How’s your Christmas been so far? Ours has been excellent, with just one low point when I announced that we should tackle The Times’s Boxing Day Quiz of the Year, 100 questions on what’s happened during 2018.
Reluctant participants looked up from crosswords, jigsaws or cooking while I read out the questions in my best teacher-voice. As we floundered, our noses rubbed in our ignorance of matters pop, sport and almost everything else, my audience became increasingly uncooperative – sullen, even. By the end it resembled a badly-conducted school detention (no change there, then…).
Otherwise, as I say, it’s been good – and the Northumberland weather particularly kind. But it threatened to start badly.
One problem with having two homes, North and South (lucky old us), lies in the distance between them – 316 miles door-to-door. Last Friday (the shortest day) saw us singing Handel’s Messiah in Northampton. We overnighted with family nearby and determined to hit the road early, aiming to reach Northumberland by lunchtime.
I had a brainwave. We would get up and go, with no more than a cup of tea inside us, planning to stop mid-morning for a cooked breakfast. This would fortify us, allow us to skip lunch and plunge straight into preparations for the family’s arrival. It would also permit the joy of a Full English without guilt. Perfect.
We hurtled up the A1 without incident – especially pleasing as I’d only got my 21-year-old Mercedes back from the garage the day before (in Mrs Trafford’s view, one man’s Classic Car is another woman’s costly nightmare). Skipping Wetherby Services, which looked as busy as ever, we thought we’d make for Durham for a late breakfast.
Which we did. We strode in confidently, happily – only to find that the servery that had always offered all-day breakfast was no more. There was Costa, and there was… McDonald’s. No traditional motorway fare on offer.
We remained calm. “Washington Services,” I declared. “I’ve had good breakfasts there in my time.” Indeed I have: once I got a slap-up 6am meal for two school minibuses-full of teachers and students who’d just completed an overnight coast-to-coast relay run along Hadrian’s Wall. Naturally I felt I could put my trust in Moto at Washington.
Trust betrayed. We parked, crossed the bridge to the Southbound side – and encountered a similar catastrophe. The former long, welcoming counter of hot goodies had been replaced by a distinctly compact Costa, and beside it a Greggs. Now, I know Greggs is a Northern icon, and it’s great in its place: but no breakfast baguette (nor even a Breakfast McMuffin) can replace a proper Full English, all the more when it’s part of a meticulously planned long motorway haul.
I was, as the picture above suggests, disconsolate: and, frankly, in a weakened state for the hectic hours that followed. When you’ve been holding out for the full fry-up, and even constructed the day to avoid piling on the pounds as a consequence, a mere sausage-roll doesn’t cut the mustard.
Is this the shape of things to come? Is the traditional large plateful a thing of the past for travellers? Are we doomed to the fast-food convenience of sandwich, baguette or panino (to use its correct singular from), essentially unsatisfying by comparison, however deeply stuffed with breakfast-related ingredients? And, if so, who decided this? Who set this fundamentally dismal policy? I think we should be told.
Fortunately, subsequent meals have proved more than satisfying: so much so that, even well before New Year, the bathroom scales are groaning and reproaching me of a morning. Milfield’s Red Lion on Saturday: amazing cuisine by various Traffords at home; and, following our traditional Boxing Day walk on Bamburgh Beach, the regular pilgrimage to the Olde Ship in Seahouses which, even on the Feast of Stephen, produced prawn and salmon sandwiches to delight (don’t forget the chips on the side).
So don’t worry about me: I’m not starving. But, when I’m back on the motorway, don’t offer me fast-food, pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped alternatives to a proper breakfast. If you do, at this time of year there can be only one response.