Richard and Gema

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Background

Richard and I worked together for three years. We both joined the company on the same day and fought our way together through the chaos of bad organisation and worse leadership. The company may have been badly run but the staff were amazing; I’ve never been happier to go to work. The people we worked with were exceptional: interesting, quirky, funny, often outrageous. Guffaws of laughter were common in that staffroom, as were heated debates and ridiculous, indefensible positions being taken on everything from football to euthanasia. The party was often continued in the pub, we were regulars at the nearest one and often found ourselves in a nearby pool hall, drinking and playing badly until all hours.

Then Richard’s partner Gema arrived from Spain and brought with her an amazing tolerance for our drunken behaviour and a fantastic repertoire of Spanish dishes. After Gem arrived, we spent less time eating 3 am kebabs and a lot more time eating tortillas, croquettas and paella. In other words, a good situation was made considerably better.

The Venue

This was my first visit to Canterbury and I now can’t think why, it’s gorgeous. Narrow medieval streets lined with interesting shops and cafes, magnificent Georgian squares with street theatre and musicians, galleries, theatres and pubs in numbers I’ve never seen before. Is it really possible to sustain that many pubs in one town without the inhabitants succumbing to liver disease? All this and a magnificent cathedral, visible from everywhere in this essentially hill free area. The cathedral dominates the skyline and the history of Canterbury. It’s beautiful, well worth a visit.

Canterbury is full to the brim with good restaurants, but Richard and Gema chose a takeaway outlet and a nearby park for our lunch. Westgate Gardens is a lovely little area with lots of shade trees and the river Stour flowing gently through it. I had forgotten how different the climate on the East coast is. It’s much colder in winter, the wind seems to have come directly from the Arctic, but the heat in summer is different too. It’s warmer in the summer but also much drier, so even though it was 30 degrees, we were quite comfortable in the shade of the mature plane trees in Westgate Gardens, listening to the gentle trickle of the completely tame, pretty little water feature that is Canterbury’s river. This is the one thing about Kent that stopped me instantly putting the house on the market. It’s a pretty county and this is a beautiful city, but where’s the beach? And the hills? Where’s the uncontrollable majesty of nature? Rivers should be fast flowing and scary or they should be tidal death traps of killer mud but this refugee from a garden centre reminded me that I can’t live happily in this gorgeous corner of England, it’s just not… Welsh enough.

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Sitting in the shade and relaxing after lunch. Click on the picture and you can see the Cathedral to the right of the Tudor manor house. The trees are part of the oldest forest in England – Canterbury does history in a big way.

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22 August 2015

Westgate Gardens, Canterbury

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The ‘fat oak’. Richard is a great English teacher, but his botany is a bit dodgy.

 

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Li’l Dave relieving his mother of her hat.

The Lunch

I love Spanish food, especially Gema’s take on it, but I’ve always wondered how it works that a country where Christians and Moslems have lived in harmony for generations can have such a passion for pork. They do though, so it was no surprise that Richard and Gema chose pork for our lunch.

Our first step was to take Richard and Gema’s little one to the park for a run about. This being Canterbury, the park they chose was full of history: it was originally the grounds of the first Franciscan Friary in England. The building survived the Reformation because it was built over the river and even Protestant zealots didn’t destroy bridges. We played football and watched David run around. Cliche I know, but you really do forget how busy toddlers are and how much hard work. Dave is lovely, really laid back and sweet, but seriously, does he ever sit down?

Having run the baby into submission, we went to a small shop where Richard is obviously a regular and where the window was taken up entirely with a display of about a pig’s worth of pulled pork. To add to this impression, there was a pig’s head at one end of the pile. Thankfully, none of us are squeamish and all of us are willing to acknowledge the fact that if you eat meat, you are responsible for the killing of animals. I reason that if it were the other way around, the pig would eat me without a second thought.

We bought the rolls and headed down to the park. As predicted, the food was superb, the most succulent, tasty and tender pork I’ve ever eaten. We sat under the plane trees, part of the oldest forest in England, while Richard and Gema’s sweet little boy slept, and we gently ribbed Richard for not knowing the history of the nearest ancient building and for calling this exceptionally large tree, usually known as an Oriental Plane tree, the ‘fat oak’. To be fair, it certainly is pretty large. There’s a myth that it engulfed a circular seat that had been built around it, unlikely perhaps but I wouldn’t like to go at it with a chainsaw to find out.


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