Apr 14 2013

Mayburgh Henge, Penrith

We park in a tiny road running along near, very near  the motorway.

The constant thrum of Logistics Solutions nearly wipe out the pathetically tiny birdsong of those who have survived a long long winter and still hungrily hope for spring.

It is country and it is not. There are snow topped peaks not so far away, possibly covering the frozen corpses of lambs who never wobbled, causing brief consternation to those looking at the national papers showing these shocking deaths whilst eating their breakfast or lunch, killed in an abattoir,  packaged neatly in cardboard in a supermarket where the recipe was found in the same newspaper that sobbed  sad tears over the tragic death of a baby animal that never had the chance to be marinated or fried.

It is also hard to think of something ancient and mystical being here, right near this small empty car-parking slot  near a bland gate and where across the fields a suburban estate lies where you imagine the owners glint suspiciously at your tiny figure whilst they wash their Kia.

You become blase about mystical and ancient things living in the UK. There are so many that one that is not in an aesthetically pleasing situation can be sneered at before staying in the car and going to get a Meal Deal at the nearest Moto which clearly isn’t  far away from this site before then going to somewhere where you can’t see the car you drove there in or hear the sound of the traffic you were previously part of.

Where you might have a small tantrum if you can’t instantly  find a place to park before you can look at some relics of history conveniently, quietly and accommodating situated.

There is a small sign, a gate, and a hillock. It beats staying in the car with the snoring toddler and the appalling nappy for which a bin has not yet been found so I step out and scrabble up a shingly hill.

It is astounding.

An enormous ancient amphitheatre lies down before me, made out of a million stones. A huge grass space is its arena and only one standing stone remains, the last sentinel. There used to be more. Standing stones disappeared quickly  and unromantically in a religious or agricultural past.

A Newcastle Brown Ale Bottle twinkles. People still come here to gather.

It is an utterly awe inspiring site, the better for it being so little excavated, talked about and theorised. But as this site lies off a ring road near Penrith, people don’t want to think about the present  when they travel in their cars along the motorway to  look at a past not near a motorway in the way they don’t want to think about cute animals being in attractively packaged  ambiguously labelled paninis.

We are divorced from nature and history but revel it it. We diet and watch food programmes, stay indoors, watch nature, eat nature and watch it slowly vanish.

We are shocked at weather being weather but never shocked at our own nature.

And in looking at a past we can project our own happy ideals on.

Would those who gathered at Mayburgh so many thousands of years ago want to be us though?

Apr 10 2013

ZaZa Bazaar-a south western foray into gluttony

This is the end of times. This is everything fanatical preachers rant  and warn you against whilst handing you luridly photocopied leaflets as  you attempt to avoid their gaze and nip into Tesco Express.

‘It’s like being in Las Vegas’ says my awestruck mother and we all agree despite never having been in Las Vegas.

We are at Za Za Bazaar in Bristol.

This may not fit my normal attempt at writing about something interesting and hopefully unloved in the North. We are at the Harbourside in Bristol and we queued for an hour to park the car and then to be seated.

But upon reflection the last place of merit or interest to the passing  Northern residing internet traveller I visited was either TK Maxx or a popular pub with a birds name a few miles away from Lancaster where the food was so coldly blandly disappointingly overpriced and  the waitress so coldly aggressive,  I am too scared to even mention it on this blog in case I get a (tepid) fire bomb through my door.

I think I might prefer a fire bomb to ever spending so much money  on ravioli covered in a surprising topping of  diced carrot again though to be fair.

Anyway. ZaZaBazaar is the biggest restaurant in Europe and features more food than I have ever seen in my life.  A ‘street market’ featuring various world cuisines suddenly appears when you step out of the lift and it is ‘buffet style’ which means to this country ‘all you can eat without or whilst possibly vomiting’.

There is a four sided Vietnamese hut, a Mexican shack, a salad bar, an Italian shed, an Indian joint etc etc. I try and shield my toddler from the pudding palace which has ceiling to floor shutes of jellybeans and swirling greasy walls of cupcakes like some 9 year old lottery winners house.

It is of course clearly brilliant. I am hungry. This is a bulimic fantasy.

There is neon, loud music and hysterical children running around with dinner plates full of smarties and chips.

I am disorientated, don’t know where to turn or what to do.

I am given a map.

This is the zenith of consumer culture. And for £6.99! (with a complicated voucher system)

It is cheaper than the disappointing starter at the pub near Lancaster to eat everything in the world. Possibly literally!

I smirk in my head at the slightly confrontational and bossy waitress at the pub near Lancaster and try to work out what to do.

I eat.  I start at the Indian food stall but accidently put some chips on my plate and then nachos and guacamole. Then marinated mushrooms and hummus. I sit down to eat but am bedazzled by the choices I have not yet made and am terrified of being full so swirl it around into an oily marble effect and then gulp it down  quickly, horrified at the thought of having not yet had the other stuff I can see.

The phrase ‘a paean to gluttony’ is constantly reverberating through my brain. I have no idea why.

My toddler bravely battles through a plate of macaroni cheese. To try to get pizza is like entering a warzone patrolled by 9 year olds with empty plates, forks and patrolling dads as weapons. The music seems to be getting louder.

No-one appears to be savouring their food, the staff all seem to be emaciated but still it is utterly awesome and I bravely mix noodles with pakoras. Because I can.

My partner looks scared, the toddler has noticed the sweet chutes. This is not going to end well.

I start to feel slightly unwell. I try and find the toilets and get lost despite the yellow arrows painted on the floor. This is not a good place for a first date.

I take a handful of breaded garlic mushrooms for nourishment along the way.

The salad bar beckons. Because if you eat some salad it cancels out the flaccid pizza where the cheese slides off like a warm chewy elastic blanket when you bite into it.

The salad bar is good. And there are no feral children there. There are lentils! Soups! I am immediately baptised into health, new life and well being and all for 6.99! 6.99! (with the complicated voucher system)

I am reborn.

Until I see the ice cream machine.

The phrase ‘a paean to gluttony’ starts singing louder.

I am spoilt now. Ruined.

I can disfavour and sully  every pleasant well thought out locally sourced meal  in a quietly attractive Northern establishment  by unfairly comparing it with the orgiastic extravaganza of Za Za Bazaar in Bristol, the biggest restaurant in Europe.

I have however gone off pizza.

And pasta with boiled carrots never works no matter how pretty the setting.