Picture of a Fish and Chip Shop


I’ve been tinkering with my f-stop over the past couple of weeks. And I’ve also been playing with my new camera. Well, I say new. I had an idea that involved taking a picture. I asked my wife if she had a camera I could borrow and she presented me with one of the gadgets she wasn’t using. The kindness of the gesture was tempered by the words, “You can have this one. It’s shit.”

Naturally she modified that and tried to raise my spirits. “It’s not really shit,” she explained. “What I mean is it’s simple enough for someone like you to operate.” You can always rely on your life-partner to help keep your feet firmly on the ground.

But I appreciated the gesture and she was right about the camera’s simplicity. It has a special feature to correct against camera shake. As I drink an average of twenty five coffees a day (one for each hour I’m awake) my hands do tend to shake a little. Being totally honest, even while in repose, I look like a restless break-dancer with Parkinson’s disease. People say it’s disconcerting being near me because I look like I’m sitting in an earthquake zone. This is why I use a Zippo lighter for the cigarettes. When I was using matches I’d usually shaken the damned thing out before I could get the flame to my cigarette.

So I’ve been playing with the camera for the last few weeks and getting some very interesting shots. Partly this has been done as an exercise to help with the writing. I’m currently working on a series of poems and I wanted a collection of concrete images in front of me to help stimulate my imagination.

It’s not hard to acquire erotic images in my home town. I live in the seaside resort of Blackpool and the tourists are reluctant to wear clothes regardless of the weather or their bodies. Yesterday, during a torrential thunderstorm, I got pictures of tourists wearing bikinis and raincoats. The women were no better dressed either.

But I am constantly searching for new images that will stimulate my muse. I’m looking for character and irony that make me think. Big boobs are also appealing. However, when I saw the drunken tramp yesterday, I immediately reached to remove my lens cap.

“What the hell are you doing?” asked my son.

“I want a picture,” I hissed. I don’t know why I was keeping my voice so low. The tramp was far enough away from us to be out of earshot. And he had that deranged look in his eyes that suggested he wouldn’t be able to hear us above the voices inside his head. “I want a picture of that tramp.”

“He’s drunk and he looks dangerous,” my son observed.

“That’s why I want the picture,” I told him. “Doesn’t his face have character?”

“It looks more like his face has syphilis to me,” my son said critically.

Swigging his bottle of cider, and shouting a cheery, “Fuck off, yah cocksuckers,” at a passing couple, the tramp continued to saunter/stagger in our direction.

I ripped the lens cap off.

My son put a steadying hand on my arm. “He looks like he’s dangerous and he smells like he’s soiled himself,” he said firmly. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“I’ve seen you date worse,” I replied cheerfully.

I was wondering if I could offer money to the tramp in exchange for the picture, and then decided against this idea. Not only did I think the prospect of money would spoil the natural misanthropy in the tramp’s face—I also didn’t think I could afford his rates.

And that’s another issue: if you’re saying to a tramp, “Can you break a twenty?” it doesn’t look like you’re a really caring member of society. And I was also worried, if he could break a twenty, the chances were that he might have used the notes he gave back for wiping.

I raised the camera to my eye and prepared to take my shot.

“This is the dumbest idea you’ve ever had,” my son complained.

I told him it almost certainly wasn’t the dumbest idea, and then mumbled something about planned parentage. I’m not sure he was fully listening. Not that I cared by that point. The tramp was close enough so I could see every grain of character in his weather-worn features. His hair was awry; his cheeks were ruddy and beard-scrubbed; his red-rimmed eyes rattled manically in their sockets. He clutched his bottle of cider with defensive ferocity.

And I wondered, would it be appropriate to shout, “Smile and say ‘Cheese!'”

The tramp turned away before I could take the picture. Admittedly, I could have taken the shot of the back of his head but—compositionally—that wouldn’t have looked very interesting. He then went on to piss against the side of a nearby litterbin.

I raised the camera again but my son was more insistent this time.

“Come on,” he demanded. “Let’s go and take pictures of skateboarders falling over. That always makes you smile.”

Which was true.

And, on the way to the skateboarding park, I got a neat photograph of a poster for a lapdancing bar situated above a fish and chip shop. I thought the juxtaposition within the image suggested irony in the clash of contemporary and traditional cultures. And it had a woman’s naked ass in the shot, so that was good too.

All of which led to the composition of the following poem:

Ode to a Fish & Chip Shop

I’d like to eat your haddock, please
May I then see your menu’s best bits
And, once I’ve finally sated my appetite
I’ll go downstairs for some fish and some chips.

Ashley Lister
July 2008

“Ashley Lister Submits” © 2008 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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