Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mid-flight musings

I can’t eat an airplane meal without thinking of Betty. In no way am I impugning her culinary skills. She was an excellent cook; with such attention to detail it caught my breath at times. No, in her prime, Betty was a trolley dolly. She’d be turning 80 around now, so we are talking the golden era of elite flying – when service really was with a smile.

An old family friend, I met her when I did my OE*. She and her South African husband had a constant stream of visitors in their inner London house and I was one of many colonial waifs and strays she took in, in the most gracious way. There was always a comfortable bed and a seat at their table. Though already a ‘vegetarian’ (misnamed as I have always eaten seafood) it was prior to the discovery of the life changing dairy allergy. Peter, her husband, introduced me to Stilton for which I am ever grateful. He also initiated me in the wonders of dry Spanish sherry taken before a meal, though I never reserved some in the glass to slosh in the soup, as was his want. I did, briefly adopt his habit of grinding black pepper on strawberries, a combination a fine chocolate manufacturer has perfected.

Betty and Peter had a house in the country. A quaint costal town who’s claim to fame in a lighthouse in the middle of the main street. It plays a bit part in a Peter Greenaway flick. The journey from London to their North Eastern bolthole was well worn. Being a hostess for travellers from way back, this is where Betty really shone. A couple of hours into the journey, after a decent breakfast and a civilized departure time, Peter pulled the car (something suitably large and British) into a picturesque lay-by. A little mystified as to the isolated spot and the announcement of lunch, the boot was popped and Betty whisked out 3 individual trays. Just like the meals on a quality airline, these nifty pieces of moulded plastic nestled a perfect array of containers. Mine held a vegetarian wonder which she must have slaved very early in the morning (possibly a spinach roulade, which was certainly one of the memorable dishes she ccoked for me), a salad, a crispy bread roll and some kind of delicious sweet treat. I’d never seen such domestic perfection, nor experienced airplane food that has surpassed it (though that only reflects the class I fly). Not to be outdone, Peter played his role; turning to me in the back he enquiring “white or red?” and preceded to proffer a half bottle in either colour, lunch with this couple could not be complete without an appropriate drop.

I look at the diminishing size of the meal on QF631 (an hour late from Brisbane), it’s after 4pm, which means that cattle class get offered a complementary 187 ml plastic bottle of wine (some better than average Victorian wineries for a change). I think of Betty and Peter, their Rover and the best meal on the move I have ever been offered. I remember how amazed I was that she’d been able to replicate the airline trays that she had dispensed countless time in the sky and I tip my plastic tumbler (oh for a real glass) of Pinot Grigio to their memory. How she would shudder to see the casualness of the crew, their pony tails with their late in the day hair escaping, not scraped within an inch of it’s life into a neat bun. What she would make of the serving of food and beverages in plastic bereft of proper cutlery? And the food, oh Betty, the food!

image source

* (For non antipodeans) Overseas Experience – the nickname for the pilgrimage many Aussies and Kiwis make to travel around Europe.

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Blogger mutemonkey said...

A delightful read! Thanks for sharing :)

9:13 am  

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