Thursday, 21 April 2011

Off to the Fens

It has been a crazy week – brilliant in many ways, but nonetheless crazy.

And while there hasn’t been much to report on the food front, the time has not been without its moments on that score.

Having said farewell to the old offices last Wednesday and recovered with an asparagus-hunting trip to Borough Market on Thursday, Friday brought a new challenge on the work front.

My mission for the day was to catch a train to Peterborough, meet up with shadow chancellor Ed Balls, follow (and observe) while he hit the campaigning trail and my photographer photographed, then get in a car to Kings Lynn with him, his assistant and a driver – this offering the longest time available to do an actual interview for one of UNISON’s journals.

An hour later, after crossing into the flat country of a region I’ve never seen before, past farms with hand-painted, roadside signs offering asparagus for sale, we were in Kings Lynn itself. It might not have quite been The West Wing, but the interview was in the bag; the experience had been an interesting and pleasant one. But it was just turned 2pm and food was required.

Two sizable streets lead away from the square where we’d pulled in. One was Clone Town, but the other was a step back into times long gone. Running parallel to the river Ouse, as it wends its way gently to The Wash, it includes an arts centre and two or three eateries.

Finding a restaurant I liked the look of – it served a tart with local brown shrimps – I was stymied by the discovery that many such independent places close at 2pm. Which is entirely fair enough.

I wandered down the shopping street, looking for anything that didn’t represent Clone Town. There were maybe three shops I spotted, including a small cookshop, which actually provided me with a decent sized piping bag and the largest, plain nozzle I’ve been able to find. But the only obvious places for fodder were fast food joints. I wasn’t actually on the verge of collapsing from starvation.

And so, as I wandered, I found myself back at the far end of the first street I’d explored.

Once more at the arts centre, I decided that the café there would simply have to do. In the event, it offered the promise of a “Norfolk ploughmans,” which seemed ideal.

The menu said that it came with either Stilton, Cheddar or ham. I asked which of these was the most local – it did describe itself as a Norfolk dish, after all. The waitress seemed slightly confused. The ham, she told me, was from a local butcher, who seemed (if I understood her correctly) to either have a farm or get his meat from a local one.

The Stilton obviously wasn’t local. The Cheddar possibly, if it was simply a reference to the process of cheddaring. I asked if I could have a little of each of the ham and Cheddar.

I knew she was slightly thrown by my question because I overheard her, a moment or two later, commenting to a colleague. It simply wasn’t a question they’d heard before.

In the event, the ham was a little dry but very tasty and the cheese wasn’t bad at all. The real revelation was the salad, which was tasty and impeccably fresh. In other words, worth eating. And the pickle was enjoyable too.

Thus sustained, I set off to find the railway station and head back to town.

It was a journey that dragged a tad, on a slowish train with few carriages and lots of passengers – several of whom seemed to think that holding a personal conversation on their mobile phone, loudly, is a good idea.

I spotted a number of birds, however, as we sped through the countryside. A grouse and a pheasant, I think – both at the edge of fields, near hedges and trees. And Ely's cathedral looked incredible.

But as we crawled back into the dismal mess that is currently King’s Cross station, and I fought through crowds and building work to get outside, desperate to get home and flop in front of the telly, it was with a nagging feeling that perhaps the country isn’t as bad as unattractive as I’ve thought for many years.

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