Monday, 24 September 2012

How did my belly burn the baked beans?

 The Snapper and I had not been away for two and a half years, during which time we’d lived through many stressful life events. We really needed a break, so I ignored the fact that we couldn’t afford it, surfed d’internet and booked us a lovely little self-catering housheen called ‘O Serro’, a mile up a hillside outside the Portuguese village of Santo Estevao.

At this point I need to point out that I find little so irritating as scribblers waxing lyrical about their time away in hot climes, while you’re sitting at your kitchen table in the West of Ireland, sheltering from the wind and rain, sipping your tea as you try to figure out how to pay the leccy bill. The only reason I feel free to write about my rare holidays is that I am never one of those columnists who goes ‘away’.

You know the type - ‘So and So is away’, ‘Blah de Blah will be back next week’. They are, to my mind, a bunch of slackers. If I have a colyoom to write, I will send in copy week in week out, whatever terrible or wonderful events might be taking place in my life.

Despite holidays generally being considered testing for relationships, the Snapper and I enjoyed a perfectly uneventful and exceedingly relaxing time. She read a big thick book each day as I stared out into space, regarding the view of olive trees and the nature of the Universe.

Then we went out to dinner in inexpensive local restaurants, drank too much wine, and the next day did the same again. I swam in the pool at 5 each day, by which time I had it all to myself, and a couple of times we went into the town of Tavira, the jewel of the as yet unspoilt East Algarve. 

It was a fantastic holiday, yet almost completely void of scribbleworthy events. But there was that strange business with my belly and the burning of the baked beans.

In our little holiday kitchen there was a set of black hi-tec smooth glass electric hobs, with little red lights for controls, a locking device and a Masters Degree from Harvard University. 
It required only the slightest of fingertip touches to activate the hobs.

Being ‘orribly Ingerlish, I enjoy a fry wherever I am, so I was scrambling up the eggs on one hob, turning the rashers in the pan on the other, while the beans were just heating up slowly on the back hob - except no, they weren’t - they were bubbling away like mad bad beans intent on baking themselves into a vile glutinous goo.

Looking down at the super-sensitive control button, I saw that somehow the temperature of the back hob had gone from a lowly ‘3’ to a high ‘9’, so I quickly turned it down, only to find a few seconds later that it was somehow back up again.
Did the hob have a mind of its own?
Was it built by Germans to confound this dumb English mind?
Was it some kind of safety device that tried to stop tourists eating bad things that might kill them prematurely?

 No, because if it was that, the beans would survive while the super-fatty Portuguese bacon would have been zapped to oblivion. Waving a finger an inch above the button I watched the numbers riding up from 3 to 4, 5, 6. Aha! The controls were designed so that you didn’t even have to get a mucky paw-print upon them.

Trouble was, as I reached over to stir another pot, your scribbler’s belly was hanging over the controls. My voluminous middle regions were casting a shadow which was turning up the hob and causing my baked beans to bubble and burn.

‘Tis a sad and terrible day when your belly ruins your food before it has a chance to digest it, but it gave us something to laugh about as we ate our breakfast, and the fact that this sad tale was the only noteworthy event of our 10 day stay shows what a splendid holiday we had.

Indeed, I wondered what on earth I’d write about if I lived there, with my notepad blank for over a week. We had barely left Knock Airport on our return when I was off scribbling like a mad thing.

As I turned Shaaany Car onto the N17 from the airport exit, a giant sign declared that the McWilliam Park Hotel was just 15 minutes away. A yard further on, a roadsign stated Claremorris was 28 kilometres away, which set off my mental arithmetic buds, arriving at the conclusion that to get to the hotel in the advertised time I’d have to drive around 112kph, which is not only illegal but massively unlikely, given the multitude of slow Holy Drivers travelling the roads around the Marian Shrine.

I mooted the hotel owners might argue that when they said ‘15 minutes’ they didn’t really mean it literally, but more, that conversational Irish kind of 15 minutes, as in

‘Sure it’s only 15 minutes away, d’ya know, like!’
which can mean anything up to an hour.

Whatever the reality, it was great to be back in the land of obfuscation and paradox. A mere half hour later I stood in a roadside shop, staring at two different special offers for Diet Coke. One shelf had a label offering 1.25 litres for only €1.00, while a few feet away another offer suggested I should buy 1 litre of Diet Coke for only €1.50.
My brainbox was blitzed by the early morning flight, so I called over the Snapper.
“Which one do you want, babe? I can’t work out what it all means!”
“It means we’re home my love!” she offered wisely, and for that my notebook is truly grateful.

 For information about O Serro, contact:
Joe and Kersten Funck-Knupfer
Tel. +351 281961692


Joe Knupfer said...

Dear Charlie,
The alien hob wasn´t designed in Germany; in fact it is a proper Portuguese brand (at least we want to believe so, but it might be all Chinese anyway).
It´s Master Degree is from Faro University, where you can take a course during your next visit in order to learn how to operate it adequately.
I have some confidential information from Jamie Oliver; as he heard about a hob being controlled by the touch of the belly, he decided to develop some new recipes in the next volume of “The return of the naked chef”!
Best wishes

Charlie Adley said...

Love it Joe - wish I could be so funny in a second/third language! Say hi to the gang and thanks for a great time!