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Monday, July 15, 2024
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Laterally SpeakingMediterranean Divorce

Mediterranean Divorce

You might have noticed that I wasn’t here last month. This was owing to our summer hols driving around bits of France and Spain to (a) check if they were still there and (b) to remind myself of some of the quirkier good things about Europe before all hell breaks loose on October 31st. After which date it may (or still may not) be more difficult or even impossible to travel across borders without at least a passport, separate driving license and insurance certificates and other forms of identification including DNA print out and a list of various tattoos and their exact locations on my body.
No, it’s OK. I promised our editor that this article would NOT be about Brexit and it’s not! You can vote for whomever and what-so-ever you prefer! It is however about some of my personal thoughts and even regrets on what looks a bit like a forthcoming European divorce. Let’s start with travel.
Quite apart from the obvious benefit of hassle-free transit, the first thing that strikes you is how good the French and Spanish roads are. No potholes, no bumps or heavy road noise—just a relaxingly smooth glide over the tarmac. Of course, continental roads have probably been mostly paid for by us and our contributions to the EC budget over the years, but if they could prioritise making their roads nice, why couldn’t we have done the same? On the same subject of travel, I prefer kilometres to miles mostly because they go down so much faster. I If you’re on a motorway and you see ‘Madrid 250 kms’ it sounds a lot, but in next to no time it’s 100 and then 50 and then you’ve arrived. Miles seem to take so much longer to cover than they should. Perhaps this is just me or I’m being a grumpy old continentalist. And French motorways have lots of rest stops too. They’re called ‘Aires de Repos’ and you find them every 20 kms or so with grass and green trees and places to sit and unwind without being bombarded by noise and adverts for burgers and chips and ice-creams. How much more civilised and relaxing than a typical UK Motorway Service Station. And don’t even start on me about continental trains. They are so much quicker, quieter and nicer than ours. And a journey from—say—Paris to Bordeaux will not only arrive on time but will get you there at one third of the UK price for the distance!
OK. There are plenty of other things that the French and Spanish do NOT get right. For a start, they like to think of themselves as great lovers. This is total and utter rubbish. Many of them also have horrid yappy small dogs and some have a revolting habit of shooting, trapping and eating many small things like skylarks and turtledoves. However, apart from that, I have to admit their food habits are pretty good. Only the French would make bread so delicious it’s a spiritual creed in itself. Collecting the morning fresh ‘Pains de Campagne’ from the bakery is a semi-religious experience. Why is it that so-called ‘French bread’ sticks or baguettes in English supermarkets taste so boringly of sawdust and nothing? Is it our flour or our water or the English air or something? And yet, in France why are they always so yummy? And another thing that we could do better… supermarket fruit and veg. When I do the shopping in Europe, I often discover that the pile of fruit is an art display and the veg is arranged with flair and style. Over here, the fruit is stacked in their boxes and racks as it arrives and without any great thought for panache or attention to detail. I don’t know, but over there they seem to be prouder of what they are selling and want to show it off to you. And this is a purely personal food comment, but being a lover of squid and calamari and octopus and all fishy squiggly things that come from the sea, I was totally spoilt for choice. Rows and rows of cuttlefish and squid—chopped into batons, rings or strips, frozen or fresh or marinated. Even whole cooked baby octopus… I know, I know… It was heaven! This one’s obviously just me… In UK fish departments, you’ll be lucky to find a few rather tired old rings of calamari and that’s your lot. And supermarket trolleys are better over there too—they run easier and the brakes actually work rather than squeak and jam and you’ve got more space with much wider aisles. It’s just an overall nicer shopping experience…
What else? Well I haven’t mentioned healthy things like the ‘Mediterranean Diet’ which means less coronary heart disease from loads of batter and chips and the simple fact that Mediterranean weather is much warmer than ours because it’s further South. I realise this is particularly pertinent as we are about to descend into another English wet and blowy winter once again. Oh, to be on The Côte d’Azur next January! I wish…
But there is one more thing we could learn a bit from Europe before we cut the rope and drift off to our own windswept shores. Like it or not, but the majority of Spaniards or French walk about their streets with a sense of style and the ‘chic’. Compared to—say—the grey streets of Bristol or Barnstable or Bridport where many of us look so gloomy, European men and women seem to dress better and just look cheerier. It’s probably because (unlike us) they haven’t had to worry themselves sick over Brexit. Call me “Continental”, but I’d love it if we could just be a bit more stylish sometimes and smiley and—dare I say it—look happier? Anyway, I’m off to read a good funny book in my favourite Dorset pub with a roaring log fire and I’ll smile a lot as I down some excellent West Country cider. I shall share a few ribald anti-French jokes and then I’ll order a proper full English breakfast (two eggs, fried bread and bacon and a huge traditional pork sausage). Now, that’s a real breakfast! None of your so-called continental brekkie rubbish with namby-pamby little brioche rolls and no decent marmalade either…

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