The city of Preston is graced with probably the biggest bus station in Europe. Perhaps even in the world. The humongous concrete structure, home to 80 bus stands and several parking levels, was scheduled for demolition years ago, only to be listed as a grade II iconic monument just in the nick of time – thanks in part to public outcry at the thought of losing their finest Brutalist façade.
Tucked into the spine of the bus stations characteristic walls of rectangular white tiles and black grout, sits a small, no-frills cafeteria. It’s wedged like a fish tank between a pedestrian underpass, public toilets, news kiosk and telephones, and overseen by a magnificent period time display. The cafeteria has been there ever since I can remember. A hive of local activity in the midst of a godforsaken concrete monolith of a building.
Emblazoned in bold marker pen on poster size pieces of yellow card pinned up on the walls behind the counter, were written the daily menu and specials. Besides the full English breakfast served all day (scrambled eggs, bacon, fried bread, toast, mushrooms, tomatoes and baked beans) there were buttered barm cakes with bacon, bangers and mash, white or brown buttered toast, or toasted buttered tea cakes. You could also order a pot of strong black tea that came with a small canister of milk and a few sugar cubes, or a mug of flat white coffee. Sorry, no foam.
As students, we would walk by on our way to catch the bus home after college. In winter, the big cafeteria windows on either side streamed with condensation that you could barely see through – neither in nor out, as if it were raining inside. Although the clientèle came in from all walks of life that flowed through the station, what struck me most were the abundance of elderly ladies in their rain hoods, rain coats, and curled, grey hair tinged with blue rinses, and elderly gentlemen in their pressed shirts and anoraks. There they all sat, either chattering away about the weather and the likes, or alone and in silent anticipation, cup in hand, waiting for the mechanism of the time display to “flip” over one more minute; each tick getting closer to the bus leaving.
Always tempted by the cake basket on the counter, it was hard to ignore the slices of flap jacks that sat there oozing with butter and syrup. In all of my travels, nowhere but within the UK did I ever find flap jacks, and none that were as oozy, gooey, chewy, or as decadent as these. I wonder now, if they even still sell them?
Our ideas of Zen are often tied up in knots with ideas of what one should eat. But as delusion is enlightenment, and there is enlightenment within delusion, I would definitely give these a go…it would be, after all, very Zen.
The flap jacks in this recipe are almost as decadent, oozy, gooey, and chewy. Enjoy 🙂
185 g (¾ cup) butter
100 g (½ cup) demerara sugar
85 g (¼ cup) golden syrup or honey
250 g (2½ cups) rolled oats
50 g (¼ cup) flour
¼ teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 180 °C (360 °F) and line a 18 cm (7″) square baking tin with parchment paper.
- Place the butter, demarara sugar, golden syrup or honey in a sauce pan; heat gently over a low flame just until the butter melts.
- Stir in the rolled oats, flour, and salt.
- Pour into the lined baking tin and spread the mixture out evenly.
- Bake until golden on the edges, about 20-25 minutes.
- Let it cool in the tin for about 30 minutes, or until it sets.
- Lift out of the tin using the parchment paper to support it, and cut into squares with a sharp knife.