pollen, the wallowing cherry blossoms of Hillhead Park and the West End.

No one asks their names, and no one gives them bother. Folk know better. That’s the way it is with the Chipshop Darlings.

Once, the kid on dish duty tried to break their fragile poise. He gathered his suds and gestured to one of the girls, with a guttural voice and all-right-darlin’ air. She gaped at him, eyes widening, tears large and hot like infected wounds.

The papers rustled.

Converse scudded across the lino, doors slammed.

The shop fell silent and strangled as a dial tone, and stayed that way for a week. There were recriminations, wallops from the manager.

No one bothered them again.

They work at the Idea Grove. It’s fallen into disrepair these days, but the Chipshop Darlings still nurse the dying plants, try to tend them back to health.

That’s why they need the paper. Nothing nurtures the fragile roots of idea cuttings like the warm vinegar teats of fish&chip paper. It’s best harvested at those small hours too, while it’s still warm with drunken rambling and the thrill-gasp evening adventure smell of still-before-bedtime. That’s what works best for the ideas, keeps them cosy and fresh through all kinds of weather. Keeps them alive.

No one else much bothers with the Groves these days. They’ve got synthetics, acrylic ideas that rinse at 60 degrees, alloy ideas that withstand road tests at up to 120mph.

In Switzerland, they’re testing a new metaphysic crafted from atomised nylon that holds firm against ninety-seven degrees of scepticism. They built a long tunnel, and fired Eleatic electrons at it, almost at the speed of light. The idea held up well.

They don’t need the Groves.

No one needs the Groves.

Apart from the Chipshop Darlings.

The Groves are pretty old, and this is one reason to have faith in them. Although the ideas there have grown gnarly and wizened with disrepair, they’re not dead yet. This may be because they are quiet ideas too; the synthetic manufacturers don’t feel they need to bother with sabotage.

But the grove ideas are there, worming their way into the earth. Persisting.

Sometimes the kids take dares at the Groves. Sometimes the drunks in the district wander home via them and piss through the hedgerows. Young, blossoming inspirations buckle under a streak of urine.

The Chipshop Darlings don’t have time to stand guard all the time, though they always worry about the ideas, camp out in the fertile months.

But it’s terrible.

The kids yank handfuls of ideas out of the earth for an afternoon dare, run them to the schoolyard and present them for inspection. No one ever thinks much of these ideas. They’re picked too soon; they wilt like dandelions in a glass tumbler. None of them makes the afternoon; they’re flung to the fields with derision, and the entertainment turns to thumb wars and peanuts.

The kids still bother, because they once caught a beauty. Billy Slater did. He ran fearless as a gunner right to the centre of the Groves. Of course, that was where the witch lived, the bug-eyed witch who would peel off your skin if you ever came near, wrap it round her roots, and cackle. Oh, she was evil. She reeked of pickled eggs and vinegar, hair as black as rotten teeth. No one went to the centre of the Groves. Except for wee Billy Slater.

He ran in, grabbed a good-un, and pelted for the yard. He heard the yells of the Chipshop Darlings and bombed it right out of there, didn’t stop until he was right inside the gates, heaving and panting like an only-just-victorious gazelle.

It was a beauty. The Chipshop Darlings had been nursing this one, tending it with all the vinegar papers they could find. It reeked of promise, a real diamond, right up there with Socrates ilk. Right up with the Swiss.

In the middle of their circle, it glowed. Everyone felt wiser just looking at it, felt good, all understanding and nods. There was sense. The girls grinned, bit lips, embarrassed by a sudden knowing. The boys jostled, abashed but happy with that hot rush of superiority.

Of course, they all wanted it. The older boys demanded it should be theirs, Billy contested – all hands flung in and pulled pieces to their chests. That sublime idea ended up in pieces. Everyone clutched the empty words they had won but, of course, the pieces were nothing. They tried to tape them back together, PrittStick, stitching, Uhu, putty, nails, hammers. Later, they tried water and earth, planting the broken roots in a window box outside the maths class where they could watch it with impunity, notice if it flourished. Of course, it died.

The Chipshop Darlings were sad about that one, but they carried on, delicate fingered and ever-eager. They spent hours in city bookshops, rushed back resplendent with copies of Kant and Schopenhauer from the wee corner shops on Otago Lane. These were tucked deep in the earth and vinegar-nourished. They waited, watched and spoke of propositions. Something was bound to happen soon.

As ever, something did.

The Groves did not belong to the Chipshop Darlings. If anyone’s, they were the Council’s. The Council did not believe in the Idea Groves. The Council believed in flats and supermarkets and parking meters. The Council sold the Groves to Sainsbury’s, who do three-for-two on sausages and 12-pack beers during major sports events.

I guess that’s an idea too.

Sometime I still see the Chipshop Darlings, silent and wide-eyed in the West-End cafes. They keep window boxes now, and keep quiet.

The Swiss have moved on too.

These days, they’re making guns.


Jane Flett lives in Edinburgh, where she writes poems and stories that she occasionally reads aloud to people. She is also a philosopher, gin drinker and cellist.

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