Let’s be ‘avin’ you!
Delia Smith – 28 Feb 2005
In the 1970s and 80s, Delia Smith was a national treasure among middle England cookery enthusiasts who eagerly awaited her weekly recipe updates in The Times and bought her cookery books by the millions.
My mother was a Delia fan and consequently I spent much of my childhood enjoying the Delia Smith inspired meals she cooked for us.
Delia was a beacon of light in the UK during the 1970s, when restaurant grub was pretty dire. I still remember being taken out for meals at the local Wimpy, which featured such gastronomic delights as ‘Bender the meaty frankfurter’ (rubbery and fairly tasteless) , a ‘fish shanty’ (an overcooked bit of fish of indeterminate origin) and voluminous quantities of vinegary tomato sauce that could be squirted onto your food from a tomato shaped dispenser!
After she had amassed a large fortune from her cookery books, Delia became the majority shareholder in Norwich City Football Club. So it came to pass on the 28th February 2005 during half time of a match against Manchester City that Norwich City were losing heavily, that Delia marched onto the muddy pitch in her high heeled shoes and exhorted the home fans to gee on ‘the Canaries’ ( NCFC) with the infamous rant “Let’s be ‘avin you’. C’mon let’s be ‘avin you!”
Sadly her exhortations proved in vain. Norwich City lost the match and were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the season. But Delia’s halftime rant lives on in footballing folklore as a byword for encouragement against adversity!
Over breakfast at La Cressonière I attempted to explain to Georges and my hosts, the English tradition of ‘Pinch, punch, first day of the month’ as today was October 1st.
I tried to explain that the tradition possibly dates back to medieval times when people believed in witches.
Salt was meant to make witches weak, so the pinch signified the use of salt to weaken the witch, while the punch was then administered to banish the witch for good.
Saying the words ‘pinch punch for the first of the month’ therefore became a way of welcoming in a new month and protecting yourself from bad luck.
To cut a long story short, they don’t appear to have a similar custom in France and the general consensus at breakfast was that the English are all slightly mad!
As we left Mormant-Leffonds and entered the pretty village of Faverolles I noticed yet another red squirrel bounding along the verge. At this point George’s suddenly exclaimed “Mulot! C’est un mulot!” and pointed animatedly at another patch of grass. Initially I couldn’t see a thing, but leaning down I saw a small bundle of fur rolled into a ball in the grass. It was a little wood mouse or ‘mulot’ in French.
My French vocab has come on in leaps and bounds I thought to myself. Over the last month I had learnt the words for a barn owl (chouette d’effraie), a red squirrel (écureil rouge), a poodle (caniche) as well as blister (ampoule), pack one’s ruck sack ( emballer le sac à dos), caravan (roulotte), half timbered (colombage), flying buttress (arc-boutant) and spiced carrots (carottes rapées)! They say eating carrots helps you see at night. If true, then I’ve probably developed X-ray vision by now, as I’ve been guzzling half a kilo of them each day for lunch and supper!
The village of Faverolles did a good line in humorous traffic signs, the likes of which you rarely see in the UK!
Faverolles was just one of the many villages I have passed through during the last month which seems caught in a time warp!
Life seems permanently anchored in the mid 1950s. I’ve frequently seen front doors left open, keys left in cars and houses left unattended with open windows. Today I even saw a table in the street laid out for somebody’s lunch complete with half a bottle of wine waiting to be drunk!
As we walked through yet more woodland towards the village of Perrancey , I cast my mind back to my first visit to France in the early 1970s with my parents.
My father wasn’t a great believer in lavish summer holidays of any variety. In fact he would go to extreme lengths to avoid them. His usual excuse was that he couldn’t leave his tomato plants for more than a day at a time because they needed watering. Even as a disingenuous 10 year old, it seemed a pretty feeble excuse!
Somehow my father was persuaded to fork out for a budget 3 night trip to Paris which involved a hazardous flight on Danair from Lydd Airport in Kent to Paris. When we reached our small and insalubrious hotel in Paris we were led up several flights of stairs to our room by a po faced lady who clearly had an aversion to English guests.
Our room was barely large enough to swing a cat. My bed was placed on the other side of the room to my parents’, leaving just about enough room for our suitcases! The bathroom featured a ‘hip bath’ that you could just about wedge yourself into with some degree of contortion.
On our first night I got the first inkling that the holiday was unlikely to be a rip-roaring success. Our room was situated adjacent to a church whose bells chimed throughout the night at fifteen minute intervals. My parents both snored like drains, so my sleep was somewhat truncated. The next day I felt like a zombie as I was frog marched up the Eiffel Tower and around the Louvre.
The holiday went further downhill that evening. Our hotel didn’t provide any meals apart from the most basic of breakfasts. For supper we were furnished with coupons that allowed us access to a handful of dingy restaurants located in remote parts of Paris. As my father didn’t believe in taking buses or the Metro, a considerable portion of time was spent trudging through the Paris streets with a map which showed the location of the Italian restaurant my father had chosen for supper. I still remember eating a minuscule portion of tepid canneloni for supper as if it was yesterday, wondering what on earth we were doing eating Italian food in Paris!
The morning of the next day was spent searching high and low to find a newsagent which sold the current daily edition of ‘The Times’, so my father could do the Times crossword, which he could normally solve in well under ten minutes. In fact he was so good at solving the crossword, that he would regularly compete in the annual Times crossword finals in London! This was an era when solving the Times crossword required an extensive knowledge of quotations from English poetry and literature. My father couldn’t survive without his daily crossword ‘fix’ which was like a drug for him. We consequently missed the scheduled morning trip on the ‘bateaux mouches’ and spent the rest of the day trawling around the streets of Paris in the rain.
It’s fair to say that the holiday wasn’t an unmitigated success and I left Paris with a slightly jaundiced view of France and the French!
Shortly after midday we reached the dispiritingly named ‘Lac de Mouche’. Georges remembered passing the lake when he was participating in a cycle competition and seeing a fisherman land a 40kg catfish (silure). With fish of that size swimming around the lake, I wasn’t sure I fancied taking a dip!
Eventually we reached Langres shortly after 2pm. Georges headed to the Presbytery hostel where he was staying the night before returning to his family in Saint Etienne by train. As I went into the hostel to join Georges for a cup of coffee who should I see but Baptiste whom I had last seen almost a week ago. We had given him half a day’s head start but he had caught up with us!
I had arranged to meet my friend Claude at a Gite d’Etape 2km outside Langres. So shortly after 6pm, I said goodbye to Georges and Baptiste and headed for the Gite d’Etape Ferme Sainte Anne. It had been wonderful to walk the last few days with Georges. He had been great company and we’d spent many hours chatting about everything from cross country ski-ing, long distance footpaths we had walked, to the French Enlightenment, Brexit and Agatha Christie mysteries of which Georges was an avid fan. Half the fun of going on pilgrimage is meeting complete strangers and forming a close bond with them. I certainly felt that I had established a close friendship with Georges over the last week since we first met in the hostel at Brienne le Chateau.
I finally made it to my gite at around 7pm. I’d walked another 30km but it almost felt like a walk in the park! Either I’m getting fitter or time passes more quickly when you have convivial company.
So what has this rambling (geddit!) blog, which began with a convoluted preamble about Delia Smith, got to do with my pilgrimage to Rome on the Via Francigena?
The answer is everything and nothing! Yesterday I received the great news that any donations to the Raise the Roof Appeal for St Peter’s Winterbourne Stoke are now eligible for Gift Aid. Fantastic news and, as Delia Smith might have said to those who are thinking of making a donation – “Let’s be ‘avin’ you!”
It’s probably a good time to thank a few people. First and foremost, Olivia, for holding the fort back home and ringing me up on a regular basis at least twice a day to offer me moral support, love and encouragement. It means the world to me.
I’d also like to thank everybody who has already donated to the ‘Raise the Roof Appeal’ as well as all those who have logged on and read my blog. Knowing that others are enjoying reading my blog and sharing my pilgrimage vicariously, is enormously uplifting. So thank you once again to everybody out there reading this now!
If you are still thinking of making a donation you can still do so by following this link: