We have old friends in Torquay, a palm tree-lined seaside resort in Devon. We hadn’t seen them in ages because of the pandemic, so a catch-up was well overdue. All roads lead to London, and we didn’t fancy the hassle of crossing the sprawling metropolis only to come out the other side, so we flew from Norwich International airstrip to Exeter International airstrip on a little jet – like Z-listers without the paps.
Old Exeter – Roman Isca Dumnoniorum, Saxon Execeaster – has been around a while, though at first glance you’d never know it. The Luftwaffe did a great job flattening the city in the Second World War, so you have to look closely to find ancient treasures.
Mercifully, the magnificent cathedral, founded in 1050, was spared the hellfire that destroyed pretty much everything else – a little odd considering it sticks out like a bullseye at the heart of the city. Although I’m not religious in the slightest, I do so love a gander round a holy pile.
Most of what the visitor sees is thirteenth century, and what impresses first is the awe-inspiring ceiling that soars towards the heavens. At 96 metres, it’s the longest continuous medieval stone vault in the world. It surely convinced the hovel-dwelling, unwashed illiterati of old that it was made with divine intervention – and so helped keep them on their knees.
And then there are all the elaborate tombs – mostly containing the old bones of long-dead bishops.
After Exeter, we spent the next couple of days hitting the sherry and chewing the cud with our old muckers at their palatial digs in Torquay. And fantastic it was too. Our hosts are a little camera shy so, instead, here’s an elegant bust of Agatha Christie, the queen of the whodunnit and the best-selling fiction writer of all time, who was born in the town.
After the big letdown that was our Canarian getaway – cancelled flight, greyish skies, cool-ish nights, sad face, sad face – a Greek treat is next on the holiday agenda. We fly to Corfu followed by a short ferry hop to nearby Paxos. It looks bleedin’ marvelous.
Yes, that’s our pool bottom right. But will it go the way of Tenerife? I’ll keep you posted.
This spells out TUI (get it?) and is the not so catchy slogan from probably Europe’s largest travel company. Sadly there wasn’t much crossing and dotting going on at Norwich Airport as we waited to board our TUI flight to Tenerife. But we were in the middle – the middle of a scrum of mostly pissed-off pensioners. The normally docile grey herd, who usually do little more than tut, had turned into saga louts frothing at the mouth. The drink hadn’t helped.
Why? Because after hanging around for hours, TUI cancelled our flight – adding to the huge number of recent flights scrapped at the last minute as millions of Brits try to migrate to the sun after a couple of turbulent years due to COVID.
‘Operational issues’, is all we were told. We didn’t know if this meant a wing had dropped off the plane or some trolley dolly had broken a nail. Nor did the harassed staff at the departure gate. They valiantly did their best to calm the crowd while being drip-fed (mis)information from TUI HQ. There wasn’t much to smile about.
Eventually, TUI put us up at the Holiday Inn where we were fed and watered – because they had to. Then in the early hours of the next day, we were bussed all the way to Gatwick – yes, Gatwick, London’s second airport – a distance of around 150 miles as the crow flies.
Perking the Pansies was to be off-air for a while. After a so-so summer weather-wise, two cancelled getaways and three jabs to keep us out of intensive care, we’d had enough of samey days and dreary skies; the pansies were wilting. So a pre-festive perk with a shot of vitamin D in sunny Tenerife was on the cards. Well, we hoped for sunny. You definitely take your chances in the Canary Islands at this time of year, and we were prepared to pack the pac-a-macs with the factor 30.
Alas it was not to be. We’ve been scuppered by omicron, the latest incarnation of COVID19. It’s far better to be down than out – so we’re staying put. But this is what we’re missing and it’s made us pig sick.
Queuing is as quintessentially British as fish and chips, a Sunday roast or chicken tikka masala. I’m all for it. It appeals to my first-come-first-served sense of fair play. And it makes city living just a bit more bearable. Every-man-for-himself is where chaos lies and the Devil thrives. But even I have a limit. Regular readers may recall I recently spent a few days in Sitges, near Barcelona, visiting old friends who’ve just become newbie expats and purveyors of apparel to the queens. Being there was fun, getting there (and back) not so. The entire journey felt like one long, dreary line – through security, through passport control, at the departure gate, up the steps to the plane in the drizzle. All that shuffling just to board a flying bus so stripped back that clinging to the undercarriage of an RAF troop carrier would hold more appeal. This was no frills, no thrills Ryanair, an airline that bombards its punters with emails, changes the rules of the game just for fun, befuddles with an incomprehensible cabin bag policy and pisses off by ‘randomly’ allocating seats that all seem to be in the middle. Statistically, how likely is that? And the flight was an hour late both ways. Oh, the glamour of it all. I drank through it.
Ryanair’s current strapline is ‘Low Fares Made Simple’. Navigating your way through the endless maze of ‘extras’ on their website ain’t simple and, with a monopoly on the London Stansted to Barcelona route, it ain’t cheap either.
Hell won’t be all torture and torment; it’ll be an eternal Ryanair queue going nowhere.
Ironically, real buses here in Norfolk often now come with leather seats, free WiFi and charging sockets for fancy phones. And this is supposed to be a backwater.