It’s a Sin

It’s a Sin

It’s my habit to pop out for a mid-morning coffee following the torture at the gym. One sunny day I parked myself outside a café to rest my weary bones, sip my americano, scan my newspaper and watch the ebb and flow of the eclectic crowd. A sallow-faced, reedy man plonked himself down in front of me. He was playing Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ on his phone – not too loud to cause a stir but loud enough to raise eyebrows.

A silver-haired old chap with a walking stick shuffled past.

‘Like the music?’ he asked.

‘It’s fine,’ I replied. ‘I don’t mind a bit of Rick.’

‘Some Pet Shop Boys would be nicer,’ he said with a wink.

I tend to agree. And so to the Pet Shop Boys anthem which was the soundtrack to many a young man’s coming out back in the day.

Fancy a Curry?

Fancy a Curry?

And what better place to have one than Brick Lane in London, the curry capital of the UK and popularly known as Banglatown? The area has seen successive waves of immigrants down the centuries – French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution, East European Jews escaping murderous pogroms and, more recently, Bangladeshis seeking work in the sweat shops of the rag trade. There’s no greater symbol of this evolution than the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, a Grade II listed Georgian building which has gone from church to synagogue and now to mosque. Forget the messy Brexit, for me, it represents what London is all about.

The changes are still a-ringing. Brick Lane is rapidly becoming a magnet for creatives and fashionistas, trend-setters and tourists, and the streets provide a canvas for some stunning wall art. We added to the chaotic throng, day trippers on a mission for ‘authentic’ South Asian grub and a catch-up with two old friends. We nattered so much, I hardly took any photos but I did manage to snap this quirky sculpture near Spitalfields Market as we meandered back to Liverpool Street Station to catch our train home. What’s it about? Beats me but I love it.

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!

A Gay with a Bun in Bungay

A Gay with a Bun in Bungay

Last month’s prolonged heatwave, reminiscent of our Turkey days, drove us from the sticky city to the cute little towns of Bungay and Beccles, just across the county line. Norfolk and Suffolk (the north folk and the south folk) are sister shires of the old East Anglian Kingdom and a gentle rivalry still persists between them, most notably played out on the pitch when Norwich play Ipswich at the footie. Bungay is a handsome town where the pace of life is stationary. At its heart is a long-abandoned tumbledown castle. A finely-tuned imagination is needed to picture it in its former glory.

Bungay Castle

After a slow meander around the Georgian streets, we settled on a cream tea in the little café next to the Buttercross, where local farmers once displayed their produce. It was, as Liam put it,

A gay with a bun in Bungay.

Since all the town’s banks have shut down and there’s only one ATM left, Lloyds Bank have pitched a mobile branch in a car park. Given the relentless rise of internet banking, it’s anyone’s guess how long this will last. These days, I can even pay cheques into my account using my smarty pants phone.

Next on the mini tour was Beccles, five miles along the border a more substantial town and strangely awash with banks and ATMs. Beccles is one of several riverports on the Broads, the network of rivers, streams and flooded medieval peat excavations so beloved by those who like to mess about in boats. Beccles Quay is where dedicated boating folk can pick up supplies, get a proper wash and empty the chemical loo.

In 1981, sleepy Beccles was rudely woken by a tornado, one of the 104 twisters waltzing across England and Wales and the largest recorded tornado outbreak in European history. But East Anglia isn’t Oklahoma. Hardly a roof tile was lifted and the town dropped back off to sleep. It’s been dozing ever since. After another slow wander, we found ourselves parked in a pretty beer garden to bask in the warmth and imbibe the tranquillity. I confess I got a little tiddly. Must’ve been heatstroke. Hiccup!

Pretty in Pink

What better way to spend a steamy afternoon than at a traditional village fête? The community-minded folk of Poringland do it every year. The neat and tidy village, just a few miles south of Norwich, was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Porringhelanda’, though you’d never know it was old from the modern sprawl built over the ancient roots. I’ve never been to a proper village fête before. It was everything I’d imagined – dancing kiddies, face-painting, bouncy castling, good causes, competitions, arts, crafts, pulled pork, candy floss and cakes, lots of cakes – and some things I hadn’t – a podgy spiderman with love handles and visible panty line, and the campest compere since Julian Clary. All that was missing was DI Barnaby from Midsomer Murders poring over a bell ringer done-in with a cake slice behind the hoopla.

Liam bought a couple of tickets for the tombola. His prize? A pink spaghetti-strap nightie for the fuller figure. How the ladies giggled as they handed it over. Keen to get in touch with his sexy feminine side, Liam slipped it on and gave me a twirl.

 

 

 

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