It was a dark and stormy night… that shit made me miss my flight. It was white out conditions with some bumper to bumper action. I was already ecstatic to be leaving Canadian winter behind, now more than ever. Where’s the bar, need a drink. After performing a quick disappearing act with two beers, I jumped on the computer to find the next cheapest flight. Immensely soured and pissed off I click BUY, for the second time! Flight two is in nineteen hours, better set up shop in the airport and get comfortable. Too cheap to get a hotel now. As long as I was still on route to England, I could deal with a rocky start.
English soil, made it, as I sit down, starving and exhausted from a day and a half in transit. I notice my cousin and aunt walk in so I crank my stone stiff legs up again to be able to make eye contact. With a slightly awkward hug of the familiar, yet unknown meeting for the first time as an adult, open arms were extended making me feel as if I had just been returning home from a long journey. After a much needed shower, I was treated to a plentiful as usual, perfect English breakfast. Bacon, sausage, beans, eggs, fried tomatoes, mushrooms and toast. Fighting against the last few bites, I tapped out. I lost that battle but I would beat the jet lag, so out we went to have a few drinks. Starting at a few anyways, it escalated quickly with Sambucca shots. Not only was I given a thorough introduction to the local pubs, but the drinks within having nothing twice. Sleeping it off, I was on track. It was the best way I could have imagined to kick off my stay with my cousins. The days ensuing were similar, going to watch a football match, Manchester United vs. Sunderland. I was getting spoiled being shown such great hospitality.
Black pudding for breakfast, nothing like some coagulated blood to start the day, and off to extend my known family a little more, being introduced to another two generations. On the way to their house we stop at a place called Whittakers, which had stood the test of time, serving up pasties and pies. Leaving with a heavy meat and potato pie, I’m informed the way to go about this in Tyldesley is throw the whole pie between a buttered bun and sauce it up. Red or brown, Ketchup or HP Sauce.
Filling my stomach with a warming sense of nourishment I was off to Manchester for the night navigating my way by train and metrolink. On a slightly different note, Cuba, another trip, what seemed like another life. Through the drunken stupor of a week I met a couple who hailed from Manchester. With intentions on coming to visit sooner than I did, I was now on their side of the pond and chugging through the streets to their house. Arriving a little bit late, stepping off the metrolink I can see them waiting in the cold, wet station. Another reunion of the new and old, surreal, meeting six years prior in a different world. Where to first, the local pub for a couple brews before heading to their place for dinner. As we ate and drank late into the night the six year gap was filled. After a late breakfast and a stroll around the heart of the city, stopping at Krispy Kreme before I jumped back on the train to Tyldesley for my last night with my family. Out to dinner and the pub for the evening, where I was made to feel at home for the past week. Unfortunately not long enough, my time here was very beneficial and gratifying, giving me a second home in the world in which I plan to return to. Driven to the bus station, our sad goodbyes were said, and I was London bound.
Against all judgements and criticisms I give organised guided tours, I was on board for a bus trip. I was in Southern England such a short period of time and always fascinated with Stonehenge, I had to get to the ‘pile of rocks in a field’ as most British people referred to it. Cruising through the tranquil English countryside in our little bus through weather with a hormonal imbalance, we were taken to Stonehenge and Bath. Arriving in Bath starving and parched, I made a beeline for the recommended pub for something to stuff down my gullet, moistened by local ciders. Ultimately a ham and swiss sandwich done brilliantly. Shredded ham hock, sautéed mushrooms and gruyere cheese warmed on a crunchy roll and a grainy beer mustard. Parsnip soup with the warmth of chili was perfect for the dreary English winter day. The ciders were outstanding, leaving me with a greater respect for the apple elixir ranging from a dry, more pronounced flavour to a dangerously sweet, tasting just like juice. A full belly, warmed bones and glow of cider, I knew I would be getting some shut eye on the bus back to London, something I was getting a lot of practice at.
Getting in around 3:30am, early afternoon came quick. I dragged my ass out of my bunk and went on a bit of a foot tour. Caught a quick glimpse of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and walked across London Bridge, before diving back into the river of beer I’ve been swimming up. I just didn’t care enough about Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, even what I did see this time, it wasn’t the London I came for this round. Finding myself in the first pub I came across, I notice symptoms of dehydration. I’ll have a beer, well a cask ale or real ale. It’s an unfiltered and unpasteurized beer that goes through a second fermentation, hand pumped from a cask without having to add the carbonation pressure of the regular draft. Generally served around thirteen degrees for the actual flavour, it suits England very well never really having to escape the extreme heat for a frosty one.
Relishing this nectar, I’ve gotten to know quite well over my short stay in England, I remembered I was on a mission. I was hunting for the fish and chips experience I had as a child of six. I recall a crispy fillet of beer battered cod, it seemed the size of my thigh at the time. A mound of chips, peas, tartar sauce and lemon. After searching when I was fifteen and returning home unsuccessful, I was bound and determined to find this meal of what was becoming to feel more like imagination. As I relentlessly ate fish and chips, I thought I might be trying too hard. Having a sudden epiphany during my fourth plate or so, I realized that I wasn’t looking for it to taste the same, look the same or even smell the same. It was a memory that did exist but was unable to be recreated. It was of a simpler time, very little care in the world, not having dealt with any of the trials and tribulations of my life yet. Sitting down at a restaurant I couldn’t name, with my Mom, Dad and sister as we laughed and smiled, brought together by food and travel.
As I was squeezing in a few more ales before catching my twelve hour bus out of the country, I was already looking forward to my quick return. After experiencing a bit more of the real England, there was something that drew me to this country. Was it the stunning landscape, the rich history, the memories of my childhood trip and family who made me feel at home, my heritage, the cosiness of the pub, the beer or food, I wasn’t sure. Regardless of the reason, I was hooked in and could feel my lip being tugged. It was only a matter of time before I resurfaced there.