Thursday, July 27, 2006

Chips on Yarmouth Market

I like Gt. Yarmouth. Not many people do, but I do. What I particularly find attractive is – even though Yarmouth is quite large – whenever I go to Yarmouth I seem to run into someone I know, even though I have not lived there for 25 years. It's really more like a small village rather than a town.

One of the great traditions of sea-side towns, and Yarmouth is no exception – is buying and eating chips on the market. In Yarmouth, it's almost a religion. Go to Yarmouth. Shop. Get chips from a chip stall on the market. Eat chips. Go home. It's got to be done.

Chip stalls on the market are like little gold mines. There must be more than 10 of them and they all charge exactly the same price for chips. I'm sure real Yarmouthians could tell you which chip stall has their favourite chips and why, but I have always found them to be much of all the same. Same quality. Same taste. Same price.

That's actually quite odd – if you think about it. Wouldn't you think that there would be some competition among the chip stall holders to gain more market share by dropping their price? Not on your nellie – a Yarmouth market chip stall is a license to print money! There is no competition. The price is fixed – maybe not formally – but fixed just as surely as eggs is eggs. Whether they actually have a cartel meeting to fix the price I don't know. What I do know is that it is impossible to open a chip stall on the market to compete with the established traders. The chip stall pitches are passed from generation to generation and are never up for tender. There are no available new licenses for chip stalls.

I first became aware of this anomaly in the 1970's when the potato crop failed. Exactly why it failed escapes me but fail it did. Consequently, potatoes were in short supply. Chips on the market went from about 15p a packet to 40p almost overnight. Not surprisingly, all the chips stalls put up the price at the same time. People grumbled in the queues. But, still they paid.

Of course, it was not Ireland in the 1840's – next year the crop was back to normal. What happened to the chip price? Nothing. It remained the same. I innocently asked if they were going to drop the price now that the potato shortage was over. Not for the first time in my life I was viewed as some kind of dangerous nutter, or, possibly, a native of a small planet in vicinity of Betelgeuse. Just blank stares. I'm sure the stall-holders would have brought back burning at the stake for anyone guilty of this heresy if they could have. These folks would have been great fans of the Inquisition.

I have no idea what price the chips are today. I no longer go to Yarmouth to get my hair cut. But, that's another story.

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