Sunday, 31 October 2010

the autumn sun crash-landed a couple of fields away

I'll leave the physics to the Backroom Boys, but the elasticity of time seems to have come in to play this week. It's been half term - yes, it's gone with a similar whooshing sound to Douglas Adams' deadlines.  But we seem to have packed a lot in. Last Saturday we celebrated 28 years of Mrs Dave putting up with me by going to a 60th birthday party (don't ask). This basically was a rare occasion where we were the youngest in the room. Every so often, a silver haired person would wander up to me and ask, "how long have you got, then?" It all seemed a bit creepy until eventually I realised that they meant until retirement.  Well with the current government's way of thinking, I'll presumably die in-service because they keep putting the age of retirement up so that they won't have to pay any pensions.

Anyway, on Sunday we went up to Oxford to see my only surviving blood relative - my sister who has recently been going through chemotherapy; off the next day to Southampton to see second born and a quick respite at home to do some school work (marking) before planning the rest of the week away.

Interestingly, at Southampton, I picked up one of those booklets that one finds in hotels that offer all sorts of vouchers and money-off schemes that obviously nobody ever uses. We went to a rather swish restaurant called the White Star Line - do you have a sinking feeling about this story? - where we spent a fair bit of money on a meal.  BUT - and it's a big but - I had cut out a voucher from one of the aforementioned booklets.  The offer was for a free bottle of wine per couple buying a two course meal. The waitress went off to ask the manager, and they said that yes this was a valid offer.  Well, Mrs Dave and I and second born and her beau (a clue in this Friday's Independent crossword as "a young man") were two couples and we all ordered two courses. We proceeded to receive two bottles of house wine with our meal that we did not have to pay for (okay, they tried to charge for the second one but we had them by the short and curlies - in print). Now, that is £29 off of our meal.  Twenty nine of your earth pounds is actually quite a hefty amount.  Instead of £130+ we paid £106 or so.  Now. I'm not a tight person but £29 pounds off of a meal is actually quite a good deal.  The upshot of this is that wherever I go I see these booklets and have usually ignored them - I won't in the future: even in Ipswich I'll be popping in to the Tourist Information Centre to pick up a few leaflets. Anyway, fantastic food - I had the most expensive thing on the menu (Wild Sea Bass on a bed of Sweet Potato mash and spinach with a red wine and octopus jus in case you were wondering).  I'd go there again but I'll check the booklet to see if they've changed the offer to a bottle of house wine per table!

These restaurants presumably offer such deals on the assumption that most people won't bother to ask.  So rise up people, all you have to lose is . . . well, nothing really.

After that we went to Rutland.  As with most of you, I'm sure, all we knew of Rutland was Eric Idle's tv series in the 1970s.  A lovely little county.  However, we booked a Certificated Site and trundled off in Harvey to stay.  I had agreed to get there by about 5 o'clock but manged to turn up at about 7-ish.  When we eventually found it in the dark, the owner was putting his boots on and muttering under his breath - but just loud enough to be heard - "hmm, five o'clock, eh?".

Later in the rather er, unreconstructed village pub - The Sun in Belton - I was asked how I found "Basil". "Sorry?" I asked.

"Basil Fawlty - he's alright as long as you pay him upfront."

Ah yes - a familiar character, then. He told me to park carefully as people tend to reverse and churn up the site, so be careful. Cue yesterday morning after an evening of rain and Harvey struggled to move in the wet.  As we left the site, I looked back through the wing mirror and noticed that I had left a huge gash of mud across the field.  I don't know why, it just happened. We were thinking of going back as Rutland seemed nice and we quite liked the site but as so often seems to be the case we feel we can't go back, at least to that site.  I actually felt really bad about it, it was, after all, an accident, but I somehow feel that Basil will see it as a deliberate slur.  Ah well.

We walked in what some might consider to be God's Country, or the Intelligent Designer's or Rutland if you prefer, and found lots of sloes and an Arthur Rackhamesque tree - see for yourself. We saw a cormorant flying overhead, and we were nowhere near any sea as far as I could tell.

Driving through unfamiliar territory showed us the best of Autumn.  A great pleasure remains in travelling through England as the summer turns autumnal and the trees are dressed in red and gold especially in bright sunlight.  With the gently undulating hills of the East Midlands promising us farms that sell venison and bison and we saw beautiful (but well-heeled) villages every few miles, we kept "oohing and ahhing" and remarking on how nice it would be to live in such places.  It was a genuine situation of feeling that it was a joy to be alive.

I'd have loved to have jumped out and walk through some of the woods we passed and smell the fungal air of Autumn.  I need to get out next weekend to pick chestnuts.  However, that other reminder of Autumn will be upon us, Guy Fawke's Night.  We haven't even bothered this year with Hallowe'en and we haven't had a single knock on the door for trick or treat (an awful American import).

A wonderful weekend ensued, old friends and lots to drink and wonderful food (and company, needless to say).  And back to the East Coast in time to cook dinner and get ready to return to work tomorrow.  Well, sort of think guiltily about it.

Actually I could do with a week off.


Mike C. said...

What a full life you lead, Dave. Admirable, but exhausting to read about.

There are some good restaurants in Southampton, it's true, and if I led a full life I'd get out and try them more often than once or twice a year. "Octopus jus", though? Hmm, think I'll have the steak and chips, please...

No trick or treaters?? That sounds very odd -- even we've had to instigate a "skanky sweets pot", where unwanted, disgusting and out-of-sell-by sweets end up, for distribution to the local paganettes. Mwah ha ha ha!


Dave Leeke said...

Yes, and exhausted is exactly how I feel! Not a great start to the new half term, feeling shattered before I even start.

Early to bed methinks.

Andy Wright said...

Excellent post Dave. Beautifully descriptive.Glad to see you gave Halloween a wide berth this year. Shock statistic from a BBC news bulletin on Sunday..... apparently, in 2001 'the UK' spent 12 million pounds on Halloween. In 2010 it will be 280 million!! What on earth (excuse the pun) is that about?As the French say.'God save us from 'Alloween'(sic).

Dave Leeke said...

Glad to have you back from la terre de les singes de reddition mange de fromage.*

I meant to ask you to grab some Gros Plant on your way back, but never mind, maybe another day.

I can't believe how much is spent on Hallowe'en - on crap plastic ghosts and Frankenstein masks?

I had a fantastic week in Virginia a few years ago and the street parties and ghost stories were so professional that it put us to shame. However, do you remember in 1970 when we were all going to meet in St Nicholas graveyard for a spot of ghost hunting? No one else turned up at the same time as Josh Wright and me - by god, the grey lady bent praying over the grave gave us the willies - we ran like little piggies wee-wee-weeing all the way home!

* possibly misquoted.

Martyn Cornell said...

"all we knew of Rutland was Eric Idle's tv series in the 1970s"

And Ruddle's once wonderful beer, a tragic story of over-reaching ambition, now merely a "badge brew" made by Greene King. *Sigh*.

Dave Leeke said...

True, I'd definitely say that it's not that impressive nowadays. I tend to stick to Adnams and London Pride (and St Peter's of course).

Where's the book?