At the appointed hour the chairman of the Confraternity of St James, Dr William Griffiths, called everyone to table. William is a wonderful character. A family doctor, he is also a veteran pilgrim and bon viveur. Friday’s event was on the eve of his retirement from being chairman of the CSJ for the last 9 years. He appeared to be demob happy and I was slightly worried by the half bottle of whisky peeping out of his jacket pocket at a jaunty angle. But William never let us down and at a signal from Chef Antonio he called for silence, welcomed the assembled throng and asked every to say the Selkirk Grace together. And so we did. A translation is provided for the uninitiated:
At the Amen the bagpipes were heard in the distance getting louder as they blared out Scotland the Brave and sheepish Spanish waiters Manolito and Duarte processed in with the Tapa of Haggis. Soon all were served and they followed that by distributing shots of whisky. A chupito for everyone. The atmosphere lightened. The food was great. Antonio had mastered the Haggis! Toasts were raised along the long L shaped table. Manolito topped up the chupitos from a giant bottle of whisky. Fellow diners introduced themselves to each other. Strangers conversed. Just along from where I was sitting it emerged one of the guests was a qualified Wine Master. Although wine as supplied with the meal she stuck to shots of whisky. Now there’s a woman after my own heart.
Starter plates were cleared and steaming bowls of delicious Caldo Gallego were served. More shots of whisky. Diners were nodding in approval. I’m sure I caught sight of a vegetarian tucking into the Caldo with huge gusto. I decided discretion was the better part of valour on that one. After the soup Antonio called me to the kitchen to ask how it seemed to be going. I said, “listen”, and we heard the animated conversation of 35 people thoroughly enjoying themselves. Antonio beamed and went on to serve the main course. Huge portions of lamb, salmon and chicken were brought to the table. There was also vegetable paella and I risked a glance up the table and was relieved to see all was well on the vegetarian front this time. Manolito and Duarte brought bottles of white and red wine. Two seats along from me a large jovial chap tucked in. He was a Consultant Gastroenterologist friend of two very experienced pilgrims. “So,” he accused them, “this is why you go on these pilgrimages. I thought they were about sin. Now I discover they are about good company, half a bottle of whisky before eating, huge plates of food and a man has just put a full bottle of Rioja in front of me. Where do I get a rucksack?” And all of this before dessert.