Thursday, March 29, 2007

The London Inn

The London Inn is nowhere near London, and I really don't know how it came by its name.

It is in an obscure hamlet called Molland, in the middle of the county of Somerset, in south-west England. My parents discovered it by happy chance on one of our regular family holidays down in that area, and a trip there became one of the regular high points of my childhood summers.

At that time, back in the '70s, it was run by a charming old lady called - if memory serves - Mrs Buckingham, who claimed to be the oldest landlady in the country (although I don't know that anyone keeps records of such things; she was certainly well into her 70s). And there was an old codger who was always in there, her regular companion and helpmate (not sure that it was anything more intimate than friendship!), who was a great guy too, quite the raconteur.

In addition to all the things that generally win me over me in a pub (antiquity, low ceilings, dark interior, stone and/or wooden floors, dark wood bar), it boasted two unique attractions: a very old slot machine (a real "one-armed bandit", operated by a lever; I think it might actually have pre-dated decimal coinage, but had been modified to accept 2p pieces - very low stakes! I loved those lever-operated machines; you somehow feel much more virtuous, supposing that you are getting some physical exercise while pissing away your money; and you easily convince yourself that there is a knack, that your success or failure somehow depends on the way in which you haul on the lever each time.); and a small menagerie in the front garden (there were two squirrels, which were my favourites; I think also some rabbits, and maybe a tortoise; and some parrots and cockatoos, which I found rather scary and ugly!).

Ah, but the main appeal of the place was the Ploughman's Lunches they did there. I'm sure they did other snacks and sandwiches which were probably excellent as well, but their Ploughman's was so awesome we would rarely want to try anything else. The pub was adjacent to the village bakery, so the bread - individual cob loaves - was always fresh, and usually still just a little warm in the middle (from the baker's oven, not the microwave!), and the exquisite aromas of baking often drifted through the bar. The chutneys and pickled onions were homemade. The portions were enormous (at least to my child's eyes; although I think my parents always struggled to finish theirs too). I'm told the locally-made cheese was pretty darned good. I've never been a fan of cheese (not the hard ones, anyway), unfortunately; but for me they substituted thick wedges of the best ham I have ever tasted. My mouth is watering now at the recollection of it.

One of the few pure, perfect memories of my childhood. The picture in my mind is always that the pub was empty, or nearly so, but for us; that the sun was always bright; that our family dynamic was always happy and quarrel-free.

I went back there a few years later with a friend from college. Of course, Mrs Buckingham had passed on, the little zoo had been disbanded, the Ploughman's was not the same.

Perhaps you should never go back to the scenes of past happiness; it's better just to cherish the memories.

1 comment:

tulsa said...

"Perhaps you should never go back to the scenes of past happiness; it's better just to cherish the memories."

got me thinking about places I've returned to over the years - and, alternately, places I've "returned" to that I'd never been to before.

What I mean is, I grew up listening to stories, from my grandparents, then my parents, then anyone in the extended family whom I could convince to share a story with me. I'd love large family gatherings, because they inevitable included some family stories, to which I'd sit and listen to greedily - happy to refill everyone's teacups or bring out more snacks if it meant the stories would continue. Long country drives were also treasured - In the stationwagon, I'd lean against the back of my parent's front seat, chin resting on the shoulder of the seat and lose myself in the images of the stories my parents would recount to each other about their childhood or about their parents or their parents' parents.

for me, the places mentioned in those stories, the people, havelis*, mango orchards, teas, village watering holes and big-city cheap-but-good-eateries -- the joys, and the lessons learned/lives losts/lives saved/humanity rediscovered during all the wars are all very real.

I'm lucky to have had the chance to "return" to some of these places from my childhood stories - often the people have passed on, sometimes Development has taken over, but usually, the place is just as I expected it to be. Sadly, this is true mostly because those old neighborhoods are gripped with poverty and corrupt officials who eat any money meant for improvement. So, while relishing in the live experience of my storied memories, I'm also usually gripped with the emotions of despair picked up like a live current from the people and surroundings. It's a disturbing state of mind, adding to the other internal conflict of identity and belonging that's internal to the diaspora experience.

But still, I love these stories and these places. I'm grateful to have inherited these memories and feel a deep sense of loss for all the potential memories left unshared, uninherited. I felt this most sharply as my grandfather (the last of my grandparents) slipped further and further into the fog of alzheimers 3 years ago and then passed away.

oh, i'm tearing up and I'm at work - so maybe these memories should be carefully placed back into their box and saved for a more private moment. Though, now that that they are out, the images are flickering through my mind like a viewing of my parent's old 8mm films.