Tots and Travel-What a Difference a Generation Makes

People’s behaviour with their children makes fascinating observation; no more so than during holidays and while travelling.

We have boarded [another] ferry-this time from North Denmark to Norway. The ship is teeming with people of all nationalities, ages, shapes and sizes. Many of these people are small, flaxen-haired and extremely excited. They are swarming like pale, shrieking insects all over the decks, and in particular in and out of a caged area which houses ‘Captain Kid’-a portly, foam encased figure [housing, no doubt a beleaguered student taking an unenviable summer job], wearing a jolly, striped T-shirt and a peaked cap. The excited squawking lasts until the vessel has negotiated a turn and exited the harbour, then settles into the odd squeak or howl, accompanied by whimpering and whining.They are all undeniably beautiful, despite the whinging.

An hour into the voyage and Captain Kid’s able assistant has sprung into action rustling up standard summer ferry-boat fare-balloon animals, for which the little tots and their long suffering parents have formed a long, snaking queue that obliterates the entrance to the ladies’ lavatories, the stairwell or indeed anywhere else.

Elsewhere they continue to holler and gallop about, or are occupied with computer games, pizza slices, swinging on bar stools or watching cartoons. It is all a lengthy voyage away from the number plate games we were encouraged to play whilst enduring the interminable drives to Wales, Devon or Scotland when I was a child in the fifties. I’d be sandwiched between two brothers on the back seat of the small family car, condemned to the middle due to my small stature, with my knees under my chin due to the obstacle that was the cylindrical prop-shaft and not enough room for as much as a pack of cards.

Later some of the infants have fallen into oblivion on a parental chest and others are voicing their discontent in no uncertain terms. A tiny boy swamped by a gargantuan buggy has set up a pitiful whine, his mouth a large O in his cherubic face framed by white curls. He is inserted into a high chair and supplied with pizza and chips, effectively stopping up the ‘O’.

Then the Norwegian coast is upon us, looking like Thunderbirds’ Tracey Island, or the dastardly villain’s secret location housing an evil world-threatening machine from a James Bond movie.

Later, at the first night’s stop by a beautiful lake, the sun blazing bright at 9.15pm, a cavalcade of small boys races round and round the camper-vans on minute scooters, hooting wildly as they career in their circles, one of their number a large, grown up man. There is something uncomfortable in the sight of adults scooting along on children’s scooters.

At 11.00pm the scooter circus shows no sign of abating, no doubt due to the abundance of daylight and it is not until twilight finally descends that the revellers give up their conveyances and retire. The next morning the sun is up early-and so are the small boys, up and attired in multi-coloured swim gear ready to leap into the lake. When do they sleep? I hear my mother turning in her grave……

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Spicy Tales

I didn’t eat a curry until I was twenty years old. In the seventies I was a student in London in my second year and dating a worldly London lad. He must have been thrilled to be able to initiate such an ignorant country bumpkin into the mysteries of the curry house. Until that moment I’d experienced a staunchly conservative, narrow, healthy but unadventurous diet of meat and two veg-roast on Sunday, cold roast meat on Monday, liver and onions on Tuesday, meat pie on Wednesday…readers of my generation will be familiar with this regime. Pasta was cautiously sampled when Heinz came up with spaghetti in a tin and rice was a [admittedly delicious] concoction known as rice pudding made with milk and sugar in a large tin in the oven, where a delectable toffee-like skin would form over the top. This was fought over at our table, with everyone wanting to scrape the brown residue from the sides of the baking dish.
The induction took place at a restaurant in Tooting called The Star of India; a small, warm space lined with red flock wallpaper and smelling of that [now] unmistakeable, saliva-inducing spicy aroma. I have no recollection of what I ordered-or indeed if I ordered at all, given my ignorance. The BF, in his superior position as experienced curry devotee selected something appropriate for one with my raw, untutored palate before choosing his own meal. He tended to choose the vindaloo options and was a fan of ‘Bombay Duck’-a weird, dried fish starter that smells powerfully of glue and which I have never taken to.
Now of course, curry has become mainstream along with Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern and everywhere else cuisine.
Cosmopolitan restaurants are no less enjoyable for being different from eateries in their mother countries, though they are different, perhaps as a result of evolution. I’ve no doubt that Italians are appalled by the many establishments that call themselves pizza makers, although judging by their popularity and universal abundance their distaste would not be shared by the world at large. Husband opted for one at a beach café in South West France much frequented by German tourists and was presented with a gargantuan circular mountain consisting of every pizza ingredient known to man. He made a noble attempt to conquer this massif but failed before reaching halfway.
Many years after this first curry I tasted as a twenty year old I was to travel to India for a thrilling taste of that country itself, with the inevitable gastronomic tour that such a holiday entails. It was a revelation to discover that authentic Indian food was as unlike that of the Tooting curry house, or any other UK Indian restaurant, as Heinz Spaghetti Hoops is from Spaghetti alla Bolognese. To travel around the country to different areas was to experience a wide range of cuisines. Generally the further south we went, the hotter the spices; farther north, towards the mountains the food became less spicy.
My last visit to an Indian restaurant, last week, was to ‘Masala’, one of two curry houses in Perranporth, Cornwall, where I enjoyed a prawn saag with cauliflower bajii and pilau rice and I can honestly say it was delicious!

Muckdonalds and Yucky Fried Chicken

                Fast food is too cheap. It is also too easy to obtain and too gratifying. It creates weight gain, litters the streets with non bio-degradable cartons and contributes to health problems.

                When you walk past a ‘Macdonalds’, a ‘Pizza Express’ or a ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’, how often is it unoccupied? The abundance of food takeaway outlets in any shopping street is testament to how popular they are. Not only does the country need to raise revenue to address the debt left by the bankers [who have not been asked to make recompense-but that is a different issue], but it needs to reduce the burden on the National Health Service. So why isn’t there a substantial tax on fast food?

                If fast food were taxed so that prices were in line with average restaurant prices, the revenue could be used in any number of ways. It could, for instance be used to subsidise the cost of fruit and vegetables; or it could supplement the support we currently provide to developing countries, where finding enough to eat is their problem, not overeating!

                It may be a generational thing, but I’m not tempted by Macdonalds or Burger King. I did try a ‘Big Mac’ once or twice, but the experience was akin to chewing on a piece of lumpy rubber sandwiched between two bath sponges, accompanied by a bag of nasty, salty, fatty, greasy little sticks. I tried the ‘root beer’ –a strange, straw coloured liquid tasting vaguely of chemicals. We have been lured into Macdonalds on occasions when travelling by their claims of free internet access. We would only need to purchase a coffee to use the facility. Sadly, though, the access is rarely available. It has usually ‘crashed’ or the signal is too weak to get an email or anything else. The coffee, to be fair, is palatable.

                Similarly, I tend not to choose pizza when dining out. What an incredible profit there must be on these large circles of stodge and fat, for there to be so many pizza outlets and takeaways! It must be the easiest, cheapest way to make a buck in the food world! A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I thought I’d give pizza making a go. I’d made versions of pizzas with children before, but using bread mixes, grated cheddar and such items as might be transfigured into ‘faces’ and so on. This time I was going to make proper, grown up pizzas with mozzarella et al. I used a BBC recipe. Reader-it was easy. Even the bases, formed from a yeasty dough mix, were simple.

                And what about the famous Colonel’s chicken? The advertising alone is enough to induce a grimace. There is nothing recognisably ‘chicken’ about the images, which portray blobby orange lumps protruding from bags or boxes and accompanied by the ubiquitous, greasy, stick-like ‘fries’.

                I believe if apples were to be individually encased in gaudy packaging that also included a plastic action figure toy they would become objects of desire to children. But shouldn’t kids be wanting to eat because they are hungry and because the food they are offered is delicious?

OK. Rant over. Blogging makes me hungry. I’m off to see what’s in the fridge…