Place and Time

stained glass window with bird

Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I lie in bed and try to remember the exact layout of houses that I’ve lived in. I’ll imagine myself walking around them, picking out as many small details as I can.

There are four that I can remember with real clarity; the house on Harris where I spent all of my early childhood, my Grandpa’s house in Staffordshire, where I used to spend lots of holidays, the farmhouse in the Borders where I spent most of my teenage years, and the house in Edinburgh that I lived in until a year ago.

There are other places that I can remember a few details of. There was a white cottage on Lewis where I lived with my Mum for a year, and then a townhouse in the Borders where I also spent about year. And of course, there were several flats in Edinburgh where I lived as a student. But the memories of those places are a bit fuzzier.
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Perfect Sandwiches

So, can we pause for a moment to acknowledge the awesomeness of sandwiches?

Hugh Fearnley-Whatshisface had an article in the Guardian last Saturday all about them, and while I agree with his assertion that we need to cut down on the number of soggy supermarket sandwiches we eat, I think it’s unrealistic to imagine that we all have time to make the thirteen-ingredient pan bagnats that he includes a recipe for.

I am more than happy to fulfill Hugh’s request that we all pause for a moment, and remember Great Sandwiches We Have Made and Loved. However, as with most other foods, I think the best sandwiches are the ones associated with the sweetest memories, rather than the ones needing most preparation or most expensive ingredients.

I remember, as a very young child, going to watch motor racing at Donington Park with my Grandpa, and him pulling out a cooler with a seemingly endless supply of foil wrapped sandwiches, all made at home the night before. It was the unfussy classics – roast beef, cheese and pickle, ham and mustard – with a choice of brown or white bread. 25 years on, I still can’t eat a ham and mustard sandwich without remembering that day in the sun, sitting on a tartan picnic blanket, with the noise and smell of the cars all around.

For around ten years I sacrificed such pleasures, and became a vegetarian. People told me that if I ever succumbed and returned to life as a carnivore, it would be for a bacon sarnie, but I didn’t believe them. (It was roast beef that haunted my dreams.) In the end though, they were right. I had a crappy job handing out flyers during the Edinburgh Festival and, one lunchtime, hungry and desperate to escape the crowds, I found a wee café just off the Royal Mile, sat down and ate the best bacon sandwich of my life.

My Life in Sandwiches would not make the most interesting book in the world, but I’ve probably got enough anecdotes that I could write it. Living in a student flat where the temperature gauge on the gas oven was broken? I lived on cream cheese and Marmite toasted sandwiches for an entire semester. A year working as a full time student officer, squeezing mealtimes in between meetings? I ate a club sandwich at the café across the road, at least three times a week. First visit to an honest-to-goodness tavern in the American South? I scarfed down a wonderfully named ‘grouper sandwich’. My guilty pleasure? A chip sandwich on white bread with ketchup.

My best sandwich, ever? Definitely the sweetest memory. The first meal DorkyDad ever cooked for me. When we first started dating, and we used to eat out a couple of times a week, DorkyDad used to talk about his ‘perfect chicken sandwich’, that was better than anything you could find in a restaurant.

So the first time I went to round his flat, that was what I got. A chicken sandwich. And DorkyDad was right; it was better than anything we had eaten in the preceding three months. I can’t give away his secret ingredient, but there were slices of perfectly moist chicken, perfectly crisp bacon and perfectly crunchy lettuce. They were sandwiched between two halves of a perfectly toasted baguette, which was spread with the perfect smear of mayonnaise, and sprinkled with the perfect amount of pepper and salt. It was accompanied by a glass of perfectly chilled white wine.

Hugh Fiddly-Whatshisname probably wouldn’t include DorkyDad’s sandwich in his Great Sandwiches List. But – along with Grandpa’s foil wrapped ones, and my student-day toasted ones – it would definitely make the top of mine.  I’d take a perfect chicken sandwich over a pan bagnat any day.