Keele Icons – the Chip Van
Satisfying your hunger on campus was pretty easy in the seventies. Most of us lived in halls and along with that came a refectory. On arrival you were issued with a little blue (?) card for the term which entitled you to breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every time you ate at the refec the cashier would carefully tick the relevant box so you couldn’t get a second meal. I don’t remember ever having breakfast, like, I suspect, most students but lunch and dinner were eagerly awaited, not so much (or at all) for the quality of the food, but for meeting up with your mates after a long morning or afternoon sweating over textbooks (who are you trying to kid – ed?)
Weekends were different. You had to fend for yourself, either by cooking in the hall kitchen, by eating in the Union cafe (nothing fancy – sausage, egg, chips and tons of baked beans), or by going further afield to the Sneyd or down to Newcastle
The one gaping hole in these arrangements was that everything shut at around 6. There was no food served at the Union bar after that, so if you wanted a late night (i.e. after the bar shut at 11) snack, pretty much your only option was the trek down to Keele Services. This in itself was great fun on special occasions such as after Lindsey Disco or a Ball, but too much of a fag on a daily basis. It also lost a lot of its shine when Dave Nayar, a lovely and popular lad in my year, was killed late in the year when hit by a car as he made the journey
So it was either packets of crisps or cooking something back at the block, neither of which was particularly appetising after a few pints
All that changed in, I think 1974 (I hope someone can remember more accurately!) Whether by prior arrangement with the University, or through some acute senses of entrepreneurial spirit, or both, one night a mobile chip van arrived in the Students’ Union car park. A mobile chip van! I’d never seen nor heard of such a thing before. A food truck long before food trucks became fashionable!
Within days, or so it seemed it became a popular and enduring fixture. It was run by a husband a wife team (I assume, we never enquired), he being the ‘chef’ and his, seemingly perpetually pregnant, and therefore always harassed, wife being ‘front of house’
The signature dish, as far as I was concerned, was steak and kidney pudding (always pudding, never pie), chips, mushy peas (oh, those mushy peas!) and gravy. I have never since tasted pudding chips and peas as delicious as from that chip van
The van was still there when I left in 1979, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s no sign of it now. I would love to hear from anyone about when it stopped and, especially, any good stories about it. Funnily enough I think there’s a huge opportunity as there is still the need (everything shuts at 5!) and a much bigger market. Any offers?