Last weekend I had a visitor from London come and stay with me in my humble serviced apartment in Cambridge, and we went for a wander into town. Parts of it were nice, mostly those parts you could only look at through heavy iron railings unless you were a student at the university. We wandered across a sheep field which some daft sod had put in the middle of the city, then down by the river where I watched people playing on boats that were in dire need of an outboard motor. If this was in Thailand they’d have mounted an old V8 truck engine on propeller shaft and they’d get where they were going quicker than the current arrangement which requires a long pole and a hipster telling lies about what they’re sailing past.
Cambridge is probably nice in the summer but it didn’t do a whole lot for me. It seemed to do a lot for China though, as a third of its population was there taking photos. The good news is I’ve found a bluegrass jam session and bought a second-hand guitar so I could join in. I went along last night and had a great time. There were two or three professional fiddle players there, and I got them to play Soldier’s Joy, an old civil war tune which you can hear a superb rendition of between 6:14 and 8:49 here:
Our jam sessions in France often lacked a fiddle, and it’s not quit the same without one. It appears the banjo is the rare instrument in Cambridge bluegrass circles, whereas we had plenty of them in France. Good job I brought mine with me, then. All I need to now is learn to play it properly. Sadly, this group only meets once a month so I might have to look for another one.
The one thing I am really missing about France is the food. Boy, the food in Cambridge is bad, bordering on inedible. In the early afternoon on Saturday we got hungry so found a pub and asked them if they served food. They said they didn’t, but the barman recommended a place on the edge of the city centre where he said the food was excellent, especially the burger. We went there and ordered the burger. It was tasteless and came on a plate beside a huge, wrinkled lettuce leaf which looked as if it came off a rhubarb plant. Whoever was masquerading as a chef that day had put on top of it large dollops of thousand island dressing, coleslaw, and ratatouille all in a row. What effect he was going for, and what national cuisine he’d drawn his inspiration from, I have no idea. The chips, which were extra, had been fried in oil which should have been chucked out a month ago. The next day we tried another pub. I ordered a piece of chicken which the chef had tried to make taste of something by piling bacon and barbecue sauce on top of it until its thickness was doubled. My companion ordered a pie the size and shape of a half-brick and about as edible.
Now I know what everyone’s going to do. They’re going to list all the amazing places one can eat in the United Kingdom and how with a little effort involving a week of research and driving to Dundee, I can get a perfectly good meal provided I don’t mind booking in advance and paying through the nose. So let me say yes, I know you can get good food in Britain. The problem is you have to know where to go. You can’t just wander through any random city, spot a joint, and go in and expect something edible. But in France I did just that for 6 years, including in Paris. I’d just walk into the first place I stumbled across and 99 times out of 100 it would range from good to superb. I never looked up anywhere and ignored recommendations, and I frequently ate in the tourist spots in Annecy. It seems in Britain I’m going to have to maintain a list of recommended eating spots and avoid anywhere else. As soon as I’ve got my own flat sorted out – a plan which has hit a small hiccup – I’ll start cooking for myself again.
It’s not all culinary doom and gloom, though. We have a canteen at work which, while not of the same standard as that of an oil major in Paris, isn’t bad at all and is absolutely free. They even have puddings with custard. It’s like being back in school and I’m there every lunchtime.