Fish Week

No one was more surprised than my Mum when the Co-op said they were having a Fish Week. They didn’t have a cold counter. That’s why it was a tinned fish week and not a fresh fish week. Which was just as well because we didn’t own a fridge.

We didn’t have money for anything fancy like salmon or mackerel. So Mum bought a jar of pickled whelks and something the Co-op manager said was a “mystery fish.” It was in a giant tin, half the size of a beer barrel. And the tin had no label on it. It all added to the mystery but the manager seemed far too pleased that Mum was taking it home with her. I had to help her carry the enormous can so it was lucky we only lived around the corner.

“We will all eat well tonight!” Mum exclaimed, “It’s so huge! Even the cat will have some!”

And she told me to get the large bread mixing bowl down from the cabinet and the tin opener. It took forever for her to open the tin and we gathered around for our surprise dinner. But nothing could have prepared us for the shock. To this day, I don’t know how they got it in the tin. And it had a wild look in its eyes that said, “Who the bloody hell put me in here?”

I think it had been canned in its own slime. Or that might have happened after they closed the lid on the thing. I’m sure it must have been alive when they put it in there.

It almost filled the mixing bowl when I helped Mum to slither it out. I thought I saw those massive eyeballs swivel around the room, looking at each one of us in turn. And then at the cat.

“Holy Mother of Christ, would you look at that!” Mum shouted.

It was dead, of course. I mean, a giant grey octopus with suckers all over its tentacles could not survive in that tin, even in its own slime. My two sisters screamed, the way girls do, and ran out of the kitchen. Mum said beggars can’t be choosers and turned to me.

“Well, your sisters are obviously not starving, eh? Fetch the bread knife, Johnny!”

I refused to eat any of the sliced tentacle unless Mum ate some first. So she sat the whole creature in the cat’s bowl and it stared across the kitchen with glassy eyes while its huge tentacles hung over the side and onto the kitchen floor, like it was taking a rest before eating the cat.

“Well, at least the cat will have a feast tonight!” Mum announced.

We ate dry bread and a cup of beef stock for dinner that night. I’m sure the Co-op manager deliberately took the label off that tin.

And we didn’t see the cat for two days.


  1. OMG John, this reminds me of the commodity foods we used to get. The government gave out this food every so often and most of it was really good. I don’t know where the stuff came from or if it was produced and packaged just for this purpose or not, never figured that out. I only know we looked forward to it because of the cheese and peanut butter. But we would also get canned chicken, pork,beef and fish.. The chicken was fine in a casserole, The pork was good simmered in BBQ sauce. The beef and the fish tho, I was never brave or hungry enough to eat.
    One thing is for sure, anyone who ever got those commodity goods will tell you that is the best cheese ever! Sure wish we could get that again.

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