The days of camping, golden tench, and Casa Roberto’s

Posted on December 3, 2022

I was chatting to my old mate Stewart the other day and we got to on to the subject of eating out. I say chatting, people don’t really chat anymore as messenger and WhatsApp have killed the voice. When the great Cliff Richard wrote, ‘it’s so funny, we don’t talk anymore’, was he offering us a dark forecast of a dystopian future? Probably not.

Anyway, the Facebook messenger conversation started with a picture of a golden tench that I saw in an antique shop in Salisbury. Stewart caught one of these splendid fish back in the 70’s and the picture triggered me. It’s an odd thing to remember but seeing a golden tench as small boy was, unwittingly, my own JFK moment.

New or Dean?

The said fish was caught on a camping trip with my dad. We agreed it must have been 1976 but couldn’t agree where. We knew it was a forest. I am convinced it was the Forest of Dean, Stewart thinks it was the New Forest. We both agreed that my elder brother, Graham, liked piercing my summer of ‘76 blisters with a size 16 fishing hook.

The conversation then went on to remembering what we ate? My dad was in charge of me, Stewart, and my brothers, Bruce and Graham, all six or seven years older than me. He was a scientist in the civil service. Back then, there was a system where you got paid a pittance but got a cracking pension. Tadley and Baughurst had a population of AWE people who couldn’t wait to be old. So much so, most of them dressed like they were 70 when they were 40. It was like they couldn’t wait to get out of jeans and into nylon slacks.

Clifford’s Cottage and The Lively Lady

We must have eaten something. Stewart recalls Heinz sandwich spread and I have vague memories of soya mince, smash and the smell of bacon that was for dad’s mouth only. By hiding me in a tree to avoid paying, dad saved enough money for bacon…for himself. Scant reward for looking after four feral boys.

One place we never went near, was a restaurant. Unless you were a member of the elite, in the ‘70’s, you had about as much chance of going to the moon as you would a restaurant. I can remember going on several camping trips to Bracklesham Bay and passing a place called Clifford’s Cottage restaurant. When we drove past it, I would stare in wonderment, imagining what it must be like to be served dinner. It was another world. The nearest we got to meal out was a bag of crisps in the porch of The Lively Lady, a flat roof pub of little repute.

The Curry Garden and Casa Roberto’s

So, Stewart and I came to the conclusion that our first restaurant trip must have been The Curry Garden in Tadley. Because of our age, it would have been a few years apart but it must have been there. I became a regular in my late teens. I even convinced myself I was mates with the owner, Lais, who, by knowing my name, had license to empty my wallet. He was a great salesman who made a duck’s arse look loose.

Then, I was suddenly triggered by another memory. In the 1970’s, my mother worked as waitress in a restaurant called Casa Roberto’s. My mother was Scottish and probably couldn’t even say ‘Ola’ but Roberto certainly was a Spaniard. A volatile one too, as I remember. I am not sure if this counts but I am claiming some leftover trout and almonds as my first meal in a restaurant. I would have been about 9?

The unanswerable question

whatever the case, one question I will never be able to answer, is this? What on earth was Tadley doing with a Spanish restaurant in the 1970’s? Why did Roberto up sticks from Barcelona and move to a Hampshire backwater? Was there a business plan? Maybe he didn’t have one? Perhaps he was running away from General Franco and was told Tadley was the last place the fascist dictator would come looking?

My mum died some 20 years ago, so I can’t ask her who actually went there? I can’t imagine Ron Nash in there saying “I’ll think I’ll try the Tapas tonight, Roberto, what Spanish red would you recommend as a complement?

They were strange times, that’s for sure.

1 Reply to "The days of camping, golden tench, and Casa Roberto’s"

  • Norman House
    December 3, 2022 (1:40 pm)

    Very funny!

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