I travelled to England for the weekend to see my earliest extant friend Charlie, who is now a teacher and part time taxi driver in Barnsley. Our friendship began at the Dragon School in 1965, both of us horribly homesick in that year as eight-year old boarders in a small 5-bedroom dormitory on the top floor of a house in Bardwell Road in North Oxford, from which he and I are apparently now the only living survivors. He and his family live in a happy house on a hill with three skittish dogs and puppies and a great view towards Bradford. We sampled some Barnsley pubs on the first night, then on Saturday drove south over the gorgeous peak district to see his football team succumb to mine in a dour and fractious game at the Britannia stadium, a newish ground that sits on a windswept heath in Stoke amidst roaring motorways. On the way there we had a gutbuster English breakfast, and upon arrival a pint and a meat pie. Going back we stopped in Sheffield and heard some excellent live music at the Greystones pub, and grabbed a kebab on the run from a psychotic Turk.
The following morning we all went to Cannon Hall in Cawthorne Park, now a museum, originally the home to the Spencer-Stanhope family, who made their fortune from employing workers who made iron. In the gardens, the 200-year-old Cannon vine is apparently the unique grandparent of the fine wines of Australia. Who says Britain did nothing for the colonies? In the farm shop, upon instruction, I bought a substantial loin of pork (of the solidity and breadth that a monarch might have knighted) and a couple of traditional Barnsley chops. I returned via an overnight stay with Fionnuala, Andrew and Evelyn, who brought out their very best cuisine, cutlery, conversation, company and fine wines; hospitality much appreciated although it was tough to take the cab back to Heathrow early the next morning. At home the weather seemed to have paused the Spring, and a lot more snow fell right through to the end of the month. Ella and boyfriend Sam came to stay at the nether end of the month when the weather was below zero and it either rained or snowed or generally menaced those seeking the outdoors. Apart for a bright and sunny Good Friday when we served ourselves with a huge dollop of the Alsace, travelling to Colmar to walk around the beautiful old town centre, then returning after lunch (I made it my business to have choucroute) via the two very picturesque twin villages of Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé. We also had a great meal the same evening in our own village at L’Ange.
My birthday occurred on the 6th and I was flattered by many good wishes and great presents and cards from each of the girls. One of the good wishes, from some web site I must have signed into once, was rather startling. It went as follows: “Hello Lionello, We at Reality Check would like to wish you a happy birthday today!” I felt like responding: “And, hey, I at Reality Check Response would like you to get hopelessly lost”. In order fully to check reality I went along with Alli to my friend Peter’s 40th birthday party in Huningue and we stayed until cocoa-time. We were visited by our good friends the Tallis Locks of Forest Gate, and took advantage of some springtime sunlight just before the weather turned freezing again. On the Saturday morning we had a very long tramp around the muddy Leymen woods, then took in central Basel on a trotting tour including Barfusserplatz, a cavalier view of the Rhein from the Munster, a gentle ferry crossing, a prancing prandial visit to the rejuvenated Fischerstube, a galloping tram ride, a canter through the Marktplatz, a coffee and nosebag at Paddy’s with home country rugger-buggers shouting in our ears, and later, a fine thoroughbred dinner at the welcoming Bellevue Restaurant across the border in Alsace. The demeanour, conversation and bearing of the Tallis Locks’ teenage son, the elegant Cato, later moved Alli unilaterally to offer to adopt him, or at least to mark his card for an arranged marriage with our youngest.
The following weekend we hosted a Sunday lunch celebration for our friend Dawn’s birthday. This required me to take an extensive afternoon-long tour, examination and selection of fine wines from local vintners in the company of Martin, who was playing the role of the one-eyed man in the context of our mutual oenophilia. Wines duly selected, the lunch the following day could be economically described as having provided me with relief from my exacting diet, to which I am ever more vaguely committed. The loin of pork and the leg of lamb (and the Eve’s Pudding) were highly praised and with good reason. A reet proper Sunday lunch, as they say up north.
Yours crackling, and a very happy Easter to all.
Jan, Alli, John and Cato, Leymen, March 2013