Less than an hour’s drive from Tarifa, over the mountain, through Algeciras and around the bay, is Britain – probably the most distinctive physical feature in the whole of southern Spain. Many of you will know, of course, that Britain is a small, over-crowded and heavily urbanised island but you may not have been aware of some of its lesser known attributes; the commanding views of Africa’s northern coast, the small but stubborn population of Barbary Apes (unique amongst all apes in that they are in fact monkeys) and of course the tell-tale British surnames; Tewkesbury, Finlayson, Parody, Netto, Buttigieg, Benady, Santos, Spiteri, Zammit, Xerri and Crisp.
The main bulwark of the British economy is money itself. Investments, insurance, pensions and numerous other products I have a very poor grasp of are sold from here. Poker, a possibly related activity, is also popular. After that it’s booze. After that it’s cigarettes. And after that it’s you; the tourist. You come to get in the cable car and go see the monkeys. Then you buy some booze and cigarettes. Then you leave. It’s almost as if you came here for gambling, booze, cigarettes and monkeys! You certainly don’t come, I would hope, for the food.
Britain is peppered with traditional pubs – recognisable by their grim exteriors and sticky carpets. Their names are also usually a give away; The King’s Arse, The Jolly Bastard, The Fiddler’s Willy and so on. Pubs offer up a selection of traditional British dishes such as jellied eels, winkles, pot noodles and jam sandwiches. On a recent visit I sampled that icon of the cuisine; the Something & Kidney Pie.
I’m a bit of a cook myself and working backwards from what I was confronted with I can now offer you, my loyal reader(s), the recipe;
Something & Kidney Pie with Peas and Something© Gravy
For the pie;
Address the customer with the traditional Anglo-Saxon “sweetheart” or “pet” and take his order.
Return to the “kitchen” and take the pie from the freezer. Now carefully remove the pie from its cellophane wrapping and foil tray (or carelessly, it really doesn’t matter). Place the pie in the microwave and press the big button.
For the peas;
Microwave again. Don’t forget to press that button!
For the Something© gravy;
Boil the kettle. Pour boiling water over a spoonful of Something© granules. Keep adding water until a snot-like consistency is reached and the gravy has a sheen on it similar to that of glossy paint.
Assemble the microwaved components on a plate and douse with the emulsion. Return to the customer. Brazenly instruct him to “enjoy” in spite of its not being the likely outcome.
Question: So where can a Britisher get hold of a decent plate of food? Answer: Spain.
In the olden days, Britain decided to branch out a bit. With considerable violence. As a result it now has something in common with McDonalds, Tesco, Top Shop and Wal-Mart; a large number of locations! No longer confined to the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, these days there are Britains all over the world, from the Caribbean to Antarctica, to the South Atlantic. There’s even one just off the east coast of my own country, Ireland. It’s called Britain too and I know it well because I used to live there.
Most Irish people are well aware of the Britain to our east because, to be honest, it’s been a bit of a nuisance. Few of us though have elected to live in it. Well ok, quite a few; they’ve got better shops and the pubs are open later. I ended up there as an unwilling and uncomfortable teenager and proceeded to sulk and stumble my way through some very formative years. It became for me a place of questionable educational standards, first love and friendships that have managed to endure my neglect.
Britain is, and this isn’t an easy thing for an Irishman to admit, an embedded part of me and my story. I return there this Christmas with K to spend time with my family. I’m nervous, not having been there for just about a decade. I’m nervous about hooking up with old friends. I’m nervous about seeing my nieces and nephew. I’m nervous about the cold. I’m nervous about bumping into people I owe money, or who I’ve slept with, or both. I’m nervous, basically.
K doesn’t share my nervousness. She loves Britain. She loves it because she loves Sean Bean and Britain is where he lives. I have to live with that. Years ago she and a friend went on a trip to Britain from Germany just to see Sean Bean in a play. Seriously. If I see him this Christmas I’m going to punch him in the face. He’ll never catch me!
Last week, in our local Britain, we spent the evening in a glass dining room at the top of the Rock. Far above the manky pies and booze shops. I’ve travelled a bit and the view from this place is unparalleled. Herculean. Three nations, two continents, mountain ranges, the blue sky and bluer sea. Nobody, surely, can enjoy a sense of place – of location – like the people from here.
I don’t live in a Britain anymore, obviously, or there’d be no need for alotofwind.com. I don’t live in Ireland either. I don’t have much of a sense of patriotism or allegiance to a flag. I do appreciate them though – places, and peoples, and I am a product of them. I like to think of myself as a cocktail.
Stirred, not shaken.Follow @RobinJGraham