22 May 2010

A weekend away

Cymer in South Wales was for a hundred years a mining village, a history that is kept alive in the only remaining pub: the Refreshment Rooms, a building that was originally a railway station (one of three stations in the village, all long since closed)
Photo Jane Elizabeth
A wide, shallow pub one bar leads off another which leads off another and in each room are scores of photographs recalling the former life: black faced miners in cramped passages stare bleakly back at the camera. A painfully young Prince of Wales opens the apprenticeship and training centre. The Cymer Rugby Club smile grimly out of 1952. There are photographs of new lifts, machinery, cranes, towers being opened, and of collieries being closed. In the room with the pool table a vast large-scale map of the area shows the seams of coal, and the mines they sank to dig them, collieries that closed, one by one, from 1970 to 1996 as the seams were gradually, eventually exhausted.

It was Saturday evening and the pub's restaurant were getting ready for a busy service. In the lounge bar, at the table next to us five ladies of a certain age enjoyed a pre-dinner drink while they studied the menus. They were dressed smartly and their combined perfume gently suffused their corner of room. They didn't speak to each other much - perhaps the evening was still young, perhaps our presence was inhibiting. I wondered where their husbands were. The barmaid took their order: the popular choice was a steak, well-done, not cheap at £14.50. "No, no peas with it" said one, firmly, affronted at the suggestion.

The other side of us sat a family : parents, daughter-plus-boyfriend, younger sister, granny. The boyfriend was making an effort: sitting up straight, hair and green t-shirt both well clean, Earring, yes, but a discreet one. Bracelets, yes, both wrists, but not too many; Necklaces? Yes, three, but including a crucifix so not too menacing. He sipped his beer and listened carefully laughing in the right places. I concluded that the pair hadn't been going out very long. The barmaid took their order, the popular choice was a steak, well done 'does it come with french fries ?'

In the next bar a group of men watched Leinster v Munster on S4C. with the commentary in English. They were drinking cold Guiness and lager.

And then there was us - three egregious English Mountain Bikers with wild stories of how fast we had descended White's Level* and hitching up our trouser-legs to compare cuts and bruises. For where there were once mines and freight railways in the Afan Valley, there is now the Afan Forest Mountain bike centre, with 100km of purpose built, hair-raising single-track bike trails which draw mountain bikers from all over the country, alien lycra-clad beings in the valley communities. The barmaid came and took our order: The popular choice was three more pints of bitter.

We cycled 70 miles in three days, back-breaking climbs and tingling descents. In the evenings we cooked for ourselves and at lunchtimes we had vast and welcome portions of carbohydrate based meals at the Afan Mountain Bike centre. I punctured twice and broke a valve once We got soaked to the skin and covered from head to toe in mud. We had an excellent time.

We were there from Friday to Sunday and between us we probably spent £500 in Cymer. I wonder if that is enough to keep the village afloat.

*not quite this fast


M4GD said...

You write so well and so vividly! I never heard of Cymer before so this was truly culturally and historically enlightening!

Then comes the mountain biking and your ‘hitching up … trouser-legs to compare cuts and bruises.’ So, is this how one can assess the fastest and sturdiest biker?! The higher the number of cuts and bruises, the higher the degree of awesomeness!
And is it okay the next time I see a mountain biker, I can confidently say: ”Show me your legs please?”:-) Just like in gauging the age of a tree, a scientist can tell how old it is from the number of rings on the trunk and how thick it is!

And what were exactly the meals you marvellous ‘cut and bruised trio’ cooked? Are you planning a new cooking show comme the fun show: “The Hairy Bikers Food Tour of Britain”:-) You see we need these details not just ‘we cooked for ourselves’!
Mr. Botogol could you kindly please beef up GI with some Mountain Biking recipes!:-)

And finally, why do I sense a hint of Oxbridge snobbery in the tiny bit tad of ‘mockery’ for the souls who ordered their steak well done??!!!;-) especially that you repeated it several times! Clearly, subconsciously it drew your attention!!!
It’s not as ‘gauche’ anymore to order meat well done as it used to be!
I know someone who never had enough of their beef carpaccio and indulged for decades in ordering rare meat until one day they changed overnight after getting extremely ill! I say medium with a hint of well is best!

Bill Quango MP said...

Medium is the default setting.
Delighted in a Spa the other week when the waiter said "we have a very fine tomato sauce that the chef has prepared. Would you care to try some?"

Botogol said...

@M4GD - we cooked two evenings,

Friday = Swordfish Steak by my friend mark: grilled with new potatoes and salad. Excellent.

Saturday = Rib-eye steak by yours truly, pan-fried, with bearnaise sauce (from jar, apologies), chips (oven, apologies), courgettes-w-chilli and green salad.

How was my steak done? I was aiming for an uashamedly bourgeois medium rare:

Recipe: take meat our of fridge some time before, so that it's room temperature not chilled. In the pan put a tiny amount of oil and heat until very hot indeed, add all three steaks; cook until the smoke alarm goes off. remove from heat and allow to 'rest' for precisely the amount of time it takes to locate smoke alarm, knock it down from ceiling and extract battery. Distract friends' attention away from TV for just a moment, would you please, then serve with odd cutlery and plenty of mayonaise.

@BillQuango - I think a chef's special can maen one of two things

1) I have a lot of left over food nearing it's eat-by date and i have crafted a desparate meal from the ingredients availaible. Plus garlic.

2) I am bored silly cooking the same seven dishes every night, and finally I have been allowed to express my soul and talent by doing something different, and this is it, order it and I devote it my whole attention and lay it with trepidation at your table, anxious for recognition.

The difficulty is telling - from the menu and water description alone - which one it is going to be - - but I am an optimist and often order the special.

M4GD said...

:-) Sword fish menu cool and Now you’re talk’n – what a real ‘blast’ of a steak recipe!! The problem for me is this steak recipe requires a ‘tall man’ to get to the smoke alarm (Note to self: locate one tall man on demand):-)

Your recipes may well add to the Hairy Biker’s menu from the episode on Wales. They did a stew called: ‘Lob Scows’ served with crusty bread and then competed with a local chef making a trio of lamb that eclipsed his trio of duck!! Go Bikers!!!

PS Who cares cutlery v no cutlery, out of a jar v home made, medium v well done, champagne v beer - what mattered was that the simple true essence of bon vivant existed at this weekend away i.e. Food, drinks, and true friends!
(And I shall be proactive and add No, it is not an oxymoron to combine ‘simple’ and ‘bon vivant’ in the same line! Cherchez the ‘soul’:-))

Beginner Chef said...

"cook until the smoke alarm goes off". Thanks for nothing, Botogol. I followed your advice only to find that the National Trust house in which I was staying has its smoke alarms directly connected to the fire brigade and there was no way of nullifying the call out.

Um, I am not making this up unfortunately.

Botogol said...

@Beginner Chef
On the other hand firemen are always able to lend a ladder.

M4GD said...

Botogol: One other observation that hit me first and forgot to mention it was that your posting and subsequent replies were positively seeping with ‘economic efficiency’!! The pen speaks a natural born economist! Scary - may be not:-)! It was hilarious reading the way you wrote the recipe and your response re firemen and lending ladders!

…here is the one lame Economist joke I know:
“A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, ‘Lets smash the can open with a rock.’ The chemist says, ‘Let’s build a fire and heat the can first.’ The economist says, ‘Let’s assume that we have a can-opener..."!:-)