Go West!

Go West!

One thing we confirmed during our cheery jolly to Shrewsbury is that, according to Salopians (as Shropshire folk are called), it’s pronounced Shroosbury, as in ‘Taming of the…’. We also discovered that it’s tranquil, polite and stuffed with interest – from amazing ‘olde worlde’ architecture along Dickensian streets with quirky names to match to an embarrassment of watering holes and eateries to suit all tastes and pockets. And rain didn’t stop play – well this was the wet West Country (or rather the West Midlands as pointed out by an old friend – you know who you are). It’s west of East Anglia so that’s good enough for me. In fact, the number of Welsh accents we heard almost convinced us we were actually in Wales.

After a good old gander round the narrow streets and little lanes, we happened upon ‘The Nag’s Head’, a bijou pub on Wyle Cop (yes, that’s the name of the street) to be welcomed by an old codger at the bar supping Guinness. He said…

I knew you were comin’ so I put ABBA on.

‘Dancing Queen’ was followed in quick succession by Freddie Mercury, Elton John and George Michael. As Liam slurped his large Merlot, I googled ‘gay bars in Shrewsbury’ and guess what came up? Yep, The Nags Head.

Britain’s longest river, the Severn, wraps around Shrewsbury like a leafy boa (very much like Norwich’s Wensum) which presumably provided an effective defence against the marauding Welsh way back when. These days the calm waters provide a pleasant riverside stroll and opportunities for a tipple or two on sunny days.

Day two was spent in lovely Ludlow, a genteel medieval, Tudor and Georgian assortment sitting on top of a hill overlooking rolling Shropshire countryside. Poet Laureate John Betjeman described Ludlow as ‘probably the loveliest town in England’ and we could see why. The sun poked through the clouds for market day and judging by the posh merchandise on offer, we knew Ludlow was a notch or two above. The town is famous for food so, after a good look around, we settled on delicious Thai for lunch provided by an Anglo-Thai gay couple. We seem to have a nose for the gay thang.

So that was Shrewsbury and Ludlow. Are they on the leader board for our dotage? Shrewsbury certainly, Ludlow less so. Lovely as it is, I don’t think we’re nearly posh or genteel enough.

Unlucky for Some

We’ve just celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary – steel according to some traditions – so I bought Liam a metal whistle to use when he’s trying to bring me to heel – good luck with that one! We revelled in some style with a spot of lunch at Bishop’s – one of Norwich’s  best eateries – all posh nosh and fine wine. Afterwards, we staggered up St Andrew’s Hill for digestifs at The Cosy Club – one of the city’s swankiest drinking dens – fashioned from the Victorian grandeur of the old NatWest bank on London Street. There is nothing particularly cosy about the lavish interior. More style over substance we thought.

As well as our legs-eleven anniversary, it was also thirteen years since we first met after work in a gay bar just off Trafalgar Square in old London Town. Our eyes met across the crowd of boozing suits and bewildered tourists. Liam reeled me in with a double gin. And that, as they say, was that. The number thirteen may be unlucky for some, but definitely not for me.

Salud from Gran Canaria

Salud from Gran Canaria

Contrary to rumour, the age demographic around the pool of the gentlemen-only bungalow resort was more mixed than anticipated. Everything else, though, was as billed – comfortable abode with a few luxury touches, an obliging Portugeezer host, glorious weather and a warm and inviting salt-water pool (despite the black tiles giving the water the appearance of the Thames at London Bridge). The complimentary bottle of Cava went down a treat too.

Mostly we lazed, read and exchanged small talk with our fellow inmates, all looked over by a serene statue of the Buddha. What he made of the wibbly-wobbly willies slowly sizzling like bangers on a BBQ, God only knows. When I first holidayed to Gran Canaria back in the early eighties, nudity was strictly verboten. As the years rolled by and buttons loosened, full frontal was allowed but only after the cleaners had left for the day. Now, it’s okay to let it all hang down wherever and whenever you fancy, even while sipping a sex on the beach at the bar. Public licentiousness, though, was off the menu, particularly in the jacuzzi. It clogs up the filters, apparently.

We kept our family jewels firmly under wraps except in the privacy of our bung. Our eyes, though, were everywhere and especially drawn to a tattooed man from Doncaster with well-nibbled nipples and pendulous equipment. Well, it would’ve been rude not to look.

As we lolled around the pool, the travelling sun poked through under the parasol. Liam said…

I must put something on my face.

A pillow?

I suggested. How we laughed.

Being of a certain age and disposition, we only ventured out a few nights to the bars which are mostly located in a shopping centre which…

…is a naff treat for all the senses, a crumbling multi-layered open air shopping and sex emporium. It started to fall apart as soon as it was built. By day, it’s an over-sized pound shop patronised by ancient slow-lane Germans in busy shirts and socked sandals. But, at the stroke of midnight, the racks of tat are wheeled away, the garish bars throw open their doors and the entire place is transformed into a gaudy cacophonous neon-lit cess-pit of drunken debauchery.

As described in my post, Gran Canaria, Sex Emporium, of many years past.

The place hadn’t changed much except, perhaps, for the drag acts, which have raised their game since last we were there – a little more vaudeville and a little less Blackpool.

One steamy afternoon, we jumped in a cab to the lighthouse at Maspalomas for a light lunch and a few bevvies. First up was a low-brow diner with a slapped-up Gemma Collins lookalike sitting on the next table with her Essex companions. Next up was a gay oom-pah-pah bierkeller serving strong ale and bar snacks to the jolly leather-faced Germans. We were gutted to learn that ‘brot mit knoblauchsauce’ was German for garlic bread. Who knew? The afternoon ended at a posh café sinking a delicious bottle of Rioja while watching the sun go down.

All in all, not a bad gig.

Salud!

No Jacket Required

No Jacket Required

Posh NoshLiam’s birthday is only a couple of weeks after mine so we tend to celebrate our birthdays 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