Dining out

Leaving the city centre restaurant and crossing the Liffey to walk through Temple Bar to catch the bus back to the flat, there seemed a great gulf between life now and the life of childhood years.

Perhaps Somerset was not a very sophisticated place, but restaurants seemed only to be found in hotels when I was young.There would have been the Langport Arms Hotel, and the Devonshire Arms Hotel in Long Sutton, and the White Hart in Somerton (an online search tells me that the White Hart has been taking paying guests since the 16th Century).

In my memory, at many hotels there would be a discreet notice advising potential customers that non-residents were welcome in the dining room, not that we would have been eating in a restaurant, and we certainly would not have been staying in a hotel.

There must have been times when, by force of circumstance, we ate out, but it is hard to recall there being more than a handful of places, none of which would have had table service.

There were a few occasions when we would have had a cup of tea and a biscuit in the cafe at the back of the Taunton branch of British Home Stores. On holiday, there might have been times when we ate at The Malibu Cafe in Westward Ho! On the annual village outing to the seaside town of Weymouth, sitting at a cafeteria table with crockery and cutlery we would have eaten our tea, fish and chips and peas, with bread and butter on side plates.

Absences from home were not frequent. Taking a picnic lunch or tea would generally have meant sandwiches packed into plastic lunchboxes. There would always have been cheese, sometimes with tomatoes, sometimes with Branston Pickle. (Fifty years later, my lunchbox is still cheese and pickle sandwiches, accompanied by three tomatoes).

If it was necessary to buy food when away from home, then it would generally have come from a fish and chip shop. Chips would be ordered with fish or with battered sausages. Set on a square of greaseproof paper, they would be wrapped in newspaper. Sometimes there would have been a preference for pasties, large oggies with meat and potato or with vegetable filling. The pasties had a distinctive and memorable peppery taste and were a filling meal for a child.

It would have been hard in such times to have imagined a life where eating out would have become a regular occurrence. Reflecting on moments long ago, there is a niggling sense of guilt at incurring unnecessary expenditures.


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