Euan McColm: Unpicking the chip shop condiment row

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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THERE’S a special joy in the ­photographs that accompany newspaper stories concerning complaints by wronged ­members of the public.

If the source of the problem is apparent – graffiti, say, or a damp patch in a granny flat – the aggrieved party will crouch and point to it, while scowling. If the vexing issue was born of bureaucratic incompetence or corporate insensitivity, the subject will be required to hold a fan of paperwork, while scowling.

Sometimes, a complainant will stand, arms folded, outside a business or a ­government office, while scowling. The arms, defensive yet defiant, tell us this is someone who’s not going to take it any longer: they’re going to get that council tax cash back or make Hair by Valerie pay for this unsightly lopsided fringe. Would you look at the bloody state of it?

This week Tony Winters stood, arms folded, outside the Gold Sea chip shop in Leith. He scowled. Glaswegian Tony had ordered a fish supper from the Gold Sea and refused the traditional East coast dressing of salt and sauce. Instead, this West coaster – who has lived in Edinburgh for 18 years – requested tomato ketchup. This was offered, by chippy owner Paul Crolla, in a sachet costing 25p.

On this was not, and so Tony stormed out before complaining to trading standards officers that he had been a victim of racism. If salt and sauce, favoured by the natives of Edinburgh, was to be provided free, then it was discriminatory to charge for ketchup which, according to Tony, is the popular choice of Glaswegians.

It was a fun story (oh, don’t be po-faced, there was plenty of serious stuff in the newspapers, too, you know) and it drew statements from both deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who favours salt and vinegar on her fish supper, and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson who prefers salt and sauce.

Tony’s complaint of racism got nowhere because it was idiotic and there was no racism. (Not only was there no ­racism, but his case was fatally flawed in another significant way. I lived in Glasgow – bar a two-year mishap in an attic flat in Darlington – for all of my life, until five months ago, and we don’t generally have ketchup on our fish suppers. I’ve been in a lot of chippies.)

What the residents of Glasgow and Edinburgh put on their fish suppers of course is not all that divides our two largest cities. The caricature is long ­established: where Glasgow is welcoming and relaxed and all “come away in”, ­Edinburgh’s a bit put out by your presence. It’s been clanging pots in the kitchen for 15 minutes, now, and perhaps you’d better leave.

This analysis was developed in the West, of course, where resentment over the considerably smaller Edinburgh’s capital city status cannot be overestimated. Glasgow has a colossal chip on its shoulder about Edinburgh, and Edinburgh – the passive aggressive swine that it is – both knows this and pointedly ignores it.

But, for the first time in my life, I’m in a position to reflect on whether these great cities – and the people who live in them – really are so different. As spring took the chill out of Glasgow, I moved to the capital.

When I told friends in the West my plan, they were – by and large – baffled. Why on earth would you do that? There’s nothing there. The people are awful. People in Glasgow regard with great suspicion people in Edinburgh. Imagine, then, how they feel about those among their own kind who might choose to emigrate along the M8. It borders on treachery.

Friends in Edinburgh were no more enthusiastic about my prospects of becoming a capital citizen. On the day I picked up the keys to my flat, I met a couple of pals for a drink. They welcomed me to their city and promptly told me I’d hate it. I was Glasgow through and through. I’d never feel at home in the East, they said. I’d find Edinburgh too genteel (although it seems to me to be as full of duckers, divers and dodgy blokes with rolled-up fivers as Glasgow ever was). Also, they explained, like all Glaswegians, I was a poseur.

I’ve neither the energy nor the confidence to argue against that final charge. And for a while, I wondered if they were right about that other stuff, too. Had I made a terrible error of judgment? Would I be able to find a decent coffee shop? A decent curry?

The answers are yes and yes. Edinburgh can do coffee and it can do curry. And a lot more besides. I’ve seen quite a bit of the place, now, and I’ve developed a crush. It’s not that I don’t love you, Glasgow, it’s just that I think I should see other places.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been living in the centre of one of the most exciting and diverse arts festivals in the world. Edinburgh has swarmed with tourists who’ve seen it at its very best. What an incredible atmosphere there’s been in the city centre. I’m sorry, Glasgow, truly I am, but you don’t yet have anything to compare (though next summer’s Commonwealth Games should send a crackle through the city if you do things right).

How lucky we are to have, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, two such remarkable – and complementary – cities so very close together. I am sorry I ever doubted the capital.

Of course, my loyalty will always be to Glasgow, but I dream of the day my home town rejects its jealous dismissal of Edinburgh. In my lifetime, I hope to see petty arguments about what we put on our chips set aside. It’s my sincere wish that the children of Edinburgh and the children of Glasgow grow up respecting rather than suspecting each other.

To my fellow Glaswegians I say we have nothing to fear from salt and sauce, and we have nothing to fear from the people of Edinburgh.

Let us unite against our real common enemies: pickled eggs and Falkirk. «

Twitter: @euanmccolm