Spotted Dick in the Douro – tv comes to Port

Above Photo Credit - Living Tours

Firstly, Spotted Dick is a charmingly named traditional English pudding. OK?

With what seems a lifetime of tv filming behind me, there are always moments that are just ridiculous. I enjoy these. Sometimes I would swan around as a presenter, which means just doing the fun bits and insisting on blue M and M’s (not true!). Or, as a director, everyone wants you to make the decisions. This not only covers legitimate questions of camera shots, angles, editing planning etc., but matters of where we are all eating next and where’s the hotel? It is very like dealing with your children on holiday. “I’ve made enough difficult decisions of my own today without checking if the hotel restaurant has vegan food! You do it! I’m finished!”

I recall, sometime ago now, making a promotional film for one of the big Port Houses.  This was back in the days of cameras being the size of a small bungalow, and tapes being in massive cassettes. Yes, we are at least in the post really old film camera era. Today, with video cards, you can drop the entire output of Strictly into your tea!

Anyway, we were very well looked after by the delightful English gent who was based in the Douro Valley in Portugal and in charge of Press and PR for this Port House (who shall remain nameless) in those days. The story of Port is in itself interesting. Wars with France meant the wine supply dried up, or at least declined dramatically, so new wine supplies were sought. Spain and Portugal of course. The wine had to travel far, and so to preserve it, grape spirit was added – hence the fortified wine of Porto. Oversimplified of course but basically it.     

So, there we were, a motley crew of 5 of us (today this would be 2 or 3), comprising director, producer, cameraman, sound recordist and translator, beginning a very privileged trip and filming it all. They even put on the traditional “stomping” with feet – executed in a large trough with a few of the locals.

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(Picture copyright Decanter)

 I fancy this is just for cameras or tourists these days but I’m sure it continues now. Nice, I suppose, as a bit of theatre.

All was going well, and we started our trip in the small lodges owned by the bigger Port Houses. These are situated at regular intervals up the valley and serve to accommodate visitors, wine experts, Press, in fact anyone who legitimately needs to stay.  I thought they were lovely. Clean, simple, basic you might say but nicely done. We stayed our first night at the lower end of the valley, not far from Porto. 

Unfortunately, I had got all worked up about the lovely Portuguese food we might have. Would it be sardines, or some simple meats, olives or what? Maybe some local dish – involving Port in the recipe somehow?

Imagine my surprise when what I can only describe as a school dinner appeared before us. Overcooked roast beef, small roast potatoes, watery veg etc. I was immediately back in the school canteen with mad Mr Watson, our Latin teacher, who was large, spoke in Latin and could play 15 of us in a line at chess and beat us all. Pudding was, yes the classic, Spotted Dick. 

After a while, and as we all dutifully eat, our host politely asked, “What do you think of the food?”  Several forces of influence came into play. Firstly, we were being employed by this person. Secondly, we were being well looked after and thirdly, we were English and therefore not prone to speaking our minds. So, naturally we all said,”….er lovely thanks.”

As our week progressed, we would be travelling and filming further up the valley, and staying at similar lodges. We had exactly the same meal every night for 5 nights.  

After night 3 he said, “I’m glad you like the food, because before my wife got hold of things, all we had was sardines, olives, local cheeses, and so on.”

He was clearly from a Public School background.  I, by the way and for the record, am not.