Yesterday was number two son’s 19th birthday and as a result the Charman family went out for a meal in a local pub.
Now I like the occasional pub grub, partly I suspect because being on the car launch circuit I get to eat an unhealthy amount of posh food in very posh hotels. But in a pub, well unless you are dining in one of these ghastly pubs that think they are posh hotels you open the menu and it simply describes what you are getting.
All of which had me casting my memories back to the turn of the millennium, when I was editing a local newspaper. The best part of the week was compiling my column ‘Sideways Glance’ – it was the one bit of the paper that gave me the opportunity to write about whatever was exercising my mind – long before blogs such as this one.
Doing some filing the other day I found a disc with several of my old Glances on, including the one reproduced below, all about posh grub. I have no qualms about reproducing it here, because it seems to be that over a decade on, not a lot has changed…
“SO there I was last week, sitting in a plane on the way to Scotland to drive yet another car, and taking a look at the British Airways in-flight magazine. This was not my first choice for reading material you understand but made necessary by the plane I was on not being the one I was meant to be on – that had broken and during the ensuing 2.5-hour wait for a new plane in Gatwick’s North Terminal I had read both the magazine I had brought for the flight and the extra one I bought when I discovered the delay.
Anyway, my gaze fell on a feature interview with Bono, lead singer with the Irish rock band U2, which I do like. Bono starts off this interview by painting a picture of the atypical rock star – he doesn’t have to live in posh hotels, he’s quite happy bedding on the floor at a student’s digs, being one of the ‘ordinary people.’
He then describes his childhood, how his mother died when he was 14 and he became unofficial cook to a house full of males, describing to the interviewer how he used to throw everything in one pot and then saying “do you remember Smash?”
Umm – yes Bono, we do, coz if you go in any supermarket on an ordinary shopping trip the instant mashed potato made famous by a load of chortling metal aliens is still there, large as life on the shelves – not quite so ordinary a person then eh?
But the way things are going with food, the likes of Bono may soon be rediscovering the pleasures of eating what we the ‘ordinary population’ tuck into each evening. Because it seems posh restaurants are hijacking our nosh!
As I’ve mentioned before my motoring work requires me to attend several car launches each year, normally involving posh hotels and equally posh restaurants – it’s a tough job but someone’s etc etc. Over the years I’ve become used to studying menus written in a language all their own. Firstly they use words that most normal dictionaries are not likely to offer much clue to – Pomfret of this, Terrine of that, and then they translate it all into French, or Italian, when you’re dining in a hotel in the middle of Manchester…
Imagine my surprise then, when I attended a launch in Sussex and at said posh hotel was offered as a lunch choice ‘Traditional Sausage and Mashed Potato in an Onion Gravy’. Yes – bangers and mash! It was delicious, but it was still bangers and mash.
Then a matter of weeks later, and this time the venue was sunny Bagshot – again, hotel with several stars, and we return from our morning drive to find our lunch is ‘Traditional Fish and Chips.’ Note that word traditional again – you get the impression that stick the T word on the front and you can put anything on a posh menu.
And they are – neatly hijacking all the foods from my childhood. One of my fondest memories from my formative years is my mum’s Spotty Dick and Custard, wrapped in a big sheet and cooked in a massive pot. Now I can go in a restaurant and order it for pudding – except they now call it Spotted Dick – sounds better than spotty. It’s on the Traditional Menu alongside Jam Roly Poly.
I have a theory that to blame for all this are cooking programmes on the TV. They’ve multiplied over the last few years, because we cannot seem to get enough of them, and I reckon all those TV chefs are running out of ideas, so they’re nicking ordinary food and tarting it up. My fish and chips for example was served with strange curly chips, made to be very springy, on which was placed the fish – “Battered fillet of fresh cod, served on a warm bed of sliced saute potatoes.” Yeah – fish n’ chips!
So rest assured as you tuck into your greasy spoon breakfast in Dorking High Street (Mind you if you can find a greasy spoon among the wide variety of eateries in Dorking High Street you’re doing well). You’re eating the kind of food they really want to serve up in the Hilton and Ritz. I’m off for tea now – beans on toast tonight with some grated cheese on top, or should that be freshly picked beans over warmed pain slices served with a sauce tomate au gratin?…”