T’was the evening before our return to the connected world. We were to leave beautiful, bucolic, Bala with its bubbling brooks and baying buddies, to catch a ferry to Ireland the next morning and the brother’s family was to return to London. The refreshing walks and hikes had resulted in much sharing of life’s wisdom. As the niece said, the toddlers now know they must not stamp on the black balls on the trails for that is sheep poop.
There was great excitement in the house. We were getting ready to go to a fancy dinner. What I had seen of Bala was wonderful, but did not look like the whipping hot scene of the fashionista and the twitterati. The old farmer we passed on the road seemed nice enough and waved at us from his tractor, but I was having a hard time imagining him as the charging center of Bala’s social scene in his earthly tweeds and hat. Which suited us perfectly.
Allow me to digress here for a bit. The husband cannot for the life of him squash his neck into a tie. I would not put it past him to crinkle a freshly pressed shirt. He is the sort of fellow who feels compelled to fold up his full-hand shirts lest they look formal. (I have touched upon this aspect here: https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/what-ties-a-unicorn-a-book-together/) So you can imagine how sterling the sister-in-law is for convincing us all to dress up nicely for a dinner out.
I felt like we had gone back to Jane Austen times when they dressed for the ball and no other reason, but shook the feeling away firmly. The slightest doubt about dressing well would mean we all slip back to yoga pants or worse, pajamas for dinner. That does seem to be fashion trend these days: http://nextdraft.com/archives/n20150423/follow-the-yoga-pants/ )
“Are there any restaurants in Bala, or are we just going to eat out like what we did in the afternoon? We could do that, you know? Under the stars.” piped the girls. You can rely on them to surface any nagging doubts sniggling in your brain.
Though we were miles from any restaurant or super-market, I don’t want you to run away with the notion that we were hungry. The Balas and those who marry into the Bala family like their nourishment. Consequently, the brother and sister-in-law had a box of considerable size with ‘provisions for a few days’. What that meant is that if the sheep were not happy grazing, we could have fed them all Channa Masala, Dum Aloo, Creamy Pastas or Steaming Basmati rice any time of the day. This is what the girls were referring to: we had eaten food fit for feasts in the backyard in pajamas, why not have more of that after a shower?
Anyway, despite hemming and hawing about dressing well, we collectively put up a brave show of it. The toddlers looked like strapping fine gentlemen, and the strapping fine gentlemen looked like harassed toddlers forced into wearing pants; the girls looked like young ladies, the ladies wished they looked more like the younger ladies teetering next to them and all was well. The toys, boys, girls, men and women got into the cars. After brief stops to open the gates by the ponds, we sped off towards the adventures of the night.
I must say, for a small town, the eateries were very good. The Bala-name’s reputation with respect to food was intact in our minds. I was asking the brother about cuisines and pastimes when he said, the Welsh love their mutton chops and lamb stews.
There was an ominous silence from the back seat where the daughter was yapping seconds before. “Uh oh!”, was all the brother could say before a quivering voice asked him, “You mean people kill these lambs – even Patchy?”(Patchy was the sheep who she managed to get close to that morning, https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/patchys-lessons-in-patience-perseverance/). We assured her that we will not be killing Patchy and bleated out a white lie to set her animal activist’s heart at rest.
The brother heaved a sigh of relief and told her he was going to ask the waitress for a vegetarian menu. It is at times like this, that I wonder how lovely it must be to live in a small place. The service we got for this simple request was exceptional. The head chef left his busy haven. He probably switched off the oven, turned off the gas, untied his apron, removed his mittens and headed upstairs to ease our hearts and tell us all about his offerings.
“We have mushrooms and cheese that I can make into a lovely omelet. “ he boomed heartily. “And some of the best creamy mushroom soup. If you are looking for something a little more spicy, I could make you a Mushroom Stroganoff with some mushroom and tomatoes. Or you could have a vegetarian lasagna with mushroom.” Clearly, he couldn’t help noticing that he was going a bit strong on the mushroom motif, for he hastily added that “Carrot and coriander soup is also available.”
We ordered them all and the chef sang his way to the kitchen. The daughter was happy and Patchy would have been happy.
As we headed out, the brother pointed out a picture taken about a century ago on Bala High street. Even though the picture was a black and white one, you could discern the flushes on the cheeks of about 30 young ladies dressed for the Ball at Bala, and it looked marvelous. Suddenly, it seemed okay to dress up and come to dinner. Like the husband said, “Anyway, no one knows us here, so why not dress up?”