Saturday morning, surely the week’s best time. Croissants burning, culture supplements set aside never to be read, the clunk-clink of last night’s bottles in the bin. The child looks away to crayon the walls or chew the wife’s vinyl albums, so I switch from CBeebies to BBC One. A man sails down a French canal, stopping occasionally to poke snails and lick frogs. His voice is engagingly slow with sudden peaks and troughs in pitch, like a child at the piano. This is that Stein man, that Stein man whose name seemed to be everywhere in that Padstow place.
That Padstow place was handsome, all narrow lanes and curlews chomping carp (they may have been herons scoffing seabass, or pigeons pecking at dropped Cornish Pasties; I’d forgotten my monocle). It brimmed with people lurching around on bad knees, high on flask coffee and the anticipation of a virgin Daily Express crossword to do when a bench could be found. I was at the end of England for the end of my new book, Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters: Travels through England’s Football Provinces, published this month by Bloomsbury. Like Stein, I was travelling and eating local fare, this time in one of his restaurants, which is a bit confusing.
I had, in my year’s journey across England, eaten my way through much of her wonderful cuisine, all of which helped fuel me in order to write the notes which became the book Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters (R.R.P £12.99). Middlesbrough meant cheese straws, Sheffield Nando’s. In Ipswich I ate a pizza on my hotel room bed and then fell asleep wearing my shoes. Watford was a cheese and onion pasty while watching Take Me Out on ITV, Leyton some Haribo, Chester a Chinese and Burnley a McDonald’s, my first for fifteen years. The best meal, though, the best I ate in researching Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters (‘Book of the Week’ – Bradford Telegraph and Argus), was in Crewe. There, lady and gentleman, I had a full English breakfast which cost £2 (accompanying tin of Sunkist 45p). You don’t get that on Saturday Kitchen (the producers of Saturday Kitchen should note that I am currently doing the publicity rounds for my new book, Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters).
Do you do that as well? Do you remember whose drink is whose by their political leanings? I must have first used this method back at university, some twelve years prior to the publication of Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters (‘Excellent’ – David Conn, the guardian). Here’s an example of how it works: Charlie asks for an IPA, Claire the guest ale, light golden in colour. Then there is Gary and his IPA with a dash of lime (don’t ask), Michelle with her vodka and coke and Katie with her rum and coke. Yours is also the guest ale. You order, the bar man places the drinks down, annoyed that nothing about your face says ‘and one for you too mate.’ A number of these drinks look the same, but you don’t panic; you have your method. The right drink will go to the right person, avoiding a social faux pas even worse than putting out the recycling on the wrong day. So, you rearrange, placing yourself on the far left, and Gary to your right (basically the same but supported the Iraq War). Then come Michelle (her Dad was in the miners’ strike), and Katie (once called for renationalisation of utilities at dinner party, but sometimes a bit draconian on law and order). Charlie and Claire are more difficult: both have tried to justify the coalition’s cuts forcing you to temporarily delete their numbers from your phone, not that you only like to have friends who agree with you. Mind you, they both said they would buy Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters (‘Brilliant’ – Chester Chronicle). No, Charlie’s going on the far right – I remember his impression of Desmond from Desmond’s. Easy. Not a drink out of place, and thus more time to discuss that month’s literary releases.
Inconveniently, I’ve run out of space with nonsense to burn. As such, I’ll now give you the Leither ideas scribbled on my bedside pad and you can make up the Midgets from there: ‘being somewhere by accident.’ ‘talking to bits of self, each an individual.’ ‘Children given names with hashtags in them.’ ‘Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters: Travels through England’s Football Provinces, published this month by Bloomsbury’. ‘Middle urinal hidden rulebook.’ ‘Snitches.’ ‘Networking.’ ‘Laces in new shoes: piss me off.’ ‘Replacement bus service/pair up with the person next to you – most dreaded words in English language.’ ‘Superpower – can see inside Kinder eggs to choose toy.’