I was presenting a local radio panel show once, during a Lent series, and our subject was money. I said my bit (which hasn’t really changed over the decades), along the lines that I’d spend it on a lovely, memorable experience that would at least feed my imagination over the lean times. Spending the last £100 pounds on value range baked beans would just crush me. We were always hard up and so I can remember with wonderful clarity the day we sat on Seatown beach with a large crab that we’d just scratched enough money together to buy. We smashed our way into it with pebbles and ate with our fingers as we swigged a bottle of cheap Soave which we’d dangled in the sea to cool down.
Almost as soon as the phone lines were opened an irate bank manager (remember them?) called in to berate me. “You’re the kind of customer that makes my life impossible” – he barked. Point taken but I never thought it was part of my life’s mission to keep bank managers happy.
On Saturday the whole family drove from our various homes to meet for a walk in the sunshine on the Malverns. We met at British Camp, celebrating one of the boys’ birthdays – it’s a special place for all of us because we spent so much time in a borrowed cottage nearby when they were children. The trees were still stunningly colourful in the autumn sunshine and we could see right across the Vale of Evesham towards Bredon hill with the River Severn making a sinuous course through it. From the very top of British Camp you can easily see Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, and looking west you can see Hay Bluff and parts of the Brecon Beacons. We prefer the British Camp/ Herefordshire Beacon end of the Malverns to the Worcestershire Beacon end because once you get away from the crowds around the Iron Age fort, it rapidly gets quieter and if you’re lucky it can even feel remote – although wet winter days can be a bit trying!
After the walk and the obligatory teas at Sally’s Place the grandchildren and their parents went back to Bristol while the rest of us drove across to Birmingham where we were staying overnight.
That’s enough of that, though, because we’ve always loved a good party and our oldest, whose birthday we were celebrating, had made a reservation for Tropea in March – it gets busy there. You can see the menu at the top, and it doesn’t take a mathematician to know that it’s all too easy to run up a whopping great bill. The ghost of the bank manager must have absented himself altogether from my mind because between the five of us we ran up the largest bill I’ve ever seen on a till roll.
But then, life’s nasty, brutish and short – especially under this wholly incompetent and morally bankrupt government – and having a great time together felt like an act of resistance. The food, the wine and the ambience were brilliant and the owner was such a compelling guide to the food it would have been churlish not to take his word for it and order almost everything. We’ve eaten in a lot of Italian restaurants both here and in Italy and honestly this was paradise. It was as if we were eating in the owner’s house in Tuscany, being spoilt rotten by a crack team of Nonnas. Sadly it’s precisely these marvellous restaurants that are most likely to fold under this latest kicking by the bankers and their pals in government. Of course we couldn’t afford it but we chose – like the moral grownups we all are – to eat beautifully rather than sensibly and as soon as we got home I was planning to teach myself to cook the dishes we’d so liked. Better to think of the bill as a kind of down payment on ten years of pleasure. I asked if I might marry the chef but she was already married and partnered in business to the host- and in any case Madame was keeping a close eye on proceedings and gave me a threatening look, so we feasted through the eighteen plates we’d ordered making those little grunty noises that – as a cook – I love to hear.
As we walked through Harborne the Christmas lights were on. “Why are they putting them up so early?” – someone said. I knew exactly why. We’ve had the Tories in power for twelve years and they’ve all but run the economy into the ground. For me leaving the EU was like being rendered stateless. Life has got progressively worse as the support systems we relied upon were monetised, sold off and run down. We had Covid and lockdowns and now, like 17th century doctors, they decided that one more bleeding was what we all needed. Resistance is futile they try to convince us, but resistance is everything. Loving, carousing, delighting, laughing and feasting; generosity, faith in the future, cooperation and mutual respect are like tank traps to the soulless and mechanised descendants of that miserable bank manager who went after me on the radio.
So if you ask me what I’d spend my last £100 on you already know the answer; and by the way – the owners of Tropea aren’t Italian at all, they’re both Brummies. That’s resistance!