A service economy without the service
The British no longer have the faintest idea how to prepare or serve food, either in establishments they are pleased to call restaurants or in their own homes. According to W. Somerset Maugham, the only solution when in England is to eat breakfast three times a day. But the English can no longer manage with minimal competence even to prepare a halfway-decent breakfast.
British eating houses, bar-grills, cafés and other places where dining (of a kind) goes on, from the humblest truck-stop to the most exalted, starred restaurant, are easily the worst in Europe. It is better, for example, to go to bed hungry than to risk an evening meal at, say, an English public house.
The Moon Under Water it isn’t
Dalrymple is reminded of this when, hungry one evening and with no other dining establishment in the vicinity, he enters a pub (which, like many from the 1920s and 1930s, is built rather pleasingly in the suburban Tudor style), and is greeted by
the flashing lights of fruit machines
At least, he says, they
were all showing the same thing — a football match, football being a 24-hour activity.
Dalrymple dare not complain. British popular culture is
crude, unpleasant and inescapable; if you criticise it, you are taken for an enemy of the people.
The smell in the pub
was of stale beer and even staler fat in which standard British prolefood had been fried.
the grubby menu, a triumph of quantity over quality. The fish dish was called The Codfather, size trumping taste. Everything came with chips, of the frozen variety.
The table is
sticky and long unwiped.
Dalrymple orders soup. It is
packet soup which had not been properly dissolved, so that it had little balls in it that if bitten exploded into a kind of salty dust.
He orders steak, and asks for it to be rare. When it comes, it
would have been regarded as incinerated in any other country.
The fried mushrooms
contained at least their own weight in fat of some type.
The next morning
I woke with a strange and unpleasant taste in my mouth.
wasn’t even cheap.
This is the vital point. British food is not just atrocious — it is execrable value.
During the meal,
the man who had taken my order came over to my table.
‘Everything all right?‘ he asked.
The slovenliness, the bad quality, my pusillanimity: voilà the secret of the British economic problem.