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Something fishy

The Guardian newspaper, aka The Manchester Guardian to old farts, is a great British institution. Unfortunately, like so many great institutions, it has turned into a flaming pile of shit in recent years, with its PC nonsense, crap editorials, and an inability to report on the world as it is, rather than how it "should" be (not to mention STILL not spelling words correctly, even though we live in an age of word processors and spellcheckers). Fortunately, it still stands head and shoulders above its competitors in some areas, in particular, its food reviews sections (which it shares with its Sunday sister, The Observer). While Jay Rayner is a master wordsmith, an exciting new addition this year has been to sign up Grace Dent, who has brought a whiff of fresh air to the reviews section, going where no man has gone before. It is because of her article on Friday that I've been minded to pen this post - click here for the link:


In her review, she ventured over to a venue in a posh part of London, where you'll invariably pay way over the odds for anything you want. As anyone familiar with the escort world knows, London is hellishly expensive, with the booking fee for your average London escort tending to be in the region of £150 to £200 for the hour, although some of the more "upmarket" London independent escorts and escort agencies naturally charge way more moolah for a meeting, in some cases, over £500 for the hour. Now, to your average Russian oligarch, Dubai sheikh or City banker, these prices may be chump change, but to most normal people, that is a fair whack of cash, although it is a case of knowingly going in and accepting it. What surprised me though from the food review was that this overcharging applies to food too, as she ended up buying a meal of fish and chips for the princely sum of £32.50! What made it worse was that that not only was the fish small in size and weight, but she only ended up getting about a dozen chips to go with her meal (albeit they were triple cooked and accompanied by little dips). It got me wondering: are we lucky in Manchester lucky with our prices for fish suppers (never mind the prices of Manchester escorts)?


Thinking back on past meals, I would say that we are absolutely blessed, and don't realise just how lucky we are, especially since Manchester is a city that isn't near to the seaside. I have fairly simple tastes, so most of the time, I just go for the standard serving of cod /haddock and chips, yet despite this, I've hardly ever paid more than £5-6, with most meals over the past few decades having been quality chow representing outstanding value for money. Of course, there have been some duds, such as Harry Ramsdens near Old Trafford football stadium (overpriced and full of coffin dodgers and tourists), most Cantonese takeaway joints, and the Metro Bar in Bury (quality that goes up and down like a tart's knickers, although this may be down to the constant change in management too). However, this has been largely offset by the really good places, with notable examples being Fosters in Didsbury (you get a slice of lemon here, and while their "credit crunch lunch" is no longer the bargain it was ages ago, it is still decent fare); Thompsons of Blackeley (well done, although ridiculous enough to charge for even a fork), and, most notably, Armstrongs of Prestwich, the veritable codfather of the fish world.


Now, it must be said that I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Armstrongs, even though a visit here is bound to end up in heartburn by late evening, as they soak everything in way too much cooking oil to ever be healthy. The reason isn't for the quality of the food (which is just OK), or for the portion sizes (hello Jumbo Cod!), but rather for the memories it brings back. In particular, the memories of popping in to the Prestwich branch of Sandys Superstars just down the road, having a quick "meet-and-greet", and then trundling up the block for some post-punt refreshments. It was probably a right of passage for every punter over the last decade to do the same, secure in the knowledge that the counter staff dishing your food, nevermind the kids at the bus stop outside the red door and the folk popping into Tesco all knew what you had been up to, given that you'd invariably be leaving with a smirk on your face. However, I am now left wondering about one thing ... given the problems which Armstrongs had with a particular government financial agency about 3 years ago, did this eventually have an impact on Sandys? Bearing in mind that Armstrongs would have been under the beady eyes of some very smart investigators for a fair bit of time before they acted, would it be fair to wonder if their curiosity was aroused by the near constant procession of men coming and going out of a particular door, and thereby decided to cast their net a bit further and find out what was going on.


Sound fishy? Who knows! We'll have to wait for the court trial next year to see what led to what, but it would be sad in a way if, indirectly, the search for a cheapish snack of fish and chips eventually resulted in the closure of what was a Manchester institution.




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