We drove up to Grasmere in the Lake District last weekend for the launch of Human Tissue. Drove because we try not to fly. It was a 1600 mile round trip and took three days each way. Enormous thanks to husband and son who endured rain and tarmac and cheap motorway service station baguettes along the way, and all for my fifteen minutes of fame.
On our way up we overnighted in Cognac and, having had a lousy meal at the Coq d’Or last time, we tried a new place, La Maison, reviewed on Iggy’s Dinners here. Great meal. The maître d’ was a rotund, older man with fabulous moustaches, but it was a younger waiter who served us for most of the meal, and who was especially happy when behind the restaurant’s generously appointed chariot de fromages. He was thrilled when we — as a famille Anglaise — showed great interest in the variety of cheeses, particularly when I spotted something like my favourite cheese, Timanoix (walnut cheese), and when my husband asked for some Époisse — a particularly stinky one. He showed such pride in his work, in his cheese and in his country that we felt extremely warmly towards him, towards his boss and in fact towards the entire experience.
Contrast that with our time in a big hotel in Grasmere, where we were served pre-cut chilled pieces of cheese prised from plastic bags by a chef with the muscles of a Russian wrestler and served to us by a stony faced Eastern European waiter whose command of English was minimal. Not that I give a monkey’s bugger where a waiter or a chef comes from, or even if he or she struggles with the language — hell, my french ain’t all that — but the entire experience felt profoundly corporate and impersonal, and we were saddened by it. But it did lead to a wee poem.
The waiter at La Maison presents the Chariot de Fromages
How young he is, and how proud
to be allowed to present the cheeseboard.
First in halting English then, at our insistence, in French,
his words run like ripe Camembert,
his hands shape and mould
a garland of cheese in the air.