Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Meals fit for a King

YOU may now bow down to me. It turns out I am descended from royalty. My descendants arrived here from Normandy with William the Conqueror, beat up a few Anglo-Saxons and then set about lording it around the British Isles. There is even a Rippers "seat" somewhere in Warwickshire - but I'll get to that later.
I learned all this during our fascinating road trip of Britain. Having arrived in Brighton in the pouring rain, thinking "what on earth are we going to do here?", it turned out to be a splendid little break. As I've mentioned before the owners of the Alvia, who are most likely Scandinavians and perhaps sussed the "Viking" in me, were extremely polite and helpful throughout our stay.
I did worry a bit, though, when we were shown to our four-poster bedroom to find what can only be described as a Black grizzly bear lying on our bed. In the middle of summer, too. I'm sure that is the ideal bed cover in Finland, Denmark or Sweden in Mid winter, but not for Brighton in August - despite the heavy rain.

That night we decided to don coats and hats, put up an umbrella and risk a trip into town. There was nothing much advertised but I had spotted an interesting little bar called Rikki Tik's on the internet earlier.
We had a couple of drinks there while a DJ pumped out some sounds but a wet Tuesday in Brighton hardly encourages the party-goers onto the streets. After that we had a little wander around, then visited a cosy little pub called the Globe for another couple of lagers. I must admit I felt slightly unsteady on my feet after that.
By then Wren, who has a body clock very similar to the Robot in that she simply MUST eat every four hours, was beginning to gnaw on my arm. Nothing for it, we went in pursuit of fast food.
I was amazed to find that she had never experienced the delight of Subway, being rather put off by the smells that eminate from this rather fine establishment. On this occasion she agreed to try it, and indeed was converted. We both noshed our baguettes sitting on a bench near the Royal Pavilion, a marvellous edifice which would be equally at home in India or perhaps Baghdad.

Next day it was still fairly miserable but, as hardy Brit holidaymakers are wont to do, we headed for the pier. What a place! As we looked around the various attractions and amusements the sun began to come out. Wren beat me on the Dolphin Derby, a great little game where you roll balls up a slope and attempt to get them into different value holes (oo er, missus).
I also desperately tried to snare a Zippy doll with one of those grabbing machines, wasting 50p knowing full well the things are rigged and you have no hope of winning. Still, it would have made a good present for Withers, who seems to talk more and more like the character out of Rainbow these days.
After the pier it was time to hit the shops. And there were a great selection of Bohemians boutiques in the Laines area of the town. We also took the chance to eat at a Brazilian restaurant called Bosa Nostra, which was fab. I had the Brazilian national dish, which is called Feijoada and is a stew of beans with various meats thrown in. We also had some Brazilian sausage for starter and Wren had a pancake stuffed with mince and covered with cheese.
We didn't find my favourite-ever shop, though, until the walk home after watching a seagull nearly throttle himself by eating half an apple whole. Reminded me of Shutts at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The Taj. Even now the name sends shivers down my spine. The Taj is the most wonderful supermarket, stocking everything a cordon blue chef like myself could desire. Every vegetable, every pasta, every rice, every spice and every variation of every spice. I could move to Brighton, just to shop in The Taj alone. It's brilliant. I celebrated by buying a couple of jars of Fenugreek Leaves, particular good for Paneer curries. Wren had to tear me away. Brighton may be a long way but one day I will return and raid that shop. Fantastic.

That night we went to the Pav Tav as trendy Wren, now dressed in some rather swanky new purchases, has taken to calling it. It is a pub that is frequented by student types and recent school leavers and made me feeling quite old.
But it's good. It's good because even on a Wednesday night they showcase new bands.
We had the privilege of watching a band from Horsham called Offside. They were pretty punky, pretty loud and not bad at all. The only problem came when one of their guitarists, obviously fairly new to the game, broke a string. This became a major issue for him. Rather than playing on as best he could he stood with hands on hips, feeling sorry for himself as the other members of the band bravely tried to rescue the number.
There then followed a 10 minute delay while he attached a new string, only to realise that throughout the following numbers his guitar continually went out of tune. Poor Dab. He needs to realise the show must go on, whatever the catastrophe (and there are far worse catastrophes than breaking a string, like your amp catching fire cos your beer has fallen down the back of it, as I can well testify).
Full marks to Offside, though. Good band and highly enjoyable with songs like Tick-Tock, Waster and something that sounded like Boy George. There was a little bit of a reggae beat in there, too, taking me back to '77 yada, yada, yada...
We went Turkish on the way home. Chicken kebabs.

THURSDAY: To Poole via Arundel and Portsmouth, 150 miles.

The following morning we set off fresh on the next leg of our journey. We set off for Portsmouth after a mild rant from me after moving the car around to the front of the hotel to find that some discourteous driver was parking his vehicle in the middle of two spaces. Anyone who knows Brighton will know parking is a problem at the best of times and we had to load up Wren's flat, I mean luggage, in the boot. For this task I was forced to park in the road, all the time glaring at the entirely ignorant driver who had caused this scenario.

First stop on what was supposed to be the Bournemouth leg of the journey was Arundel. Fantastic place. Very medieval with a swanky castle and everything. My real reason for going here was to visit the cricket ground, however. This is the place the MCC play at every year and the Lord's Taverners seem to have made a second home. We drove up to the ground and were lucky enough to gatecrash the Under-14 English Cup final between Leicester and Sheffield.
Standing by the scoreboard to take a picture, the man in situ shouted: "Are you the advanced party? When are the rest of the Army arriving?"
Hadn't a clue what he was on about but smiled politely anyway. Only on returning to the car did I realise I had my England Barmy Army shirt on. Doh!
What an idyllic spot for a cricket ground, though. Breathtaking, I must say.

Driving on we reached the outskirts of Portsmouth. Needing a break I decided we should pop in and see the Victory. We headed for the historic Docklands and though they were charging £16 per adult for full tour tickets it was quite easy to just wander around, see most of the boats and museums, without spending a jot.
I was quite happy to keep my money in my pocket until Wren and I saw a little booth. "Find out the history of your surname", it said. "More than 500,000 names researched". As I told the man in the booth my name I had little hope of it cropping up. But there it was. And what a fantastic history the Rippers dynasty has.
There is Ermine on our family crest, which represents royalty of some description, and there is also a family moto "Virtue for its own sake". Well, everyone knows how virtuous I am so this didn't surprise me much.
The history did, though. Apparently one of my ancestors arrived with William of Conk. Another died fighting a joust in front of the king at Woodstock, and yet another was a soldier who later became a journalist. We have a family "seat" called Amington Hall in Warwickshire. From now on, I expect to be addressed as "Sir" or "His Lordship Mr Rippers". Particularly by that serf Withers.
Wren, too, looked into her family history. She is proudly Anglo-Saxon.
Unlike me. The Normans may have come from France (which perhaps explains my culinary expertise) but they were originally Vikings. Doesn't explain why I get sea sick on the cross channel ferry, though.

That night we arrived in Bournemouth. I used to go there when it was a thriving little holiday town with swanky hotels. My mate Millsy and I used to drive down in his TR6 after finishing work early on a Friday, being spurred on by Dexy's Midnight Runners album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, park up outside the local church and then proceed into the town to get bladdered and visit the local clubs. On the way back we found a takeaway that served the best mushroom burgers I've ever tasted.
All weekend we would sleep in the car, only to be woken on Sunday morning by the ringing of the church bells and some rather curious looking old ladies staring in through the window as we peered out with bloodshot eyes from under heavy eyelids at the churchgoing folk of the town.
My illusions of great Bournemouth trips were shattered by the current state of the place. It is a typically rundown, unexciting town, in vast contrast to Brighton. The impression wasn't helped when we were shown rooms in three hotels which all appeared down at heel and greatly in need of refurbishment. There was nothing for it but to move on to Poole.
Not much here, either, but they do have a lovely local park and it is quite a posh place for the sailing fraternity to visit. We found a nice hotel, too. The Quarterdeck. The only problem was a dodgy shower but the room and breakfast were splendid.
That night we ate out at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet called the Real China. The only trouble was that as we started to enjoy it, the staff started closing down and putting stuff away around us. In the end, all-you-can-eat became all-you-can-prevent-the-waiters-packing-away. Still, it was fun.
The final leg of the road trip in the next blog instalment.

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