Eyes to the Right

Another year passes, another joint birthday to mark. These days we prefer doing rather than giving so this year we decided to do a bit more of London by taking in a big wheel, a few sharks and a West End show. First up was the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel on London’s South Bank and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the land. I’ve ridden the Eye a couple of times before but, remarkably, this was Liam’s first ever flight. He loved it and I’d forgotten just how good it is. Our weather is predictably unpredictable and it was a bit overcast when we joined the international queue. But as our pod slowly glided above the city skyline, the clouds parted giving us an almost picture-perfect panorama. It’s not called the London Eye for nothing.

The Eye’s neighbour is old County Hall, formerly the seat of London’s government but now home to a couple of hotels and a mishmash of attractions, one of which is Sea Life at the London Aquarium. The exhibition occupies much of the basement. The shelves of dusty old archives have been replaced by bubbling tanks of sea creatures swimming about to amuse and amaze the thousands of curious gawpers who pass by each day. It was another first for Liam. And as for the platoons of over-excited school kids who overwhelmed us, I have no words.

Quite rightly, flash photography is forbidden so photo opportunities were limited but we did what we could. There really were sharks – honest.

Lastly, we took our seats for ‘Dear Evan Hansen’, a song and dance show for the digital age. We slipped in just before it reached the end of its West End run. With a theme of teenage angst and anger, it’s very of the moment. While the set and staging were slick and inventive, we thought the big songs were well beyond the cast, particularly ‘Evan’ himself, which was disappointing. Still, the largely youthful crowd lapped it up and gave an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, so what do we know? And anything that gets young bums on seats gets my vote. At least the bar was empty during the interval.

There, Their, They’re

Our green and usually pleasant land contains an intricate patchwork of regional accents and dialects with a constantly shifting lexicon of words and idioms, syntax and sounds. Despite the endless yapping of mass media and the flood of Estuary English, you need only cross the street to hear a different voice. Vive la difference as they say in Belgium. I’m all for it.

But what I’m not all for is the laziness of so many users on social media. I don’t mean the use of text-speak and emojis – that’s the modern way. Nor do I mean the odd typo. That happens to us all. No, I mean people whose first language is English but who don’t know – or can’t be arsed to find out – the difference between two, to and too and there, their and they’re. It gets my goat and just makes the offenders come across as, well, a bit thick – or duzzy as they say round these parts.

Where is St Edmund Buried?

In Bury St Edmunds, obviously – or is he? The cute Suffolk market town might be the final resting place of St Edmund, ninth-century Christian king of East Anglia. Allegedly, he was cut down by a wild bunch of pillaging Danes doing what the Danes did back then.

Eventually those pillaging Danes saw the error of their wicked heathen ways, dropped to their knees, converted to the ‘One True Faith’ and hung up their horny helmets.

For his sins, Eddie the Martyr was canonised and an abbey founded in his honour by that great Dane, King Canute – he of holding-back-the-tide fame. Edmund even became England’s patron saint for a few hundred years until he was rudely upstaged and replaced by George in or around the fourteenth century. And Georgie boy wasn’t even English. But then, who can compete with a dragon slayer?

In Medieval times, a gravy train of pilgrims rolled in from all over Europe to visit Eddie’s shrine. It was a good little earner and the Abbey of St Edmund became one of the richest, largest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in all of England. Then in 1539 that old letch Henry the Eighth popped along and ‘dissolved’ the abbey (i.e. pillaged like those Danes of old) and that was the end of that.

A sunny day took us across county lines for a gander around the old holy pile. Apart from two impressive medieval gatehouses, little remains of the abbey itself, though next door is Bury St Edmunds Cathedral called – wait for it – St Edmundsbury. The Abbey’s pretty grounds are lovingly tendered by the local council and a dedicated army of volunteers; many of them could well be the descendants of those pillaging Danes who cut down the saintly king. ’Tis their penance.

All is forgiven. Nowadays, we really like the Danes.

Among the roses and the ruins, there’s a World War Two memorial to the US Airforce (or the US Army Airforce as it was known back then). The USAF was, and still is, big round these parts as East Anglia is famously flat and just a short bombing raid to the continent.

But … the current whereabouts of Edmund’s sainted bones is anyone’s guess.

Catch Me If You Can

Nearly three years down the line, we really thought we’d dodged the COVID bullet. But then our luck ran out. While in Bulgaria, we both started to develop a cough – nothing too onerous, just a tickly irritant. Better safe than sorry, we took a lateral flow test when we got home. And, yes, you guessed it, the dreaded lurgy had finally caught up with us.

We don’t know if we caught COVID before, on the way to or during our brief getaway but we were relieved that our Bulgarian hosts proved to be negative. We didn’t fancy blood on our hands.

Our symptoms were fairly mild – more man-flu than death-bed – and, for me, didn’t last long. After a few feet-up duvet days watching mind-numbing daytime telly, I was feeling much better. Sadly, for Liam, it still lingers like an unwelcome guest who won’t leave.

During our confinement, our neighbours were marvellous, with offers of help and home deliveries. Thankfully, we already had a supermarket shop booked – otherwise we might have run out of wine. Now that would have been a real emergency. Special thanks to our local innkeeper’s missus who popped by with pick-me-up McDonald’s milkshakes. You know who you are!

Postcard from Bulgaria

We got the hot gossip washed down with Bulgarian plonk we were hoping for. But that didn’t mean our entire trip was a non-stop booze-fest. In between top-ups, we did manage to drink in a bit of culture too, with a gander round ancient Nessebar, a pretty little town tumbling over a small Black Sea island joined to the mainland by a causeway. It’s full of old Orthodox churches and sprinkled with bars, cafés and places to browse for tourist tat and local handicrafts. The assault course of rough cobbled streets is charming but ladies and drag queens should leave the heels at home. Even the flat-shoed risk a snapped ankle.

Founded in the second millennium BC and originally a Thracian settlement called Mesembria, the town passed down the line to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Bulgars before eventually falling to the Ottomans in 1453. Our guidebook called this ‘the time of the Turkish enslavement’ – memories run very deep in the Balkans. Finally, Nessebar was incorporated into the new Bulgarian state in 1885.

Nessebar has a small but impressive museum exhibiting artefacts from down the many ages. Fallen Catholic Liam loves a religious icon and started to hyperventilate when we stumbled across a room full of ’em.

Thank you to our lovely landladies for putting us up and putting up with us – you know who you are!