Friday, 15 June 2012

With love from Spain, and a little spit and sawdust

Dear Nigel,

My older daughter wafts in from Spain on a tide of Spanish dialect and memories of her Spanish family and friends made whilst spending a year au pairing near Madrid. She brings with her an unusual present from her Spanish hosts - some kind of purple silicone flying saucer which all modern Spaniards seem to use to flip their tortillas apparently. She purchases a cheap non-stick frying pan (as apparently none of mine are good-enough) and declares that she is going to wow us with her recent culinary prowess and make tortillas for lunch, for us and for all her friends and family as she 'does the rounds' with her frying pan and purple flipper in tow.

My eyes marvel at the sheer quantity of olive oil that the potatoes seem able to soak up when cooked this slowly. I wonder at how her Spanish family managed to remain so slim but am told they all run and cycle everywhere and even the old people all work-out in 'green gyms' in the middle of parks. The resulting tortilla is dome-shaped and slightly wobbly to the touch. Cheap to make - and i guess Hannah's become a bit of an expert on those grounds alone over the past year - and actually very nice to eat with a plate of salad. We feast. It's great to have her back home if only for a few days. Then she's back to another family near Barcelona who speak no English at all. Nothing ruffles my dynamic redhead.

We are settling in slowly here and boxes are nearly all unpacked. I decide to take us all to the village pub for dinner. We arrive late-enough to find them actually open this time, and populate most of the bar area between us. Something in the simple white-washed manner of the place takes me back to the way pubs used to be a few years back when i was a teenager. (O.K, many, many years ago, then).

In the years before Weatherspoon amalgamation and food-first, drink-if you're lucky pubs, there was a time when pubs kept strict drinking times. There was something almost traditional and English about the call for last orders and the occasional illicit 'lock-in' in our favourite pubs, like 'The crooked billet', where there was no bar and beer was pumped from the cellar. Where old furniture (now called 'shabby chic') had horsehair and stuffing falling out of it and great dips where the bottoms of many a healthy farmhand had furrowed.

And characters like Brian Penny at 'The king William' - like an extra from 'Tess of the D'Urbevilles' - with his shire horses and curtain of a beard, laughing raucously as we sat in the foreboding shadow of a selection of well-sharpened mantraps and scythes. (No doubt health and safety would put a stop to all that these days. And characters like Brian are replaced by young barristas - proficient in the art of the skinny latte as well as the uncapping of a bottle of refrigerated cider.)

Pubs have moved on and been disneyfied and yet somehow we are the loser in all of this. Character has been ripped from its sockets and replaced with antiques manufactured in China.

This pub smells of all that is ancient. Fittings are oversized and handmade. We are made welcome even as i struggle to stop my younger children stabbing each other with the darts. The food is hearty pub food and we eat heartily to keep the cold and rain out. Back home to the seeping warmth of a wood-burning stove that reminds me again why we came to live just here. 'Perfick'.


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