You’ll have noticed, perhaps, the lack of monkeys round here lately. Mostly, that’s down to moving house and getting out of my routine, but I’m planning to get back on track now. Starting with fish fingers.
I came home for lunch the other day to a smell of comfort and familiarity that I couldn’t put my finger on. Warm and mouth-watering, it was the kind of smell that made me want to take my shoes off and not leave the house for the rest of the day. I went through all the things that Dave normally eats, but nothing seemed to tick the right box. It took looking under the grill to figure out that he was cooking fish fingers.
I quite like them now, but as a child, I wasn’t a huge fan. Yet those feelings of comfort I got from opening the door to the smell of them stem from childhood. The warming smell of fish and breadcrumbs takes me back to going round for tea at someone else’s house, when crispy things served with baked beans were a child’s idea of heaven. I wasn’t that child actually; I much preferred a good lasagne or a home-cooked roast dinner, but I aspired to be like other children, and I could get into chicken nuggets and fish fingers when it was required. The smell of bread crumbs and spaghetti hoops was synonymous with playing with other people’s toys and exploring unfamiliar homes. It signified a treat. And that’s where I go now in my head when I smell fish fingers cooking: back to early winter’s evenings, lights on and curtains drawn, the smell of someone else’s parents preparing dinner while I played with toys I wished I had and friends I was pleased liked me.
I wonder if that’s why I warmed to fish fingers as an adult, or if it was a genuine shift in taste. Taste is never straightforward: it is bound up, always, with smell, memory, and association. And that’s why fish fingers are a monkey.
Monkey by Kieran Hazell (www.ownbeat.co.uk)