Christmas is a-Coming

Christmas is a-Coming

I know it’s a-coming because the Christmas lights went on in Norwich last week, enthusiastically witnessed by thousands of over-wrought kids and their anxious carers. Pushy pushchairs and strident strollers took back the streets and our ankles became collateral damage. The good burghers of Norwich fired up City Hall with a row of giant exploding fountains, and rockets flew from the roof of Jarrolds, the well-groomed department store for the well-heeled. Here’s a taste…

Chapelfield Shopping Centre has also unveiled its glitzy seasonal offering, even turning the word ‘christmas’ into a verb  – punters are ‘christmassing’ all over the shop. The meaning isn’t entirely clear but I’m guessing it’s about people spending money they don’t have on things people don’t need. It was ever thus. They’ve replaced the enormous melodic Christmas tree of yesteryear with something more modest. It’s chic but silent.

I rather miss the camper, older model belting out Yuletide tunes every thirty minutes though I’m guessing that sentiment wouldn’t be shared by the staff and patrons of the adjacent restaurants who’d have to put up with the racket.

After the fun came the fare. We squeezed through the crowd to grab some hot Spanish sausage. Exotic street food has really taken off round these parts and I’ve always been partial to a generous slice of Iberian spice. The chorizo ciabatta griddled with red piquillo peppers was divine. We finished off the evening in a local hostelry, the newly tarted-up Lamb Inn – no prams the size of a small hatchback, no tantrum-ing kids, no over-fussing parents. My kind of advent.

Bottoms up!

But What Are They Eating?

But What Are They Eating?

Author Shelley Workinger runs a blog that provides a unique approach to book promotion – food and the consumption thereof. My expanding waistline is evidence enough of my love of all things culinary, so I bit her hand off to get featured.

Turkish cuisine is justifiably famed as one of the world’s greatest. The Sultan’s table overflowed with extravagant bounty from the vast Ottoman domains that once stretched across three continents. The empire may be history, but food – preparing it, eating it, sharing it – is still of enormous cultural importance to all Turks regardless of status and income. So it’s small wonder the simple act of eating plays a starring role in both of my memoirs, Perking the Pansies and its sequel, Turkey Street. Here’s a soupçon…

More…

Sex, Lies and Murder

Sex, Lies and Murder

We’ve seen a few films recently, most notably God’s Own Country, a windswept tale of romance and raunch between a monosyllabic, emotionally-repressed Yorkshire hill farmer (Josh O’Connor – the literary one from the Durrells) and an enlightened and worldly-wise labourer from Romania (a superbly self-possessed Alec Secăreanu). It’s a kinda coming out tale for the Brexit generation and a tad ironic given the reception gay people usually receive in Romania. Liam thought it was all a bit too Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed the desolation but only because it was finally relieved by a bit of boy-gets-boy at the end. The critics praised the film but damned the redemption. Critics seem to love grim tales that leave you reaching for the gin and pills.

LJC0OID4

The Party.jpgWe also saw The Party, a dark satirical farce filmed entirely in black and white about a soiree of smug, fizz-swigging Islington intellectuals whose lives (and leftie credentials) visibly unravel before your eyes. They wriggle while the vol-au-vents burn. I really wanted to like this film but didn’t. There were some great lines…

“You’re a first-class lesbian and a second-rate thinker,”

…and a great twist at the end but it all got a bit too slapstick – and not half as clever as it thinks it is. I nearly reached for the gin and pills.

And then came the main event. Murder on the Orient Express is arguably Agatha Christie’s most ingenious plot. I’ve seen the 1974 star-studded version many times so I know whodunit but did I care? Kenneth Branagh’s re-make (both as director and as Poirot – the Belgian sleuth, sporting gravity-defying face furniture) may be slightly less stellar, cast-wise, but it more than made up for it with spectacle and opulent period detail, dishing up characters less cardboard cut-out than the usual Christie servings. The famously snowed-in train provided an afternoon of pure escapism that really dried out a rainy day. It sparkled – from the dramatic Istanbul skyline to Branagh’s anguished Poirot. Later, we raised a gin or two to the new Hercule. No pills required.

 

 

Poetry Corner

I’ve just finished A Turbulent Mind, A Poetry Collection of a Mother’s Journey with Alzheimer’s by Jay Artale who is perhaps better known as travel writer Roving Jay. Her Bodrum Peninsula Travel Guide remains the most comprehensive book about our old Turkish stomping ground.

Jay’s latest work is altogether more revealing. In a series of soul-baring poems, Jay has written a deeply personal account of her mother’s agonising journey with Alzheimer’s, that cruel and uncompromising disease. Candid, sometimes funny and always illuminating, Jay asks the reader to…

embrace the moments of joy that still pass through every day.

The book is currently available on Kindle only, though Jay has plans to publish the book in paperback soon.

Find out more.

 

On a lighter poetic note, I had the great pleasure to work with author Iona Jenkins on her own compilation – Heartsong, A Collection of Reflections and Poetry. I was delighted to find out the book was a solo medalist winner in the 2017 New Apple Summer e-Book Awards. Fantastic news!

The book is available in print as well as on Kindle and the Kindle edition is a steal at only 99p.

Find out more.

Magical Mystery Tour

We boarded the bus.

Where’s he taking me? A little rural retreat with ancient beams and hearty fare, deep in the flatlands?

We boarded the train.

We must be going to Diss, a pretty little market town with fine Georgian architecture.

Where’s Diss? Near Dat, as the in-joke goes.


Diss came and went.

Liam bundled me off at Ipswich and we headed for the Marina.

Fancy a drink?

Ipswich Quay

Well, I don’t need asking twice but why Ipswich?

This is why.

It was an inspired birthday treat – a complete surprise. Marc Almond in his torch song years is right up my street and his ‘Tenement Symphony’ album is one of my favourites of all time. Marc was in fine voice, supported by a full ensemble – strings, guitars, percussion, keyboards, brass, backing vocalists – a quality set and a rich wall of sound. New songs, old songs, a couple of Dusty Springfield classics (‘the sixties have been very good to me,’ he said) and a bit of Northern Soul chucked in at the end to get you to your feet. Just brilliant.

We polished off the evening in a very pleasant watering hole near our hotel, full of fun and fantastic punters. This was one of them:

Thank you, scary lady, for letting me take your photo and thank you, Liam, for my magical mystery tour.

So, ladies and gents, I give you my favourite Almond track from my favourite Almond album superbly delivered on a memorable night – ‘the Days of Pearly Spencer’. It’s a song I first heard one balmy evening in a gay bar in old Ibiza Town. It was 1991. But that’s another story.

Postcards from Corfu Town

Postcards from Corfu Town

Knickers in the Wind

Our final night in Corfu (or Kerkyra as the Greeks call it) is a slow meander through Corfu Old Town, a labyrinth of lanes and alleyways stuffed with churches and intriguing doorways, and shadowed by row upon row of crusty Venetian-era tenements – all tatty shutters and knickers flapping in the breeze. Down on the street, tourist tat competes with luxury labels, artisans with artists, tavernas with silver service. There’s a real buzz and we’re lapping it up. It’s the second UNESCO World Heritage Site of our mini grand tour and it’s gorgeous.

A Sticky Wicket

We’re ending the evening watching trendy young things doing what trendy young things do everywhere – chatting, flirting, larking about and having fun. We’re observing the crowd from the back row of a swish bar in the Liston, an elegant Parisian-style arcade built at the turn of the nineteenth century when the French were top dogs. The building overlooks a cricket pitch laid out after the British booted out the French. And surprisingly, the crease still resounds to leather on willow even today.

The Liston Exterior

Waiting for our late lift back to Elleana’s gaff, we chatted with Josie and George from Bradford. They’ve been visiting Corfu on and off for decades and despite being a little long in the tooth, they still gad about the island on a quad bike, Josie wrapped round her man, wind blowing through her purple rinse. While I’m slightly concerned about the serious risk of death or disability at every turn, I rather admire their pluck.

So that was Corfu – seven heavenly days, two countries, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and enough devil’s brew to sink a frigate. We shall return.

 

 

Postcards from Albania

Postcards from Albania

When in Greece go to Albania

It’s only three miles from Corfu at its closest point so it would be rude not to. We sailed the hydrofoil from Corfu Town and here we are sipping a cappuccino at a smart restaurant in Sarandë, a port and resort on the Albanian Riviera – yes, they’ve got a riviera. We’re on a coach trip with a herd of Saga louts – Brits and Germans mainly. We had neither the wit nor the inclination to organise the tour independently. Albanian’s call their country Republika e Shqipërisë. No, I can’t pronounce it either so let’s just stick with Albania.

Sarande

The Trojan Connection

Our first excursion is to the ancient city of Butrint – Roman Buthrotum back in the day and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After years in Turkey, I tend to be a bit blasé about old cities – Turkey’s got ‘em by the quarry-load. But I have to admit the site is pretty impressive with its Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman remains. And the setting on the edge of a lagoon is magical. According to Greek mythology, the city was founded by exiles from Troy. A fanciful tale? Maybe not.

We’ve meandered through a mozzie-infested thicket and over long-buried streets to various ruins in various stages of ruination, including a Byzantine basilica – reputedly the largest in the world after Hagia Sophia in old Constantinople. While imposing, I didn’t think it was that big but what do I know?

Butrint

As we rambled, I Googled ‘Butrint’ and happened across the UK Butrint Foundation. Guess where it’s based? Yep, Norwich. Small world.

Pushy Fraulein

We’re back in Sarandë for lunch. Many of our fellow passengers would push their firstborn under a bus to get to the buffet first. It’s like feeding time at the zoo. I had to neck an Albanian beer to get over the shock of an ancient Teuton with fat ankles, bum bag and curly perm elbowing me out of the way to get her grubby hands on the köfte.

Eye Spy

Our afternoon excursion sped us through the Butrint National Park to the Blue Eye, a spring that bubbles forth from a deep pool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen waters so clear or iridescent. The images here are for real – no filters required.

Ooh, Aah, Kosovar

We have an hour or so to kill before our hydrofoil back to Corfu Town. Liam’s sniffed out a swish harbourside bar, with prices to match. I’m sipping Kosovar wine. I didn’t know they made wine in Kosovo. Sarandë is a handsome town – more modern than I was expecting but then I don’t really know what I was expecting. Actually, I’ve never visited an ex-‘Communist’ state before. I’ve been to yer actual Commie country – when I took the train 1,500 or so miles from London to Moscow during Brezhnev’s reign. And then there was Romania when Ceaușescu was on the throne. Both experiences were broadening but those eras are long gone. Albania is beautiful but it’s developing fast. There are mouths to feed and aspirations to fulfil. I just hope they don’t lose too much in the mad rush to be just like everyone else.

Here Endeth the Lesson

I’m guessing not many people know much about Albania. I certainly didn’t. But I know a little more now, courtesy of our guide, a splendid young man who speaks great English, and great German too by the sound of it. Throughout the day, he’s been giving us a potted history in bite-size episodes. He even mentioned the German occupation during the Second World War, something  I thought he might have skipped to avoid offence. It was done in such a matter-of-fact way, I’m sure no one was offended. Our young guide is looking to the future, not dwelling on the past. I’m rather taken with him (not in that way – get your minds out of the gutter). He ended the lesson by saying simply,

Don’t judge Albania by what you’ve heard. Judge Albania by what you see – good and bad.

He got a round of applause – and a tip.

Coming soon – Postcards from Corfu Town.

Laundry line