A Life Less Scary
"The interesting and varied life of Scary Duck, Genius, French Cabaret Chantoose and small bets placed."
"There's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's a Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary"
"So that's cod and chips twice and a pickled egg"
“A revolution is not a dinner party.” - Mao Tse-Tung, 1927
“Big bag of chips, please.” - Scaryduck, 1982
Your conventional view of history says Chairman Mao died in 1976 after a long, distinguished life at the forefront of the Chinese Communist Revolution. That is, as we all know, a load of old cobblers. In reality, Mao Tse-Tung tired of running a country of one billion citizens and all their petty, personal problems, faked his death and ran off to run a fish and chip shop in the South of England.
Now don’t get me wrong. He was a lovely bloke. You’d find it vey hard to believe that this was the man who had led his people on the Glorious Long March, had overthrown the corrupt government of Chiang Kai-Shek and saw his country re-born in the red-hot crucible of the Cultural Revolution. No wonder he wanted the quiet life. He cooked the best chips in Henley, too, as the long queues out of the shop door would testify.
With decades of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leadership under his belt, it wasn’t long before the other chip shops in the area withered under Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Only the capitalist running dogs of The Brown Trout (surely the worst name for a restaurant ever) survived, the long queues out of the door of this chip shop testament only to the fact that he cooked every single portion to order. One at a time.
We all loved Chariman Mao, and if he gave his Little Red Book of Fish Recipes away with every packet of chips, the entire population of Henley would have been card carrying reds by now, and not under the jack-booted powers of capitalist oppression that is Michael Heseltine and...err... Boris Johnson.
I actually went to college with Mao’s son Andy, a youth who worshipped the music of Phil Collins rather too much to be completely healthy. He once filled an entire C-90 cassette with "Easy Lover", back to back, over and over to listen to in his car. This was shortly before I bludgeoned him to death with a frozen haddock. When pushed on the matter and threatened with the withdrawl of our trade for the pedestrian delights of the Brown Trout, he finally revealed the one great secret of the Chinese Takeaway.
“Andy,” we asked, “When someone comes in and orders just chips, do you all come out of the kitchen holding meat cleavers and stare at them?”
“Yup. It’s part of the job description.”
“What do you say?”
“I go for the lyrics to ‘In the Air Tonight’. My mum and dad run through the shopping list.”
But it was dealing with Mao himself that caused the greatest problem. Great leader that we was, English was hardly his first language. He learned enough to serve the punters, and then stopped, causing no end of problems if you wanted anything more complicated than a pickled egg. Backed into a corner, he’d come out fighting with the only English phrase that came to mind.
It became his catchphrase.
“Excuse me mate, can you change a tenner?”
“Oi! The fruit machine ain’t paying out!”
“Do you do saveloys?”
To the uninitiated, this could be confusing to say the least, and would sometimes lead to the poor customer fleeing the shop in terror at the barrage of requests for Sal’Vinegar. And being teenagers with a cruel sense of humour, we laid a trap.
Shed was new to the area. Shed desperately wanted to be our friend. We let Shed hang around with us on the proviso that he bought us all chips.
“Now, Shed”, we warned him sternly, “this guy doesn’t like having people take the piss out of him.”
“So, whatever you do, don’t laugh.”
“Right. No laughing.”
Andy laid it on as thickly as he could: “Dad’s very touchy about it. Don’t laugh. He’ll kill you.”
“I get the message.”
“Keep it zipped. Schtum. Especially when he asks you if you want salt and vinegar.”
The trap was set. All we had to do was stand in the doorway. And wait.
“Five portions of chips, please.”
You’ve got to hand it to Mao. He gave it his all.
Poor old Shed. He tried. God, how he tried. He bit his cheeks, tears streamed from his eyes, and his chest convulsed. But, sooner or later, he had to open his mouth to reply.
He managed to squeak a meek “No thanks”, before doubling up, the laughter roaring out like water from a drain.
Mao, bless him, had seen it all before and knew the rules of the game. He went for the meat cleaver and started shouting out his shopping list in Chinese.
“Three pints of milk!” he screamed, brandishing his weapon.
That certainly shut up Shed’s laughing, as a look of fear invaded his face.
“Two loaves of bread and a packet of rice!”
Shed turned on his heels and scarpered from the shop, never to return.
“AND DON’T FORGET THE MARGARINE!” bellowed Mao after him, waving the meat cleaver around his head like a man possessed.
From respected world statesman who once told Richard Nixon to mind his step getting off that plane, to knife wielding fish and chips magnate who could do a very passable impression of Cato from the Pink Panther movies in one easy lesson, Mao Tse-Tung was our hero of the deep-fat fryer. I believe he is still there, serving heart-attack inducing meals to the populations of South Oxfordshire and Berkshire, going strong at the age of one hundred and nine.
And like the total hero that he was, Mao let us have our chips for nothing, and with as much sal’vinegar as we wanted. After all, as every good Marxist revolutionary will tell you: All property is theft.
During my researches for this piece, I have been told that Mao Tse-Tung had a penchant for de-flowering virgins, the dirty old sod. I bet they got free chips after. And a saveloy.
While this story is based on actual events in the life of Scaryduck, certain identities and venues may have been changed to protect the innocent.