When Old Man Winter arrives, he blesses the UK with miserable grey skies, snow that other countries smirk at and sun so weak it forces you to debate whether to use your car side lights or full beam, sometimes even in the middle of the day.
The British have been here a while now, and yet we still haven’t got the hang of winter – we get the wrong snow, we complain when the first leaf of autumn flutters to the ground, and we scream in orgasmic delight when a single snowflake appears.
“Oh my God, it’s snowing! Fetch out the toboggan and snow shovels!”
On the other hand we also say dumb stuff like this: “Heard about the weather? Yeah, we’re getting fifteen feet of white stuff tonight. The country’s in a right state. I blame [insert most hated person/event currently in the press] because it wasn’t like this when I was a nipper!”
Six inches – nudge, nudge, wink, wink
At the mere mention of snow or any vaguely unpleasant weather, the British have a tendency to lurch into panic mode. They dash into the nearest supermarket and cram their trolleys with food. It’s the glint of madness in the eye that worries me, like they’re prepared to bludgeon their fellow shopper with a sack of potatoes in order to reach the checkout first so they can hurry home and lock the doors before the dreaded snowflake of doom lands.
I witnessed this panic yesterday. At work I happened to glance out of the window, saw a flurry of snow and thought: “Oh. It’s snowing.” Then I went back to work.
Throughout the day I heard people talking about the weather.
“Six inches they’re saying tonight.”
“Nah, it’ll get rained off. The weekend I heard, they reckon a foot at least.”
“Scotland had it bad, four feet they reckon.”
“Gonna be a cold one tonight, minus a million they said.”
Each time I wanted to add: “The Russians must be laughing their arses off at us.”
Where do these people get their information from?
Yes it’s snowing. No it’s not going to be six feet. Yes, it might freeze, and the roads will be icy, but why are you surprised by this? You’re adults, don’t you get how things work in the winter? Shit gets cold, deal with it.
After, whilst browsing in the supermarket, I noticed there were more people than usual, and there were trolleys crammed with stuff. One guy, wrapped in a huge padded coat, hat, scarf and gloves, had a trolley packed with bottles of milk, over a dozen loaves of bread, four sacks of potatoes, and an entire pallet of beans. A quick glance gave a rough count of about 30 tins!
I figured he was having a weird dinner party.
He had a weird hard look in his eye as he marched toward the checkout.
In the pasta aisle I saw a woman hauling large bags of pasta off the shelf and launching them into her trolley. After the fifth or sixth bag I wandered away. We crossed paths in the next aisle where she grabbed tins of tuna, pilchards and other assorted fishy products.
Then I heard the announcement, in what I perceived in a panicky voice: “Can all till trained operators go to the tills.”
The checkouts were packed with frightened people, trolleys jammed with food, everyone pushing and jostling one another.
As I strolled by with my dog food and a Cornish pasty, I had to smirk at the way each scared shopper eyed up the adjacent aisle, trying to figure if they could queue hop and sprint through the checkout, race back to their car, load up and tear out of the car park before the sprinkling of snow became a sixty foot drift.
In conclusion – the British are dumb, panicky animals when it comes to winter.
However, there’s always a balance.
What us Brits do very well in winter is cook and scoff very tasty food.
Last week, after finishing work, I stopped by the hot counter in Sainsbury’s in the hope of finding a hot tasty snack that hadn’t lost all its moisture after languishing under a heat lamp all day. I didn’t fancy an entire spit-roasted chicken with skin like 100 year-old leather.
The chicken wings were not worth the effort since there’s more meat in a salad.
I spotted a plump looking Cornish pasty, kinda lonely looking, sat on an expanse of metal tray.
It had a “reduced” sign stuck in it – 80p.
No. It’ll be dry and I’ll end up coughing it out of the car window.
On a second glance it did look appetising, despite the reduction which basically means: “Buy it now as it’s going in the bin, because in about 2 minutes it’ll be unfit for human consumption.”
It went in my basket.
Hey, I was hungry.
Sat in my cold car I warmed my hands on the lovely brown pastry before taking a bite.
Oh. Em. Gee.
That was the best Cornish pasty I’ve ever had.
It was succulent, lean beef, nice amount of potato, smidgeon of sauce, soft pastry with enough crunch to be satisfying. It was heaven.
My job means I get to spend the day in a warm office, though I do venture outside now and then. So after braving the fierce elements across the car park to my car, I was cold and fed up. I wanted to be at home, warm and happy, not shivering in my car waiting with furious patience for the heater to work so my numb hands could thaw out.
That delicious pasty brightened my day.
It was glorious.
It was so good that yesterday evening I strolled to the hot counter in the hope of finding another yummy pasty. I could see the glass counter half way down the aisle, but I didn’t want to look at it for too long before I reach it in case I found it was empty.
I wanted my hope to live as long as possible before having it dashed by an entire display of chicken wings, drumsticks, fillets in breadcrumbs and, of course, the obligatory pile of spit-roasted full chickens. Honestly, what’s with all the chicken? Come on Sainsbury’s, get some variety in your hot food!
Golden parcel of delight!
There it was. Not a rejected, discounted huddle of pastry, ready for the bin. This one sat squarely on its tray, bold and proud (as much as a pasty can be) of its golden crust and hidden tasty filling. That pasty knew it was destined for greatness.
It was also full price.
I knew when our eyes met…well, when eye met pastry crust, that it would be worth every penny of its £1.60.
One hurdle lay between me and the succulent delight imprisoned behind hot glass.
Another customer was waiting to be served.
A man in dirty tracksuit bottoms, ugly builders hands (dirty, stubby nails, cuts, etc) and a tattoo of something stupid on his neck. He was browsing. Oh no. A browser. The worst kind of shopper when your heart is set on obtaining the one product you want, no, that you need!
He mused over whether to go for chicken, or chicken. I watched, hovering close by, as his eyes shifted to the pasty.
I willed him to ignore it.
Use the Force, Dave.
This is not the pasty you’re looking for.
I didn’t hold my breath as such, but I certainly felt the adrenaline kick it up a notch.
Ugly Hands went for chicken wings!
Cornish Pasty was safe! We would be together.
In my mind a mini-Dave leaped and threw a fist of victory into the air.
Now I’m sure I said the right words, yet based on the customer assistant’s puzzled look, and replaying my words after, I think what I actually asked for was: “A Clornish Pastry please.”
Not that it matters. The way I saw things was that Cornish Pasty tipped me a nod of approval with its crust before it was slipped into a bag and handed over to my eagerly waiting hands. I was looking forward to the driving snow and freezing wind between the store and my car.
I had a fleeting thought as I paid at the checkout.
Had I built this up too much?
- What if this pasty wasn’t as good as Discount a few days before?
- Maybe I should have left it a few weeks so I could forget how good Discount was, therefore reducing the risk of making a comparison.
- What if Full Price was made a different way?
- That 1% difference in ingredients, shape, texture, spices could ruin my expectations.
Yes, I’m fully aware that’s a detailed list for a fleeting thought, but I really, really wanted Full Price to live up to, and indeed exceed, Discounts high standards. That train of thought was pushed aside when Old Man Winter hit me in the face when I stepped outside.
Unwrapping – a bit like Christmas, only better.
For some reason the heater in my car doesn’t work until I’ve been driving for about 10 minutes. I sat there with Full Price on my lap, enjoying the warmth on my thighs. I closed my hands over the bag, ripped the label off and carefully removed Full Price.
Anyone who has eaten a Cornish Pasty like this will know that unless you’re careful a pristine folded bundle of pastry can quickly become a soggy hot mess in your lap if you don’t handle it with the care it fully deserves.
It smelled divine.
And it was so hot.
I took a gentle bite, mindful not to overburden my mouth with hot filling.
That was the good stuff.
Just to make sure I took another bite.
Full Price was way ahead of Discount in every way – succulent tasty beef chunks, soft potato, subtle spices, firm yet yielding pastry. Every bite was as satisfying as the last. The world seemed to slip away and all I cared about was my car dining Cornish Pasty experience.
I’ve enjoyed authentic Cornish Pasty’s before, ones crafted by cooks in Cornwall who keep their old recipe a carefully guarded secret. There are differences between them those ones on sale at Sainsbury’s, but not much. My hunger, hope and anticipation played a part in my enjoyment, but damn, it’s a close call between the two.
So that’s why my Giving Thanks 3 & 4 are together, because both weeks have been blessed by that yummy golden parcel of heaven.
And so I thank you, Sainsbury’s, for warming my hands, mouth and stomach.