Time to Reflect Over The Cruets
By Alan Russell
It was one of those seemingly elongated evenings in late autumn when the sun was reluctant to sink below the horizon on its never- ending travels creating new days and memories. Although the sun was bright the shadows were long and an autumnal chill was beginning to permeate my clothes. So, it was a relief to walk into the warmth of the hotel knowing I would not be going out again that day.
Instead of going straight to my room I went to the restaurant and sat by a window looking over the nearby river, its water meadows and a huge clear blue sky.
The furnishings around me were from the height of 1970’s British cuisine for the masses. Dark brown tables, dark brown spindle backed chairs, fading hunting prints and moulded glass cruets containing powdered salt and pepper.
The peppermill on my grandparents’ table some fifty years ago was dark wood and the patina of countless hands holding and turning it to release the magic of that simplest of spices; pepper, made it feel mildly adhesive to my own hands. When I held that peppermill I was touching something my Mum had handles when she lived at her family home. My Dad had probably touched it the very evening he asked my Grandfather for my Mother’s hand in marriage at the end of World War Two. All of my aunts and uncles at sometime had handled that peppermill. At the top was a small brass knob which held the lid on the cannister where the peppercorns waited to be ground into coarse powder.
I’ll never forget the first time Grandad allowed me to fill that cannister with fresh peppercorns. I carefully undid the knob, removed the lid, looked inside and my nostrils were assaulted with one of the most peppery aromas I had ever experienced in my tender first nine years of life. It was warming like sitting by an open fire. It was pungent like a curry. It was sharp like the hot droplets of water in a shower. It was almost overpowering and then came the inevitable sneezes. My Grandad laughed.
On the same table instead of a salt cellar was blue glass bowl set in a silver frame. A small spoon, smaller than any spoon I had ever seen was resting in the snow white salt. I had never seen salt on the table like that.
At least where I was going to have my dinner had not resorted to dispensing those small sachets of salt and pepper which once opened are either very devoid of contents or sneeze their flavourings into concentrated mounds over the meal.
Beyond the eating area and down a couple of steps was the bar area. They were drinking at the bar. Some were stopping off for ‘one’ before going home while others seemed to be settling in for the evening. Their banter was loud and inaudible but filled the cavernous room with friendly noise.
Outside the sun had slipped a few more degrees towards the horizon. High up a couple of clouds had appeared from nowhere and were tinged with a soft pink from the sun’s glow. Beyond the clouds a vapour trail from a jet heading directly towards the sun showed up pristine white against the darkening blue of the sky. Passengers looking down must have seen the town I was in. From up their they could have seen every detail. The streets, the tiny dots of cars and the lengthening shadows of the evening. They might even be having dinner and struggling to open those little sachets of pepper and salt over their meals.
Where had the plane come from. It was quite high up so it may have come from somewhere in Europe to join the main routes across the Atlantic to North America. How many people were travelling? Were they on business or pleasure? Were they looking down wishing they were on the ground?
My meal arrived straight from the haute cuisine of the 1970’s. I didn’t expect anything newer.
As I started my meal I tracked the plane. Then I concentrated on my meal being careful not to dispense too much salt or pepper. I looked out of the window again after I had finished the meal. The sky had darkened considerably. High up above the two clouds there was still some light which illuminated the faintest of vapour trails that seemed to end in mid air without a trace. The plane was gone chasing the sun.