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Fear and fried chicken

Chicken was something I only ever saw whole. My mother didn’t buy chicken breasts, thighs or wings. Is it possible they weren’t readily available in the 1960s? After all, chicken was the luxury dish back then, before factory farming had kicked into full gear, and reserved for Sundays. Beef was more likely to be the mid week joint, a topside or silverside slowly roasted and thinly sliced. And takeaway food tended to be restricted to chips, fishcakes and rissoles so my first encounter with Kentucky Fried Chicken should have been more rewarding, for its novelty factor if nothing else.

The first KFC opened in Preston in 1965. I’m unsure of its arrival in Wales; perhaps the bearded face of Colonel Sanders and the distinctive red and white stripes had already made an appearance between Swansea and Cardiff but it was the 1970s, and in England, before I got up-close and personal with one.

It could have been Twickenham. Maybe Wembley. But it was definitely one of those London towns famous for their sporting grounds, except that week the ground had replaced its chants and scarves with prayers and briefcases for an annual assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

There was never any sense of danger at those assemblies despite the huge crowd of strangers milling around the stadium between talks. People were patient, friendly, united by a common purpose. And that sense of openness encouraged the making of new friends.

A young Hank Marvin
Simon reminded me of Hank Marvin, complete with long face and dark-rimmed glasses. He came from Reading, which for a 15 year old girl from South Wales was almost as good as London, and just as sophisticated. He wasn’t like the 16 year old boys I knew from school. He was attentive and confident; perhaps eager to impress me. And I am sure he might have mistaken my gaucheness and lack of confidence for a calculated coolness.

When he and his brother and their friends stopped to buy lunch at KFC in the town I told him I didn’t want anything to eat, that I’d wait outside.
‘But you’ve got to eat,’ he said, a concern that seemed extraordinarily paternal for his age.
‘No thanks, I’m not hungry,’ I repeated, when he kept offering me a piece of knobbly chicken from his box as we all walked back to the stadium, my stomach tight with self-consciousness, confusion and hunger.

What else could she have said, this girl who felt so out of her depth? That she wasn’t sure she had enough money. That she was too frightened to go into the shop and find out the prices, in case that was true. That she wouldn’t have known what to order even if she had gone in. That she didn’t want to eat, didn’t know how to eat, something so unfamiliar in front of strangers. Ah, the emotional scars of adolescence. Who could have known that fried chicken could be so terrifying!

In 2011 we know how terrifying that fried chicken really was: the damage to the Rain Forest, the appalling cruelty behind the factory farming. At the end of his book Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual, Michael Pollan quotes Oscar Wilde in his Rule 64 (Break the Rules once in a while.): All things in moderation. Including moderation. But I might hang onto this one:

Rule 20: It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.
Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about Sunday.
  • Write about feeling safe.
  • Write about someone who oozes sophistication.
  • Write about being confused.
  • Write about being in the company of strangers.

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