Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Mixed bags

There are times when things go well and everything snaps properly into place, and there are other times when you just have to make the best of whatever life is throwing at you.  Last week's trip to England was a mixed bag.

It started well enough with a birthday party for good friends; a fun evening, and an opportunity to catch up with other friends we'd not seen for ages.  To make better value of the journey over, and since we had birthdays around the same time, we extended the stay to include the rest of the week in Weymouth.  We rented a holiday cottage, a great little place to stay "Little Gem" .   It's right near some pretty municipal gardens at Sandsfoot Castle, ten paces from the coastal path, and 5 minutes by car from the town centre.  Great so far.

Monday I got flu.  At least, a high fever, sore eyes, aching joints, slow and wheezy breathing, you know the kind of thing.  Given that it was over inside a week it probably wasn't flu, but then it wasn't a cold either.  And after the mildest of Winters, the week we chose to stay coincided with the year's cold snap.   With heavy snow and biting winds, it was a "natural disaster" just over the channel in Normandy;  in Weymouth it was just cold and windy, with a flurry of snow.  So on my birthday, I was dosed up with paracetamol and wrapped in hat, scarf and layers of clothing, and we fought our way into the teeth of a force 7 to see the sea at the end of Weymouth pier.

As the weather softened and my state improved towards the end of the week, we visited local gardens (slowly), we watched the showers through tea-room windows, and photographed the budding Magnolias.

I've had a fascination for steam trains ever since I was a kid, when my grandmother lived a few minutes from Swaythling railway station.   I could climb over a gate into the allotments, then over the fence on the other side, and hide in the long grass by the tracks as the monsters thundered past.   Or, I could go to the station and dare myself to stand on the footbridge, right where the train funnel passed underneath, covering me in steam and smuts.   The steam railway at Corfe Castle and Swanage was therefore a must, and I was alert enough to enjoy it by the Saturday.

My general impression that the food in England is better than that in France was reinforced by this visit; the Indian, Chinese, Seafood were all excellent, although generally more expensive than you would expect in France.  And a pie-and-pint restaurant was a welcome discovery.


Tim Trent said...

I suspect "English Food" had its reputation blemished by the rationing of the second world war. The French also cooked badly. A cauliflower recipe in France was so that it had to be boiled for an hour and tested to see if it was soft. Odd, then, that calling someone a little cauliflower is a term of endearment!

Even taking English staples, 'meat and two veg' can be done well or badly using the same ingredients and a different cook. English pies are first class, though I prefer flaky pastry to short crust. A good stew depends on the quantity and flavour of the onions and the knowledge that the meat must be cooked for long enough, slowly enough.

In short there is nothing wrong with English food. There is something wrong with some cooks of all culinary traditions, but I have not yet found a culinary tradition I dislike, with the exception of the very high class Japanese "Deep fried snot" style dishes which are... best enjoyed by someone else!

The English have always absorbed the food of the old Empire, but we tailor them to our palate. A chinese meal in England is not the same as one in the Netherlands, though sharing the same menu name and description.

I think there is nothing to beat a great English Cook. Equally there is nothing to beat a great cook of any nation.

Glad you got to the end of Weymouth pier. I almost bought a boat in Weymouth a couple of years ago. I think she is still on the market. They raised the price past the point of greed. I bought mine in Banff instead.

Helen devries said...

I'm glad you recovered in time to enjoy the steam railway...I love them too and have similar memories of creeping close to a line to watch the locomotives pass.

When I was last over I was in England, France and Spain - and the best meal was in (rural) Spain. I'd go back just for the food.
But having been in France it was a relief to eat out in England...better cooking and better value for money.
I like the idea of a pie and pint...though I doubt that mother would have appreciated it.

James Higham said...

Mixed bag indeed. Food? Well we can debate about that.

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