It was as I was drinking a cup of coffee at a pub the other evening that it dawned on me that I may very well be something of an oddity. Not because I was drinking coffee in a pub, which is not that unusual these days. It's not all that many years ago that such a remark would have caused people to raise their eyebrows, I grant you that, but nowadays pubs are a bit more upmarket than the spit and sawdust bars of yesteryear where one could buy beer and other alcoholic beverages and the only food on offer was packets of potato crisps or pork scratchings. Maybe salted peanuts if you were lucky. These days probably more than 50% of most pubs' turnover comes from the sale of food; specifically, full meals. That was the case the other evening. The blind club had fixed a hog roast at a village pub - and very good it was, too. I enjoyed a glass of wine with my meal but after the meal I enjoyed a cup of coffee. No, belay that: I drank a cup of coffee but there was little about it for me to enjoy and that was when I realised that I might very well be something of an oddity. At least, something of an oddity here in England.
Come to think of it, there is another reason why I might be one of the odd men out. I know the words of both the first and the third verses of the national anthem. (There is a second verse but it is never sung and nobody actually knows the words off by heart. Or if they do, then they really are oddballs!) Perhaps I was a little optimistic in claiming that I know the words of the national anthem. You see, (and I have to explain this for those who land on this blog but don't have the advantage of being British) the third and seventh lines of the first verse are almost identical. I think I know which way round they go but I might be mistaken. I think the third line is "God save our Queen" and the seventh, "God save the Queen". Anyway, if you listen very carefully when our national anthem is sung en masse, you will hear that some people sing one version while others sing the other and yet more just mumble. But when it comes to the third verse (which isn't sung very often) the majority of people don't know the words.
I can hear the question being asked, "What on earth has all this got to do with drinking a cup of coffee?" Truth to tell, not a lot. But there is a connection - me. And me being an odd man out.
I did say that I drank a cup of coffee but didn't really enjoy it. And that happens so often when I have a coffee after a meal in this country. The problem is - or rather, the cause of my problem is that most other English people seem to enjoy coffee that tastes very much like dishwater. Nobody makes a good, strong cup of coffee the way they (usually) do in France. And those places that do make the coffee almost strong enough most often use beans that taste pretty awful, like Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Cafe Nero.
I have drunk coffee in England, America, Japan, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Malta, Portugal and Italy among other places, but only in France (and occasionally in Belgium and the Netherlands) have I been served with coffee that tasted right to me and in the right quantity. In Italy the cups are too small but are delightfully strong, whereas in America the cups are far too big and the coffee too weak. No, give me French coffee every time.
I thought there was a quote about coffee being a black as the Earl of Hell's waistcoat but I can't find that one, so well just have to accept what Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord said, "Coffee should be black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love".
With the dismal weather we are enduring at present here in sunny (hah!) Sussex, I might wish I was here in Menton in the south of France.