The Face That Sank a Thousand Pints

Britain increasingly seems to specialize in producing people who are not only drunken and foul-mouthed but also downright ugly. Take this egregious encounter during the Euro 2004 football tournament in the Algarve. I was watching the England V Portugal match when an English “fan’s” obnoxious behavior unsettled me. First she repeatedly booed the Portuguese national anthem. She obviously didn’t care that she was sitting in a bar on the territory of that very nation. She then gulped down six pints of beer in 90 minutes.

She had no neck and arms and legs like tree trunks – not just fat but misshapen with rubber tyres for a waist. At the beginning I wasn’t even 100 per cent sure she was a woman. Yet her voice and certain swellings enabled me to make a tentative identification. Following the match this “woman” headed to the local curry house where she would doubtless have fun abusing the waiters. And I’m sure she would end the evening in the traditional British way – her repulsive face (jaundiced and blotchy) buried in a plate of chicken tikka masala.

Let’s face it – British women are not especially beautiful anyway. If you see an attractive woman in London, she’s probably a foreigner. Or, if she is British, perhaps you are in an upmarket area like Chelsea. When I lived in Tottenham and Camden in the late 1990s I quickly concluded that any “nice” young English ladies – you know the attractive, polite types who uttered hopelessly old-fashioned greetings like “good morning” – had long since departed. They had probably moved to Weybridge or Esher or deepest Sussex. Young urban English “gels” seem to have been infected with the “laddish” culture, drinking like Oliver Reed on weekends and living on crisps, chips and greasy kebabs most of the time.

I now live in Sofia, Bulgaria. I have hardly ever seen public drunkenness. And among women it would be exceptional. Just as striking is their penchant for healthy eating. Very occasionally you see a young lady eating chips – but only delicately and inconspicuously – and accompanied by the classic Shopska salad of tomatoes, cucumber and cheese. Most Bulgarian girls are tall and slim with long legs and slim waists; they are naturally beautiful anyway with hair like threads of black silk and high cheekbones.

The late Christopher Hitchens once referred – in his memoir Hitch 22 – to a Bulgarian lady he met as being “agonizingly beautiful”. I know exactly what he meant because many young Sofian ladies fit this description. Their faces are so exquisite it’s as if an artist has spent a year chiselling their features. Bill Bryson also commented that Bulgarian women must be among Europe’s best looking. I have even met some babas in their fifties whose combination of jet black hair, creamy skin and full, ruby lips has caused me to bump into a lamp-post.

Bulgarian women look good because – apart from being gifted with fine genes – they shun junk food and too much booze. It’s the same reason, ironically, that stretches my patience as my wife toils away in the kitchen, making stuffed peppers and surmi – dolmas of vine leaves with rice and minced meat. Additives, preservatives and conservatives are shunned. I wish Bulgaria also shunned socialists but that’s the subject of another article.

Unfortunately, Bulgaria may soon eschew this cooking from scratch as the pace of life grows faster and people become more westernised. The only plus will be that it will be safer for me as I walk across the street because I won’t be distracted by yet another gorgeous giraffe and fall into one of the many potholes.

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