photo credit: laurenz-kleinheider/unsplash

BEHIND THE LINE

Bad food and service are as international as men of mystery. This month features three stories from across the ocean in the mythical land of hobbits and Gordon Ramsey. As always, names have been changed to protect the innocent, except for that cat. He deserves it (he was actually a good kitty).

Toasted Tomato Sandwich

I could be a picky eater on occasion when I was little. Sometimes this meant that I would only eat lemons for breakfast or refuse a dish I had traditionally loved. Typical little kid stuff.

My parents decided to take the family to the UK to visit family. While there, we got a little spoiled as one family member owned a hotel with an attached restaurant and pub. Nine-year-old me loved it. The dinners were great. Lots of chicken and beef. But for breakfast I would only eat cheese and Ryvita and lunches were strictly toasted tomato sandwiches with butter, salt, pepper, and mayonnaise. I would not eat anything else for lunch.

My mum and dad thought we should all go to Wales while we were in the UK so we borrowed a car and off we went. Wales was beautiful and my mum filled us up with stories of Welsh witches.

Close to lunchtime on our first day there my father saw a truck stop up ahead. My mum said that we should carry on ‘til we found a pub. Pub lunches were pretty reasonable. But my father insisted that some of the best food could be found at truck stops, which is a pretty bold claim.

My father had based his opinion on truck stops in Canada and the US where he had done quite a bit of travelling. And truck stops in North America generally have substantial and filling meals. It’s not “fine dining” but is usually fine.

Not in Wales in the 1970s

When we entered the restaurant everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at us. They stared at us as we walked across the room to a table. Stared as we sat. Eventually everyone went back to what they were doing and a waitress (who I can only describe as a cross between Dianna Dors and an abandoned couch) came over to take our order.

At this point I noticed that other than my mother, this woman was the only woman in the whole place. Even at nine I thought this was weird.

There were no menus, just a chalk board above the pass to the kitchen. They had toasted tomato sandwiches! Phew!

My mother excused herself to go to the ladies (which made me feel uneasy, if I was older I would have made a crack about this being a wickerman situation). She came back almost immediately and told my father we had to leave. Dad balked, but Mum really wanted to go. There was no ladies room she said. She didn’t mean that the toilet was unisex or something progressive like that. No, there was one toilet and it was clearly labelled “Men.” She had stopped to ask the waitress and she confirmed there was just the one men’s room. I have no idea what the waitress did when she felt the need.

My father said to just hold it, we’ll eat, and then leave to find some facilities. We should have left.

Our food arrived. My toasted tomato sandwich consisted of barely buttered toast smothered and soaked under what I can only guess was the contents of a large can of stewed tomatoes.

I don’t remember what everyone else ordered but I do remember my father promptly putting money on the table and telling us all to get up and get out and don’t look back.
Reminder: 1970s Welsh truck stops suck.Let me move the washing

Reminder: 1970s Welsh truck stops suck.

Let me move the washing

Just a short one. Family vacay to the UK and we found ourselves at a pub and inn in Salisbury. We had just visited Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral. Dad wanted a beer and cigarette and Mum wanted all the kids fed.

The pub was really nice, but also super busy. The landlord said that they could accommodate us in a private dining room on the second floor. This sounded super fancy to us so we said yes!

The landlord led us upstairs and down a hall to a door. He opened the door and ushered us in. There was already someone in the room. Smoking a cigarette and ironing sheets on the dining table. She was a kindly older woman and looked shocked that we were there. She had a kerchief knotted on her head and the cigarette ash was falling all over the place as she talked with the smoke in her mouth.

She offered to move the ironing out of the way so we could eat. She wasn’t going to leave the room but just shift over and continue with her work as we ate.

We went to McDonald’s.

Pub Cat

We went to a quaint English countryside pub. It was beautiful, by a river, fireplaces in every room of the pub, pipes hung above every mantle. Men were smoking with these communal pipes. It was like something right out of The Hobbit.

The specialty of the house was chicken and chips in a basket. It was amazing, but for teenaged me the best part was the pub cat. Henry was given free range of the restaurant to control the mice. Although I don’t know how many mice he’d be interested in as everyone kept giving the cat chicken

He sat in my lap as I ate. Best pub cat ever.

Have an interesting restaurant story either as staff or as a guest? Be a part of this series by submitting firsthand experiences Please send stories to grippingkitchentales@gmail.com or pm Salty on social media. Rod Weatherbie

About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also likes writing about food. Go figure.

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