No Jacket Required

No Jacket Required

Posh NoshLiam’s birthday is only a couple of weeks after mine so we tend to celebrate our birthday’s together. When I say ‘celebrate’ I don’t mean razzmatazz, wild parties, clubbing or jetting over to Paris for a romantic city break. We’ve neither the energy nor the readies these days. No, a nice meal and good conversation washed down by a bottle or two is now the order of the day. Recently, an Ivy Brasserie opened here in old Norwich town. The original Ivy Restaurant is in Covent Garden in Central London and has been serving up posh nosh to the rich and infamous for a hundred years. Back in the day, I was lucky enough to have the readies to lunch there a few times. Although pricey, the food was (and probably still is) amazing. Keen to cash in on the brand, Ivy Brasseries have started popping up all over the best places. The classic has become a chain.

So we decided to treat ourselves and give it a whirl. Was it worth it? Absolutely – lavish decor, relaxed atmosphere, exemplary service, flirtatious waiter, great food. And autumnal skies gave way to bright, warm sunshine – no jacket required. What’s not to like?

The Ivy Norwich

Image courtesy of The Ivy, Norwich

I’ve always said that a meal without good company is just food. And with Liam, I’m always in the best company whether it’s at a fancy bistro or sharing a bag of chips on the way home from the pub.

The Right Side of God

Little ol’ Norwich has been voted as one of the top twelve places to live in the UK according to the Sunday Times (as reported in our local rag, The Norwich Evening News). And then Time Out London did a full page spread praising Norwich as one of the happiest cities in the realm. The magazine recommends a few places we know well – The Grosvenor Fish Bar (voted as one of the best chippies anywhere), Wild Thyme for the veggies (but sadly out of action right now due to an inconvenient fire), The Plough (prettiest beer garden in the city), The Playhouse Bar (for an arty student vibe) and Strangers Coffee House (they have their own roastery). I could’ve written the piece myself.

So why are we thinking about laying our cloth cap in God’s Own Country when the time is right? Well, we like it Oop North and, as we shuffle towards our twilight years, it pays to be on the right side of God. Just in case.

Time Out page courtesy of – you know who you are!

Three Lions on a Shirt

Three Lions on a Shirt

Despite coming from a family of footie obsessives, I’m not a fan of the beautiful game, or of anything sporty really. But even I’ve been swept along by the euphoria of England’s remarkable run in the World Cup. We drank through a very pleasant sunny afternoon in a local beer garden watching England thrash Panama. In truth, it was so bright we hardly saw a thing, but the wine was cold and ambience was hot. Last Saturday’s quarter-final against Sweden clashed with the Lord Mayor’s annual parade, and his worship wisely postponed the grand procession so the great, the good and the legless could watch the match in various venues across the city. We took up pole position in the Murderer’s, a local watering hole with a dark past. Thank God for aircon otherwise the overheated punters might have fainted from nervous exhaustion. When England beat Sweden, the roar could be heard in space.

Three Lions on a Shirt

The decisive win gave the Lord Mayor’s parade an added bounce – the atmosphere was electric and the word on the street was victory. With all the excitement (okay, booze), we didn’t quite make it to the fireworks extravaganza at close of play but we did manage to take a few snaps of the crazy assortment of madcap street performers.

I am quietly patriotic, though not nationalistic. To be proud of where you are from is fine but to think you’re a cut above is not. It’s just a game, after all. Will England’s winning ways continue? I really hope so. We’ll see later on tonight.

Stop Press

Alas, England’s dreams of reaching the final of the World Cup were dashed by a spritely Croatia. The nation has gone into mourning.

Postcards from Crete

Postcards from Crete

Aphrodite’s Sanctuary

Darkness had fallen by the time we opened the front door of the Aphrodite Guest House at the Eleonas Country Village. Expectations were high and it didn’t disappoint – simple pleasure, tastefully presented. On day one, Liam leapt out of bed and threw open the window to let in a heady scent of rosemary, sage and marjoram and a words-totally-fail-me view. Yes, this’ll do for our week of solitude and Scrabble, cards and cuddles, rest and recharge.

Toddlers on Acid

After two glorious days serenaded by monastery bells and a chorus of horny cicadas, the melody has been shattered by toddlers on acid. They weren’t expected up here in these hills. High-fibre parents encourage little Hugo and Matilda to express themselves in any way that takes their fancy, and so they do – loudly and often. Real life won’t be so obliging when they grow up.

We upped towels and fled to the tranquillity of our patio, dragged out the Scrabble, popped a cork and settled down beneath the canopy of a fat-trunked carob tree. As we supped and scrabbled, a panicky goat suddenly appeared from nowhere and scuttled past. A startled Liam jumped from his seat. Ever the expert sot, he didn’t spill a drop.

The Road to Zaros by Liam Brennan

Day four, and Jack has a case of the munchies. While he lounges under the shade of a carob tree, off I trot in the blistering heat to the local village in search of essential supplies (Pringles, Hobnobs and village plonk). I say ‘trot’. By the time I had negotiated the never-ending ‘road’ to Zaros, with its twists and turns through the hills into the valley below, my old-man legs had packed up, I was more or less blinded by sweat, and delirium was beginning to set in. It’s an indication of how pathetic I must have looked as I wobbled past the village tea house that one of the octogenarian villagers rocking gently in his shaded chair gestured for me to take a seat next to him.

‘Kàni polì zèsti’ (it’s very hot), he mumbled nonchalantly.

No shit, grandad.

I panted an appreciative ‘thank you’ in Greeklish and pointed at my wrist – time was ticking by and I was on a mission. As it turns out, that mission was accomplished in some style. Thanks to the local shopkeeper who steered me away from his dusty stock of imported wine, I staggered back to Jack with gallons of the local rosé, decanted into recycled one-and-a-half-litre plastic bottles at 3 Euros a pop. Not to mention the sour cream Pringles and a stash of chocolate bars. I may have lost half my body weight in sweat and pulled every muscle of my ageing body, but at least Jack was happy. That man owes me. Big time.

Much Ado

We dine late to avoid the over-fussy kids and their over-fussing parents. Food is gloriously no-fuss – hearty country fare, fresh and generous, and all washed down with robust local wine. And Διαμάντι (Diamánti), our waitress, provides a side order of wit and wisdom. On day two, a sparkling trio of West Country Brits emerged from the beige backdrop of pasty-faced, sensibly-sandalled hikers. We shared a joke or three and chatted our way through the honeyed raki. You know who you are and we thank you.

Déjà Vu

Our Cretan idyll delivers unexpected familiarity. If I close my eyes, I’m transported back in time to another land of randy insects, loose goats, old men in tea houses and pine-smothered hills.

In the end, who could tell the difference between a grandma riding a donkey in Greece, Bulgaria or trotting through a Turkish village?

Turkey Street, Chapter 13, Blesséd are the Meek

As I once wrote in a book. Ok, no headscarves or hassle, and the call to prayer has been replaced by the chimes of the local blue-domed monastery, but looking at the following snaps – the first of our Cretan digs, the second of our former house in Bodrum – you get my drift.

Host with the Most

Manolis, our gentle and affable host, runs a tight ship with a light touch – efficient but not pushy, with an ask-and-it-shall-be-given style. All the staff were helpful and friendly, but for us, it was Diamánti – our diamond – who really made our second honeymoon something to tell the metaphorical grandchildren about. It rained on our last day – a summer monsoon to frighten the herd, all snap, crackle and pop.

We took our seats in the taverna with a couple of glasses of white to enjoy the noisy spectacle. Diamante emerged from the bar to present us with a gift. Now that’s never happened before.

Efcharistó.

We never got to eat the fruit of the lotus tree. It must be the only shrub missing from Eden. So we went home, but we’ll be back.

Coming next – Minos, Minotaurs and Mazes

 

The Lotus Eaters

The Lotus Eaters

Greece beckons – seven lazy days round a Cretan pool. As with last year, we’re flying from Norwich’s bijou international airport but, unlike last year, we’ve gone up a notch or two, accommodation-wise. We’re so off the beaten track, there’s no track at all, just a collection of stone cottages sprinkled over the side of a hill with its own spring and a couple of travel awards. And the unpretentious comfort has earned it a sparkling set of five-star reviews. Our sanctuary for the week is the Aphrodite Guest House, close to the bar. Expectations are high.

Although it’s a paradise for hikers and bikers, we plan to do little but sleep, float, eat, sup, read, bonk, play snap and cheat at scrabble. The only exception, I think, will be a trip to ancient Knossos. As one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, it’s bound to be nose to nipple with babbling coach parties. But it’s there and it’s not far, so it would be an insult to give it a miss.

Who knows? We may turn into lotus eaters – from Greek mythology, that is, not the seventies TV series set on Crete starring Wanda Ventham, Benedict Cumberbatch’s mother. According to legend, those who ate the fruit of the lotus tree lost the desire to return home. I’ll keep you posted.

 

A Hard Act to Follow

A Hard Act to Follow

When Liam planned our ‘jolly’ down memory lane, he wasn’t to know it would be the hottest May Day holiday on record. The Sun puts a smile on everyone’s face, doesn’t it? And we smiled our way round Bankside, my favourite district of London. Back when the first Elizabeth was on the throne, old Southwark was a riot of licentiousness – playhouses, brothels and taverns – beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London’s buttoned-up elders who wagged their fingers from the other side of the Thames. This is where Will Shakespeare plied his trade among the players, the prostitutes and the drunks. That’s my kind of town.

Not that there are many ne’er-do-wells milling around these days. The area has cleaned up its act and is now home to over-priced flats, over-priced eateries, over-priced bars, world-class modern art and a working replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It certainly pulls in the crowds.

I went all thespian and began to recite the only lines I could remember from my part in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream circa 1976…

You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear

The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor,

May now perchance both quake and tremble here,

When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.

And roar I did, when Snug the Joiner became the lion in a rabbit costume smelling of mothballs and accessorised with an improvised mane. Times were hard in the seventies.

Liam decided my hammy Shakespeare was putting off the tourists and bundled me onto a riverboat and took me to a different kind of theatrical show – a little fairy dusting of trad drag.

street-entertainment.jpg

It was an eventful afternoon made all the more eventful by the delightful boys from the Abbey Rugby Club in Reading. They were on a ‘Monopoly board tour’ and had landed on Trafalgar Square for a queer beer. Well fancy that. And I did.

Bubble-Wrapped Barcelona

Bubble-Wrapped Barcelona

Well not actually Barcelona – Sitges, a smart resort a few miles south which has been a magnet for the A-Gays for donkey’s years, even before that bastard Franco kicked the bucket. And to continue the fine tradition, an old friend and his partner have just exited Brexit and parachuted in. We might join them, who knows? Sitges is a coastal retreat untroubled by the political hurricane currently battering Catalonia. Like expat ghettos everywhere, it’s bubble-wrapped from the tedium of real life.

My flying visit was a business trip with added benefits. My old mucker is opening a gay ‘lifestyle’ store (no sniggering at the back) and I’ve been building his website. The shop should do well given the town’s perennial appeal to likely lads looking for supplies and fancy pants to drop. That was the business bit. Getting to spend time with one of my oldest friends was the benefits bit. Unfortunately, the weather was crap at both ends of the Bay of Biscay. I went from this:

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to this:

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As it was a pac-a-mac break, I didn’t get the chance to rub shoulder pads with surgically enhanced Eurotrash or old queens with painted faces and matching poodles. Still, the food was delicious, the booze free-flowing and the gossip salacious, so it was well worth coming in from the drizzle for. Naturally, the sun came out the day after I left. This is how Sitges normally looks:

shutterstock_541125007 brightened