Gran Bretaña

In Plenary, Presentation on December 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

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 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.

[tweetmeme source=”@RobinJGraham” only_single=false]

  1. Your local Britain at the tip of Spain really is faithfully recreating the larger Britain, if your transcribed pie recipe is anything to go by. Gibraltar really is an odd place.

  2. Snap!

    Aside from being devilishly handsome and part of the cast of one of the most successful movie franchises in history, what could K possibly see in Sean Bean?! 🙂

  3. When Regina and I were traveling in the area, we were amazed you could see Africa from the coast of Spain. We knew you could, but seeing it was was a big WOW!

  4. What are you like!!!

  5. The fastest way of travel, is through food. Add tomatoes and olives and you’re in Italy, coriander and you’re in the east, water and you’re in Britain!

  6. Another very entertaining read, Robin. 🙂

  7. I just love the way they talk. English and Spanish in the same sentence. I do it myself. Muchas thank you for this lovely post.

  8. […] coordinates: a lot of wind… (blog) and @robinjgraham (Twitter handle) Most recent post: “Gran Bretaña” (December 21, […]

  9. Hahaha – loved this! Reminded me of Australia a tiny little bit too – just replace ‘money’ with ‘mining.’ I’ll get some boos on that statement but what the hell, I have the passport.

  10. Oh no – just realized my flu made me make a terrible mistake – I thought you were actually talking about actual Britain (as in the UK)… shameful on me… please delete last comment

  11. XD Jealousy against Sean Bean?

    It is interesting to know there are so many Britain around =D

    • Btw Robin, I want to nominate you for Kreative Blogger Award. I was recently nominated and given the chance to nominate 6 other bloggers I like. I have been admiring your writing style for a while now, so I think the award is appropriate. I wrote about Kreative Blogger Award on my blog, and it is entirely up to you if you want to continue the tradition or not XD. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns ^^ Happy New Year.

  12. Sorry to say that I had to look up Sean Bean! Of course, I should have known his name — cool actor. Robin, I think you’re an awesome storyteller — whether stirred or shaken. Happy New Year!

  13. Lol, thanks for an entertaining post, I would swap the food in England for the food in Spain any day, in fact tbh I’d swap England for Spain! What am I doing here! :-0

  14. Something & Kidney Pie – too funny. Now, this might be a bit like swearing in church, but I’ve actually had some pretty bad food in Spain, too 🙂

    Loved this post – the observations, the history, the recipe, the humour, the jealousy…
    Got to watch out for that Sean Bean, he has been married and divorced a gazillion times.

  15. […] have. Flags, coats of arms and crests are more numerous here than anywhere I’ve ever been. Bit of a mystery to me, Britishness, if I’m honest, though I admire it in many ways – if the Rock is […]

  16. […] the N340 from Algeciras to Tarifa begins by winding close to the Mediterranean coast – the Rock of Gibraltar and its African counterpart, Jebel Musa, in full view – the country here is distinctly […]

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