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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

I DRANK a frothy coffee the other afternoon after a blissful drive through Warwickshire.

The leafy lanes are still there; more or less untouched for the thirty odd years I have known them.

Minutes off the motorways - and there are some new ones since I first went there - you will still find John Major's vestal virgins pedalling to Communion through the morning mist and you really can drink warm beer around the village green.

You'll also find splendid asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli for sale at the roadside.

The very same wooden stalls are still there at the same farm gates since I was a cub reporter on the Evesham Journal and Four Shires Advertiser.

And what's with this frothy coffee?

Well, even in Shakespeare Country, the dreaded Starbucks is putting in an appearance. And Costa, the designer Café, with ristretto and cappuccino and Americano.

Costa is on the corner of the main shopping square in Stratford upon Avon, a comfort for students and a blessing for anyone who thinks this Bond Street of a town simply costs too much. I liked the mug so much, I bought it.

The man in charge of the froth told me an American tourist had walked around the town for four hours and then asked: "Where IS Stratford?"

Told in John Cleese fashion that that WAS Stratford, he exclaimed "But we have shopping malls bigger than this."

Later he casually asked which was the best way to Portugal.

Those Americans that are due soon keep emailing, asking if the water is safe to drink yet, or whether there are any roads open because of the hoof and mouth plague.

Apart from the signs, there's no way of knowing anything is up.

And anyway I got the asparagus home.

Six giant stems, each as thick as my thumb and almost a foot long, cost a little under £3 (say 700pesetas). It's not as bitter as the asparagus you find growing wild all over Ibiza in the New Year and it's not intended to be chopped up before it's eaten either.

The last inch was cut off and a potato peeler run down the three inches before that.

They went flat, cheek by jowl, into a deep pan ("as used by Delia Smith") which contained a pint of gently bubbling water. You could hear them whispering to each other as they jockeyed for position.

These spears were never destined for an omelette, but to be gently drained and lain across a white plate.

Deep yellow Guernsey butter left to melt atop their faces and a scrape or two of black pepper and they were done.

You eat them as if you were taking part in an orgy worthy of As You Like It.

It is asparagus that is the food of love, not the background music.

So eat on.

Never mind the froth, you make your own coffee however you like and drink it from your own Costa mug, of course.

Now you can dream of Warwickshire.

Sinclair Newton