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

 

Postcards from Corfu

Postcards from Corfu

The A Gays

We chose simple and we got sublime. Our billet is a modest studio (A1 for the A Gays) overlooking a sparkling pool.

The Little Terrace

All we have to do is drag our tired old carcasses the few yards from bed to lounger – perfect for the R&R we crave. Most days we laze about dipping and sipping, reading and dozing. We deliberately booked the week after schools went back – to avoid over-wrought brats who scream and splash. We hadn’t wagered on the toddlers, though. We’re being diverted by the neurotic antics of four nervous grown-ups dancing round Lola, a tiny tot wearing a kamikaze-style sun hat and what looks like a suicide belt. Lola’s only word is ‘NO!’ and she repeats it a lot.

Elleana the Great

Our landlady is a magnificent Corfiot matriarch called Elleana – not one to cross, we think. Liam has charmed her with warm talk and a few well-practised words in Greek. It’s done the trick. She keeps a well-stocked bar which we’re eager to drain. Corfiot wine is surprisingly quaffable given it’s stored out the back in three-litre plastic bottles.

Elleana’s gaff is protected by a shaggy guard dog. He likes to call round for a sniff, frisk and lick. We’re not sure of the make or sex but we call it ‘Hector’.

The dog

Wasps around the honey pot

The vine harvest has brought the last hurrah of the season for squadrons of wasps. Puny by comparison to their angrier British cousins, they’re more annoying than menacing and are only really interested in sipping from the glass Liam keeps topped up by my side. I’m happy to share. Several have drowned during the mid-afternoon Bacchanalia. A leathered Brummie reclining at the far end of the pool keeps insect spray to hand. Every so often we hear ‘pssssst’, ‘pssssst’, pssssst’ then she returns to her chick lit. We call her ‘Ms Raid’. The wasps may be irritating but the mozzies are less voracious than expected. Either that or our four years in Turkey have turned our blood to poison.

The Youngest Gays in the Village

The resort is serene and spartan – just a few tavernas and pizza parlours – and most of our fellow visitors look like they’ve been pickled. It’s a novel experience being (almost) the youngest gays in the village. The locals are friendly and obliging, if a little frayed after a long hot summer. Liam was nearly laid low by an upturned beer crate. Fixed to the pavement with duck tape, it was there to cover a big hole.

Jack on the Road

Overheard

As many know, I’m a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) eavesdropper. Here’s a few random throwaway lines picked up on the radar as we gadded about:

What’s the wever tomorrer?

‘ow do I know? Do I look like a weather cock?

She’s very end of season, that one.

No, Joan, I don’t ‘ave a pair a woolly knickers.

For maximum effect, such quotes are best recited with a northern accent.

It’s all Greek to me

Sunsets are spent playing cards and Scrabble accompanied by the hard stuff. As the light gradually dims, we resort to mini-torches to read the letters. Liam tries to cheat with Greek and thinks I won’t catch on in the dark.

Wine that glows in the dark

 

Déjà vu

Our soporific Ionian idyll delivers unexpected familiarity. Closing my eyes, I’m transported back in time to another land of barking dogs, crowing cocks, randy crickets, loose cattle, manic drivers, ripe drains, pine-clad hills, goats, potholes, bugs and a nightly spectacle of glorious sunsets.

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 observed in a book I once wrote. Ok, headscarves, hassle and the call to prayer are missing and they don’t play cricket in Bodrum but you get my general drift.

Coming soon… Postcards from Albania.

Albania

 

Sticky Fingers and Sticky Knickers

Sticky Fingers and Sticky Knickers

When Mother Nature flicks the switch, Norfolk broads dance in the park. So it’s no surprise the summer festival season is in full swing, with tasty titbits to suit all palates.

Put the words ‘food’ and ‘drink’ together and you’ve got me hooked. So what better way to reel me in than the Norwich Food and Drink Festival? A scorcher ensured a bumper turnout, with plenty of meaty treats to whet the carnivore’s appetite. Prime Norfolk pig took top billing on the menu – pulled, sliced, rashered, minced and stuffed into sausage skins. The air was thick with a sizzling porky perfume; dedicated veggies could only drown their sorrows at the gin, vodka and wine stalls.

And then there was the eating competition between hungry locals with their I’m-the-biggest-pig-round-here demeanour. It was way too sticky to stick around so we don’t know who won, but my money was on the butch Angle at the head of the table.

As sweat dribbled down our backs and headed south into the steamy abyss, it was time to cool down with a tutti-frutti and a drop of the amber nectar. While all things East Anglian were being celebrated across the city centre, there was something of a foreign invasion in a city field.

Lads in lederhosen and wenches in dirndls were whipping up the crowds with buckets of beer and barbecued Bratwurst at the Bavarian Beerfest in Chapelfield Gardens. Brexit may well mean Brexit but nobody’s going to stop me nibbling on a German sausage. We found a shady bench, gulped the hoppy ale and tapped our feet to the thump, thump, thump of the oom-pah tunes. We hadn’t quite appreciated the strength of the heady brew. The next day it was thump, thump, thump inside our fuzzy heads.

 

Prost!

On the Lash

On the Lash

It’s sod’s law. The warmest day of the year so far and I’m home alone. Our large south-facing windows can make the micro-loft a tad sweaty during the afternoon, so I popped out for a paper and a pint. Norwich was abuzz with shoppers in shorts, brats in caps and over-inked scallies in baggy sweatpants. A mixed bill of buskers competed for loose change but none captured the crowd more than King No-One, a young indie rock band from York on a national street tour. They were surprisingly good and received a warm hand. Judge for yourself…

I parked myself on the only free bench outside a local hostelry next to a squad of half-naked lads out on the lash – their tats and tits out for the girls. Rutting Brits are renowned for stripping off at the first hint of a sunbeam, and it isn’t always pretty.  Sadly, the hot totty next to me was more tepid than steaming. As regular readers will know, I’m a dedicated earwigger and I tuned in to the conversation while pretending to pore over the latest batch of dishonest general election promises.

How much does aircon cost to run?

Why do you care? You’re an electrician.

So? I don’t a get a special rate, you know.

You’re out on the lash every night – and you worry about the bills?

Yeah. That’s why I can’t afford the bloody aircon.

The young can be so dull. At least they didn’t bore me silly with inane chatter about the ‘beautiful game’.

After a second jar, I meandered back home for a TV dinner and an evening in front of the box. Sad, I know, but I rather enjoy my ‘me’ moments. As long as they’re not too often, you understand. The old warehouse accommodating our micro-loft is generally kept shipshape, but the foyer is a bit like a chimney and tends to suck in debris from the street – spring blossom, summer petals, autumn leaves, winter sludge and the occasional fag butt. As I waited for the lift, I looked down to see this:

At first I thought a bug had cadged a lift in a Tesco’s home delivery crate. It wasn’t wriggling so I poked it with a key. Turned out to be a false eyelash. Dropped by a one-eyed drag queen, perhaps? All quite normal for Norfolk.

 

Chateau Norfolk

Chateau Norfolk

I heard through the grapevine that a bottle of vino from Norfolk had been recognised as one of the best in the world. It won a platinum best in show medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017, one of the industry’s most prestigious competitions. Fancy that! The winning white, the Bacchus 2015, comes from the family-run Winbirri Vineyard on the edge of the Broads National Park. Apparently, the name Winbirri comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘win’ for wine and ‘birri’ for grape – though I suspect rough beer was the tipple of choice back in the day for those merry Angles of old swigging from their drinking horns, Beowulf-like. And so it is again, judging by the spectacular revival of indie brewers across East Anglia. These days, it’s artisan ale and hipster whiskers at every tavern. Drinking horns have yet to come back into fashion. Give it time.

English wines have been winning gongs galore for a while now. The weather’s brighter these days, it’s a global warming thing. With rising sea levels, we might as well make merry before the North Sea laps about our knees. At 14 quid a bottle, the Winbirri winner is a bit pricier than the plonk we normally guzzle but we thought we’d give it a go to see what all the fuss was about. All sold out. Sad face.

Images are courtesy of Winbirri.