English Food… Or Rather, Decidedly NON-English Food!

[Click here to go straight to this week’s photos! There’s another link at the end of this post.]

First, a caveat concerning last week’s mess of a reflection. I meant absolutely everything I said in the last post, about my doubts about public education, and how much I hate being a disciplinarian. But I was also speaking out of turn, I think… not letting myself make a landing back into the teaching world before dismissing it as dark and cramped and difficult. Why have I realized this? The first reason is simple – I had a good week, overall, this week: the kids got used to me and got some real work done, I was responsible for both some effective discipline and some genuine smiles and laughs, and I felt like I was good at something difficult. What else can you ask from a working day, really?

But the second reason is both more profound and more ridiculous.

Here I am, having been told that West London is much better in terms of behaviour concerns among secondary school students than East London. And so I take this to heart, and go into this school expecting some really good kids, while still braced for the worst because that’s how I roll. And then I get there, and these children, while decent, even lovely individuals one by one, are truly an unruly, misbehaving mob. I had to shout to be heard almost every moment during that first week. And I thought, okay, it’s me, it’s the fact they’ve had nothing but supply teachers for weeks and weeks, it’s disinterest in the material, etc etc ad nauseam. And then I got a chance to eavesdrop on some other classes, and hear a lot of teachers’ lounge chatter, and it became quite clear – the entire school is like this, and has been getting worse in recent years. And then Thursday the bombshell is dropped on me by the English department head (who, hand to the Spirit in the Sky, looks and sounds PRECISELY like Emma Thompson) that not only is she impressed with my hard work these two weeks, but also that she’s floored that I’ve done as well as I have considering that a lot of other supply teachers have refused to come back to this school. After sitting there all day reading the paper. So.

So. That, suffice it to say, makes me a little more willing to give the system here, and schoolteaching in general, more of a chance before I decide if it’s for me. It’s also food for thought about the state of children’s development in this country, perhaps in the whole Western world – but that’s a subject for another day.

Now, on to something much more important than mere work – FOOD!

Food in this country, let’s face it, has a bad reputation. There are jokes galore involving the English, their masochism, and their pub sandwiches. And there is, in my limited experience thus far, an abundance of tasteless, nutritionless, and overpriced food here. If you think food court fare in Canada is a turnoff, may I suggest that you stay as far as you currently are, if not further, from the dining hall of King’s Mall here in Hammersmith. And so far, I’ve found so many places that get the simple, traditional cornish pasty wrong, that it actually brought tears to my eyes to bite into a proper one courtesy of a little place I stumbled upon in Soho (I have to start writing restaurant names down!).

At home, I’d shop at Asian fruit markets and Italian delis, and do a lot of home cooking. Here, I’m spending most of my time working and touristing it up; we’ve got limited kitchen space; and I hadn’t the foggiest idea what food shopping in London would be like. But I have discovered two things that make being a foodie in this country a little less painful, without shelling out more for munchies than for airfare:

1) Good old fashioned groceries. Sainsbury’s and Tesco, for the most part, sell fresh produce and healthy grains. They’ve got a good stock of quality dark chocolate, and they carry a line of soups called Covent Garden that are delicious… honestly, the Covent Garden Chicken Muligatawny stands up against any restaurant curry I’ve had so far.

2) Foreign > Domestic. Okay, that’s a bit of a generalization – for free range eggs and cheese, the domestic scene is pretty good. But honestly, it’s a good rule of thumb. Case in point is what they deign to call “saugages” over here – two experiences, at the BM and the Zoo, and I had sworn the swollen, bread-filled and completely tasteless tubes of “meat” off forever. And then today I wandered around Hammersmith a bit, found my way down to the river, passed about 63 pubs selling traditional English fare for exorbitant prices, before finally finding my way back to Lyric Square. It’s apparently home to a farmer’s market every Thursday, which I’ve been meaning to check out… but evidently the weekend’s not a bad time to head up there either. A group of Eastern Europeans – possibly Greek, possibly Turkish, but definitely foodies – had a spread set up that, while it probably doesn’t hold a candle to anything Paris has to offer, had me choking up with gratitude. I had a Bavarian sausage that, wonder of wonders, contained actual meat. I bought some Sicilian olives mixed with Kalamatas and some sort of white, crunchy substance that I thought was Bocconcini, but may actually be some sort of vegetable – and they are DELICIOUS. Not too salty, fresh, crisp, juicy… Mmmm. And, I made a new discovery – at least, new to me – dried strawberries. The thought had never even occurred to me – but they are delightful. They taste exactly right – all of the flavour and punch and sweetness of the best strawberries, without any of the rubberiness or too-cold-from-the-fridge consistency problems you sometimes get, especially out of season. And, just to make the experience complete, I got some Baklava – and the smiling young man who sold it to me was right: it’s fantastic. None of this sea of sticky syrup you get at the Greek bakeries on West Broadway in Vancouver – it’s crispy, sweet, and soft on the inside, and tastes like it was just made this morning. And all that for just over £10.

So it’s shaping up to be a good – and tasty! – week off. This week is going to be all about the free museums and galleries, and Cara’s off as well, so I’ll be back soon with more pics. And tomorrow I’ll be heading out for my first “literary walk” (I got a book from the library that’s full of them) in and around St. Paul’s in the City (sort of like saying “Downtown” in Vancouver). So if you’re ever here with me in future, I’ll be able to point to things and say stuff like, “See that brick? T.S. Eliot was once sick on that brick.” In the meantime, here’s another Flickr album covering some random awesomeness from the past two weeks. From now on everything photo/video-wise will be on Flickr… I’ve never found a better hosting site, so I’ve splurged on the “Pro” membership to get unlimited storage, the better to show off my skillz and share my travels with y’all. Love!

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Aunt Kathy on March 11, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Hi Just getting caught up with the blog and photos. Hope you are enjoying the days off. Loved the architecture! I love looking at old houses and buildings. We have been having internet problems the last few days so the streaming of video was a little sketchy.Great experience but I think you should write and tutor,,,maybe forget the classroom after this? We are enjying the updates and will skype soon. We have spring breakers here now and the weather has been better.The beach has been busy with all kinds of sites!!
    A Kathy U. David

    Reply

  2. Posted by Malcolm on March 17, 2010 at 4:11 am

    Ok, you have to tell me: can these real-meat bangers beat found again????? I dream of finding decent saucies here. I have even considered having some fedexed over. I have to get over to Paris and soon.

    Reply

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