Lindsey and I have been on a couple of trips abroad with solo gent friends. I think that that is an appropriate term, and nothing more is meant by it than that the two male friends who were accompanying us at the time were without their partners. In the case of the Tall Thin One and our trip with him to Barbados to see the cricket, it was because his partner was busy working in the UK at the time. In the case of Mac and our trip with him to walk the Singalila Ridge, it was because he is a widower. Their attitudes towards food and eating out is completely and utterly different, and this was brought home to me recently when I read the second draft of Mac’s new book.
Their attitude towards drinking coffee is also different, so I’ll deal with that first. For Mac, having a coffee somewhere is simply a means to an end. A coffee break, for him, is simply a break with some flavoured liquid and the opportunity to go to the toilet and regroup for whatever happens next in the trip. He’s happy with Nescafe, and in fact prefers Nescafe.
For the Tall Thin One, a decent coffee, made with ground coffee, is a very important part of the day, and ideally should happen about mid-morning. Without a mid-morning coffee break, preferably somewhere nice but it doesn’t really matter to him too much where it occurs, he doesn’t feel properly set up for the rest of the day. On a couple of occasions in Barbados we found ourselves in gorgeous settings – specifically, I remember an old colonial planter’s house which had a cafe, and then a lovely beach cafe – having coffee. But horrors! In both cases they only served Nescafe. That wouldn’t have worried Mac at all, but it completely spoilt it for the Tall Thin One. After the second incident, we would arrive somewhere mid-morning, ask them if they had real coffee, and depart if they didn’t.
I think I’m with the Tall Thin One on this one. Who wants to drink powdered coffee even in a beautiful setting, coffee that has been grown in Vietnam, processed somewhere else, and then imported into the West Indies at great expense, where, for goodness sake, they grow their own? On the other hand, just wandering into the nearest cafe and accepting whatever they serve up – well, sometimes it can be very interesting and you can watch local traffic go past.
I find Nescafe difficult to drink, nowadays. When we lived in Botswana, we couldn’t afford Nescafe, let alone ground coffee, and after a week or so I got used to a much cheaper chicory/coffee substitute. In fact, when we left Botswana, I actually missed the chicory taste. But not for long. Now, I’m a proper coffee snob, I suppose.
Despite being tall and thin, the Tall Thin One has a fast metabolism, and needs regular calorific intake. He enjoys eating out, and on our Barbados trip took some effort to select nice restaurants for our evening meals. Lindsey and I appreciated this. Most of the restaurants were excellent, in nice locations and with lovely interesting food. There was one evening when the standard wasn’t so high – the food was rather processed and the salad dry and limp. The Tall Thin One was mortified, but he had no need to apologize. The location choice had been a group decision, and in any case we were extremely entertained that evening by the karaoke that accompanied the meal, in particular someone with an extremely heavy Geordie accent singing “Boofaloo soaldja, tekin to Merica” at the top of his voice.
I don’t enjoy processed food when eating out. What’s the point of it? It’s also probably not very good for you. The worst example we’ve had was at a restaurant not far from Glamis Castle, here in Scotland. The place was full of farmers and their families, and so we expected good food. What was served up was a square of tasteless processed frozen and re-heated beef, a frozen and reheated Yorkshire pudding, frozen reheated roast potatoes, and frozen and reheated peas, along with Bisto gravy. Every ingredient had been bought already processed and then transferred from the freezer into an oven for ten minutes or so before delivery at our table. It was horrible, and a great disappointment.
Mac’s forthcoming book, which is very readable and I’ll post a link to it when it’s available in some form or another, is sort of about Buddhism in the context of a trip he took to Ecuador with his pal Poisonous. He doesn’t call his pal ‘Poisonous’ in the book, and merely refers to him as his friend, but I know him as ‘Poisonous’. Poisonous can be excellent company, but on occasion he can turn…well…poisonous. As Mac describes in his book, Poisonous/Mac’s friend has in the past been diagnosed with high functioning autism, and I reckon that this can at least partially explain some of his occasional caustic responses. I’ve heard much of the Buddhist stuff that appears in Mac’s book straight from him on various occasions, so was more interested in his travel experiences.
It turns out that on their trip, Poisonous, like The Tall Thin One in Barbados, also often put some effort into selecting restaurants where the two of them could eat, but this seemed to annoy Mac, who would have been happier dining at the nearest eatery to where they were staying, or even at a McDonald’s. Mac writes, “Mention finding somewhere [to my friend/Poisonous] and he’s off, like the rat in a maze, the spaniel in heat, up and down and round at a hundred miles an hour.”
So Poisonous’s efforts are not much appreciated in Mac’s book. Well, I can appreciate Mac’s view that if you’re hungry, you don’t want to spend ages wandering around looking for a restaurant, but what on earth is the point of going to Ecuador and then eating at a McDonald’s?
Unlike The Tall Thin One, Mac doesn’t really care where he eats. OK, once again in his defense, maybe Mac is thinking that the venue doesn’t matter as much as the company, and if the company and mood are good, then you can make your own fun and good atmosphere wherever you are.
There are various essexian elements for auldie’s in Mac’s book. Joey Essex doesn’t understand politics or watches and can’t tell the time, etc, etc. Mac doesn’t really understand modern living or restaurants, or how to order food, etc, etc.
I came to appreciate this fact first-hand at a restaurant in which we found ourselves, the evening after completing the Singalila Ridge trek. Mac turned to me and said that he didn’t know what, or how, to order food. He found the menu perplexing, he seemed to be quite anxious, and was worried about getting spicy food, which he doesn’t enjoy. So I ended up ordering plain boiled rice and a selection of plain boiled vegetables with a plain papadum for Mac. He was really, really happy with the resulting food. The rest of us enjoyed various types of unusual (to us, anyway) dhal, basmati rice, tandoori chicken, lamb tikka, with rotis, raithas and buttered chapatis. Mac was completely satisfied with boiled veg.
I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t go to an exotic location, ignore local culinary skills and produce, and order plain boiled vegetables. But Mac liked that stuff, and so every time after that when we ate in a restaurant on that trip, he requested boiled veg and boiled rice.
It takes all types, I suppose. Mac and the Tall Thin One are at different extremes. Lindsey and I are somewhere in the middle.