There is a man next to me in the bus. His accent as he spoke to the bus driver betrayed his Eastern European origins. However he reminds me of that actor in the movie In Bruges. That big burly Irishman who is fond of art, flemish culture, and the big tower where he dies to the sound of Raglan Road. Brendan Gleeson, that’s him. I’ve got Gleeson with me in the bus except he sounds Polish.
VALENTINE’S SENT ME BACK TO IPSWICH
This weekend was a flash back in time, a journey to good old days, a taste of l’avant. This weekend I flew back to Ipswich. Unlike most people who travelled through Stansted at the weekend, I was not jetting to and from a romantic Valentine’s escapade. Instead, I was visiting some of my very best friends. Not as much intimate action but at least it lasts longer (friendship).
The house at No 46 still stands. The living room has but little changed and the inhabitants are still the very same Ruben, Maria, and Pili. The latter is always travelling, the former still spends the better part of his time in his bedroom, while the chattier of the three is now hooked on to a new Channel 4 show about births. Still, it is an improvement from watching gruesome birth videos on Youtube.
Friday night was well under way when the revised Air Direct service to Ipswich dropped me off at Ipswich Rail Station. A few minutes later, the all too familiar CinqueCento, a rich hue of blue in spite of its age and rust patches, roared into the foreyard of the train station. Out stepped Maria and ushered me in the back of Ruben’s valiant vehicle. A few minutes later, the dust was settling back on the quiet sidewalks of an early Saturday dawn Ipswich.
At home, Ruben, Maria and I chatted well into the night as if we hadn’t seen each other in ages and as casually as if I had just come back from yet another business trip. I was home. It certainly felt that way when I stepped through the front door. It didn’t feel so welcoming when I stepped in my former bedroom and saw that – obviously – there was no bed, no bedstand, no books, none of my stuff. Instead, the remaining tenants at No 46 had firmly camped their clothes drying grounds on this patch of carpet which had once harbored my den.
Pili being away, I inherited her bed for the 2 nights I was staying in Ipswich and soon, as the fictitious dials on the imaginary clock of the living room approached a very real three AM, we all headed to bed. Ruben on top, me at the bottom, and Maria in the middle. Just the way we all like it.
SUFFOLK FOOD HALL HEAVEN
Saturday morning slipped in subrepticiously. Ruben and Maria had a house viewing at 10AM and I decided to tag along. A ‘mature man’ probably in his fifties, showed us around after having managed to slip into the conversation that he had just resturned from his holiday – probably somewhere warm but I just can’t remember what exotic destination he’d mentioned. Spain, was it? The house turned out to be nice and strategically located for late night raids to the Fat Cat, our favorite local.
Later in the day, Maria and Ruben took me to the Suffolk Food Hall. This large food hall on the outskirts of town, just below the Orwell Bridge on the right bank of the river Orwell, is a piece of culinary heaven in a land most often (wrongly) described as deprived of all such palatable pleasures. In addition to boasting an impressive restaurant which treated us to a scrumpcious brunch, the hall also has a shop which sells everything from locally-sourced vegetables to a wide range of smelly, pungeant, odorous, fragrant cheese. French cheese, Spanish cheese, even some of that crunmbly Italian Parmigiano, and of course the local British cheese as well as the Suffolk breeds.
Our stomachs satisified and at peace, we headed down to the gardening section of the shop where Ruben treated Maria to a set of flower pots for her nth birthday (the censorship board at No 46 prevent me from printing the actual age). The flowers are to ornate Maria’s bathroom, the very one that fell victim to a leak and to the plumber’s incontrollable desire to rip the house apart. We eventually left Suffolk Food Hall. On the way out, Ruben kindly gave way to an incoming Mercedes. We always get this unbelievable feeling of posh superiority when we give way to a posh car such as a Benz from behind the windshield of Ruben’s old and clunky Cinque.
The afternoon was idly spent on shopping with Maria, coffee with Martin, and rugby with Dan at McGinty’s. The Lucky Shamrock got trampled on by the cocky rooster and Alfonso is about to get a very special gift, courtesy of Maria’s whim combined with Primark’s color blindness.
DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE JALFREZI
Saturday night was spent in the comfort of No 46. Some of us wisely chose a Chicken Tikka take-away, others settled for massive Chinese spring rolls while some arrogantly picked a lamb jalfrezi. Little did they know they would sorely pay the consequences the following day. The evening was doused with foreign liquor and ended early in the night.
And Lord, thank God for the early night in as a delivery man dared ring the doorbell at 11AM on Sunday. If we don’t go to mass there is a reason: it’s not that we don’t believe in God. No, rather it is that we believe in late lie-ins, lazy mornings, and breakfast in bed.
Instead, I was pulled out of bed by the incessant ringing of the doorbell accompanied by the humming – the roaring it seemed then – of an running van outside my window. When the man asked where a shell lived there, it took me a while before I realized he wasn’t lloking for a gastropod but rather for a Michelle. The box signed for, the man gone, and now being fully awake, I coaxed Ruben into exacting revenge on innocent Maria. We slowly tip-toed in Maria’s room (not that you need to on British carpet) only to be betrayed by the door’s cranky hinges. This didn’t stop us from jumping on top of Maria in a typical formation fondly referred to as montón amongst our circle of friends. This and teto are possibly two of the things I miss the most over in Stockholm. Maybe I should try to teach the locals these highly refined Spanish customs.
It was well into the afternoon when we were finally out and about. Food being high up on the priority list (the French and Spanish share this love for nourishment and attention to their digestive systems), Alicia joined us and we headed out to the Brewery Tap, Ipswich’s most famous brewery which once produced en masse beer before closing down only to reopen February of 2009. The place has been wonderfully renovated and the pub’s new credo is to only serve food that has been entirely made from scratch on the premises. As Alicia and I tucked into our generous Fish ‘n Chips, we savored this festival of tastes and flavors while Ruben and Maria enjoyed another equally delicious dish – roast beef and lamb if memory serves well. The beers were a welcome and refreshing new adventure into the land of hops and other fermented cereals. A few pints of Cliff Quay Bitter, Tolly Roger and Victoria Ale quenched our curiosity as well as our thirst.
BABY LARA, THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
A stroll along Ipswich’s marina took us slowly back to Maria’s car and we drove off to Sandra’s to visit the Clarke-Stincic homestead and check out the newly-arrived baby, little Lara. We found a very excited Elena jumping about in the living room while her sister was sound asleep in Nick’s arms. It was good to catch up as if I had never left. We celebrated Sandra’s 30th birthday by devouring a delicious chocolate cake, courtesy of Nick’s morning shopping. Later, in the bedroom, Elena pinned me to the floor and wrestled about and played hide ‘n seek with Tia Maria.
As the evening crept up, we bade Nick & Sandra goodbye and headed back to No 46 for a late crêpes dinner. I finally caught up with Pili, the best hugger in all of Ipswich, and Ipswich’s old timers, none other than Jose and Eva. One crêpe led to another and soon it was time for me to bus off back to Stansted bringing this Ipswich parenthesis to an end.
As I close this parenthesis, the burly man from the first paragraph has also dozed off to merrier lands than this roadide Essex landscape lit every 200 yards or so by the usual highway Sodium lamps, hardly what Constable would have wished for.