Saturday 1 October 2011

Asia to Go

Mistlebourne Market is humming in this unseasonally balmy weather. The cafe has decamped outside, in South of France style, apart from the smell of cowshit wafting over the hedge. I chat to Annie over my bacon butty and pot of Earl Grey. She is telling me about a singles dinner for silver citizens that she went to recently.

'Ghastly,' she says, shaking her elegant grey bob. '16 singles and not one possible. All after nurse or purse.'

I nod in sympathy, turning my chair to face the sun. 'I wish it could stay like this all winter,' I sigh.

She follows suit and we sit there like a pair of old ladies on a cruise ship. 'I wish I was somebody who could afford to winter in the sun,' she sighs.

'Me too. Thailand...! Vietnam! Cambodia! Mmmm...' I break off to take a bite out of my butty. Mmmm. Crisp yet melted-buttery at the same time, just how I like it.

'So how's it going, turning your Passion into Profit?' she enquires.

'Well,' I say, wiping some grease off my chin and trying to sound impassioned, 'I got Rick Stein's book, Far Eastern Odyssey, out of the library, and it's totally reminding me of the delicious street food in Bangkok market. And I've cleared Waitrose out of green curry paste and easy ginger and tamarind paste and organic coconut milk. The only thing is, I can't quite bring myself to turn the aga on in this heat, especially since I need some more oil and it's going to cost 300 quid. Which is to say I haven't actually tried out any recipes yet.'

'Do you actually enjoy cooking?' she asks with disarming perception.

'Ye-e-es!' I say as brightly as one can with a mouth full of soft white bread roll. 'Sort of. Well. I love the results!'

'So you enjoy eating,' she persists.

I clear my throat ironically and point at the remainder of the bacon butty in my other hand, poised ready to enter my mouth. 

'You see, what's very interesting, Eliza, is that when you mention South East Asian places, you go into a state of bliss. But when you mention recreating the cuisine back home in Mistlebourne, I don't hear the same passion in your voice.'

I feel my shoulders slumping. She's rumbled me.

'So what you should do is lead tours to South East Asia. Then you could indulge your passions of travelling and eating and make money out of it!'

Yes! Yes! My shoulders jump to attention. She's right!

'You're right!' I exclaim. 'Brilliant idea! Except... I don't have any tour-leading experience. And would I have to lug their suitcases in and out of the bus? Because, honestly, I hardly have the strength to do my own these days. And would I need a clipboard? And one of those nylon baseball caps with the name of my tour company on it?'

'I don't think it's obligatory,' she says. 'But seriously, Eliza. You should think about it. You seem to know all the places and the culture and the cuisine, and you'd be very good with the old dears.'

'Old dears? Oh dear! No devastatingly handsome, newly divorced young men, then?'

She raises her eyebrows scornfully. 'You'll have to pitch yourself at the grey market. Younger people don't go on guided tours. Unless it's got "adrenaline" in the title, which I don't think is quite your forte?'

I smile my acquiescence.

'And men don't go at all,' she adds. 'Except occasionally the nurse or purse variety, but they tend to go on cruises since they're not actually interested in the travel.'

The grey market, I muse. Gray's Grey Tours.  Hmmm. And why no men? Hmmm. I could offer a side tour to the bars of Patpong. That would bring in the lads.

'I'll give my friend Mike at Asia To Go a call,' says Annie, getting up to pay for her coffee. 'He might need someone.'

Cycle home with a spring in my pedals. Eliza Gray, Tour Operator, Asia To Go.

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