A Fish Supper and a Chippy Smile
In 1950s and 60s Bermondsey, the fish-and-chip shop was at the centre of the community. And at the heart of the chippy itself was ‘Hooray’ Hilda Kemp, a spirited matriarch who dispensed fish suppers and an abundance of sympathy to a now-vanished world of East Enders.
For ‘Hooray’ Hilda knew all too well what it was like to feel real, aching hunger. Growing up in the slums of 1920s south-east London, the daughter of a violent alcoholic who drank away his wages rather than put food on the table, she could spot when a customer was in need and would sneak them an extra big portion of chips, on the house.
As Hilda works in the chippy six days a week – cutting the potatoes and frying the fish, yesterday’s rag becoming today’s dinner plate – she hears all the gossip from the close-knit community. There are rumours that the gang wars are hotting up: the Richardsons and the Krays are playing out their fights across south-east London. And the industrial strike is carrying on for a painfully long time for the mothers with many mouths to feed.
At home, Hilda’s children are latchkey kids, letting themselves in from school and helping themselves to whatever is in the larder until she gets in from her long, hard day at work. Despite tragedy striking her family, Hilda never complained of the loss of her daughter at a tragically young age, nor the tough upbringing she narrowly escaped.
With a cast of colourful characters – dirty ragamuffins, struggling housewives, rough-diamond gang members – ‘Hooray’ Hilda’s story is one of grit, romance, nostalgia and British endurance. Told to her granddaughter Cathryn, this memoir is the uplifting sequel to ‘WE AIN’T GOT NO DRINK, PA’ and is a testament to a woman who lived life to the full, who enjoyed laughter and loved fiercely – even though her heart was broken many times over.