One of the most inspiring experiences of my life I never asked for.
Following the story of “An American Eating through Europe“, I fell into a tiny, aged town in the nowhere of England, Kingsbridge. My wife, Tara, was here getting her long awaited tattoo from a local Welshman, Paul Davies (@paulokink on instagram). I was set to fly in from Prague upon completion, but scheduling got a bit messed up, so I met Tara a day early in one of the smallest towns I’ve ever seen in a country I only know from history books. I was easily the only American around, aside from Tara, who was busy in a dungeon full of ink, and what I found was the most honest displays of English culture I ever could have dreamed of.
The town square consisted of four parking spaces surrounded by two coffee shops, two pubs, a general store, and a crawling river. I was ready for my long awaited first authentic English Fish and Chips and I was in the perfect place to check this off of my food bucket list (you don’t have one?). Serving it up was one of the two aforementioned pubs by a girl most likely still in high school. As you can see in the picture below, I was gifted with what I’ve seen Gordon Ramsey preach about for years. Crispy, thick chips, the brightest peas, and a single proper fillet coated with a straight forward beer-batter; nothing more, nothing less. I ate and drank my iced tea outside, across from the tiny bridge of kings (it had to be the only bridge, so I can only assume it earned the towns namesake, now I’m wondering how), surrounded by the elderly day drinkers, day drinker families, and the middle-aged man day drinking with his mates. In America, these people would be hidden in a dingy bar with blacked out windows, but not here. Day drinking is an honorable practice here, celebrated by honorable people following their even more honorable ancestors.
After lunch, I headed over to Paul’s tattoo shop. As you can imagine, it was the only one in town, so pretty easy to find. What I didn’t expect was to meet James. James resided in a quaint studio apartment right above the shop, which he invited me to for coffee. From this point on, I was gifted with easily the simplest, most inspiring moments of my life. I can’t think of the particular movie, maybe it was “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”, but my experience reminded me of an artsy European exposing their lifestyle to some city-bred American the way only Hollywood can portray it, not like real life. However, this WAS real life, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t MY real life, it was a glimpse into somebody else’s real life.
Our collective reality is a universe of perspectives and by curiously peering into James’ reality, mine became bigger. I wasn’t a tourist anymore, I was a captain with a cargo containing discoveries. That’s what this website is about, that’s what travelling is about, immersing yourself in people and what people have created.
First of all, James, a small man with a big personality, didn’t even own a television. He was a chef and an artist. He put on some of the coolest music I have ever heard (cool is really the best way I can describe it as a whole), we drank some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, and talked about how I don’t really care for Radiohead, Nirvana, or Nine Inch Nails. Along with being super friendly, James is equally an accomplished chef and artist. So naturally, after chatting it up about art, he insisted to prepare what he calls “fast food” for us when Paul was done with Tara. He led me through a tour of the kitchen that housed some of the finest ingredients from around the world while I silently thanked the food gods. On the menu was prime flank steak and chimichurri with Spanish white beans and sauteed spinach, simple and fresh. I’m not huge into beans for their powerful texture and flavor, however these Spanish white variety were delicate and just hinted with fresh herbs. This is cooking . We are in a world now where food is a line item on an executive’s spreadsheet favoring distribution and shelf life and what we are left with is simulated versions of what we think ingredients taste like. Similar to my experience at the Treehouse Restuarant where their local lettuce dish floored me, James’ raw ingredients tasted like nothing I’ve ever had before. Cheers to you James for sharing your version of life, I’m sure you will go on to touch many more people just like us.
The night continued when we accepted Paul’s invitation for pool and drinks at the local pub. It’s amazing how quickly you connect with people when cell phones and social media are no one’s concern. By closing time, there were a total of eight people in the bar all of whom we shared meaningful interactions with. This tiny town effortlessly had the biggest heart. Paul was no longer Tara’s tattoo artist, James was no longer his shop’s neighbor, they are our friends and Kingsbridge is now a destination for us.
If you’ve had your own memorable experiences in a small town, let us know in the comments below, Lord Carnitas would love a taste!