For the Love of God

For the Love of God

Come Christmas time, the patients at the surgery where Liam earns an honest crust are a generous lot. Gifts of biscuits, sweets, chocolates and the odd bottle of booze flood in. Liam comes home laden with festive fancies. We keep a few and donate the rest to St Stephen’s Church. It’s an ancient pile, founded over 900 years ago and now mostly dating from the sixteenth century. The roots might be old but the approach of the dedicated team of clerics and laypeople is bang up-to-date. Community engagement and outreach are the services of the day. Much of the nave is given over to a café which…

‘… provides an open place for people to belong, whether customers, volunteers or those experiencing tough times… the café is a place of welcome, refreshment and peace.’

St Stephens Church

It’s a Heaven-sent distraction from the hubbub outside and operates a ‘pay what you can’ policy where punters can pay the suggested price, more, less or nothing at all. The church also runs a seasonal food bank for those in need. When we dropped off the Quality Street, Fox’s luxury selection and Ferrero Rocher, I apologised for only bringing sweets and biscuits. A lady with a kindly face replied…

‘Everyone deserves something nice for Christmas, don’t they?’

It was a humbling experience. I’m not religious in the slightest but if this is what the love of God means, then long may it continue.

You Have My Word

You Have My Word

A family ‘do’ took us cross country to Hertford, north of London – three trains there, three trains back. On the way, we changed at Cambridge – ‘the City of Perspiring Dreams’ as it’s known to the top-notch scholars who tread the hallowed precincts. Last year we took the same route and stopped off for a look around. This time we didn’t pop in – too many perspiring tourists for my liking. On the return leg, we changed at Ely, a tiny city with a vast cathedral dominating the flatlands. God’s house can be seen for miles around, demonstrating just how important He used to be to the prince, the pauper and everyone else in between. The city sits on a small patch of highish ground at the heart of the Fens, a once expansive marsh long-since tamed by dykes and ditches and drained for agriculture.

A sign at Ely station caught my eye.

I’ve had a bit of bother with my own Office package of late so it amused me. My picture-taking caught the eye of a ragged local with a lumpy face.

‘Take my picture,’ he insisted. ‘I’m famous, you know. I’ve been on the telly.’

It cost nothing to oblige him and I showed him the snapshot. He smiled and shuffled off down the platform. He may never have been on the box but at least he’s now on the blog.

As for teeny-weeny Ely with its oversized church, calmed waters and bobbing boats, it’s on the bucket list for next year.

Ripping Yorkshire Again!

The final leg of our great north run saw us in England’s ‘second’ capital  – variously called Eboracum by the Romans, Eoforwic by the Saxons, Yorvik by the Vikings, Everwic by the Normans, then on to Yerk, Yourke, Yarke and finally – York. The city has an ancient pedigree, medieval city walls to march round, a higgledy-piggledy heart and a gigantic Gothic minster dominating the skyline.

York has fascination around every corner – who knew that Constantine the Great was proclaimed Roman Emperor there in 306 AD? But, unsurprisingly, it’s also packed with tourists from just about everywhere. After an hour or two weaving through the international swarm, we were relieved to find a traditional Italian to fill our bellies and rest our tired old hides. Of course, the over-indulgence of the previous three days in Knaresborough might have had something to do with it.

The pasta was delicious as was the hair of the dog that washed it down.

Oops. The naughty little gremlins ran amok this morning and so this post didn’t get shared properly and I’m publishing it again. If you get it twice, then that’s two for the price of one. Cheers!

Ripping Yorkshire

The final leg of our great north run saw us in England’s ‘second’ capital  – variously called Eboracum by the Romans, Eoforwic by the Saxons, Yorvik by the Vikings, Everwic by the Normans, then on to Yerk, Yourke, Yarke and finally – York. The city has an ancient pedigree, medieval city walls to march round, a higgledy-piggledy heart and a gigantic Gothic minster dominating the skyline.

York has fascination around every corner – who knew that Constantine the Great was proclaimed Roman Emperor there in 306 AD? But, unsurprisingly, it’s also packed with tourists from just about everywhere. After an hour or two weaving through the international swarm, we were relieved to find a traditional Italian to fill our bellies and rest our tired old hides. Of course, the over-indulgence of the previous three days in Knaresborough might have had something to do with it.

The pasta was delicious as was the hair of the dog that washed it down.

Tatty and Batty Knaresborough

Tatty and Batty Knaresborough

The heatwave is just a distant memory and autumn is here. The mugging sun has given way to pearly skies and so, before we whack up the heat, roll out the winter duvet and drop into hibernation, we decided on another northern recce. Last year, we spent a few boozy days in Leeds with a whistle stop at Knaresborough thrown into the mix. We were so enamoured with the little town, this time we lodged there for a few days to get a fuller flavour. I was also on a mission to catch up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for more than a decade. She got hitched in nearby Harrogate in 2004 and I attended the nuptials. After our last jaunt, I discovered she now lives in Knaresborough with her beau and assorted kids. I kicked myself for not catching up at the time and I wasn’t about to make the same mistake.

Jack in Harrogate 2003

Me in 2004 – I’ve not changed a bit! And yes, I was a little drunk!

And catch up we did with a vengeance – at a local hostelry when we arrived, for a slice of Victoria sponge down by the river Nidd the next day and a home-cooked lamb roast the evening after. We nattered, we drank, we laughed. The organised chaos of family life was pure joy.

Ramped to the rafters with independent shops and watering holes, Knaresborough has been little troubled by the relentless march of corporate chains dominating most high streets these days. Long may that be so. We also jumped on a bus to handsome Harrogate for a spot of lunch. The Victorian town is uber-elegant but a bit too coiffured for my liking – more set, blow and dry when compared to Knaresborough’s quirky curls.

And so to the snaps…

It rained a bit. Well that’s the north for you. When circumstances allow, we could be looking for somewhere new to lay our cloth caps. The little batty and tatty town is still at the top of the leader board. I might even get a whippet.

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!

Minos, Minotaurs and Mazes

Minos, Minotaurs and Mazes

Manolis, our obliging landlord at the Eleonas Country Village, organised an ancient treat for our last day on Crete. Our evening flight gave us plenty of time for a two-centre Minoan tour – the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and Knossos, the jewel in the Minoan crown.

The cool and well-appointed museum brings together archaeological finds from all over Crete, covering over 5,500 years of the island’s rich and varied history. Unsurprisingly, pride of place is given to the draw-dropping treasures of the Minoans. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

Next stop the palace complex at Knossos, one of the most famous archaeological sites in all of Greece, if not the world. The terms ‘Knossos’ and ‘Minoan’ are lifted straight from Greek legend – King Minos and the labyrinth he used to imprison his son, the bull-headed minotaur. Nobody knows what the ancient Cretans actually called themselves, but judging by the artefacts and frescos, they were obsessed with their bulls.

Experts still squabble over the historical record but there is general agreement that Knossos eventually became the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilisation and culture. The first palace complex was established around 4,000 years ago (with traces going back a further 4,000 years) and abandoned at some time towards the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1380–1100 BCE). That’s seriously old.

Knossos today is overrun by visitors and we just added to the number wandering around the site on raised walkways to help preserve the delicate ruins beneath their feet. What people see is a partial reconstruction as imagined by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans who did most of the digging in the last century. Purists dismiss his confection as fanciful at best. Authentic or not, for the average punter, the site is spectacular and evocative in a way unmatched by many other ancient sites. We all queued up patiently to see the ‘Throne Room’. And who wouldn’t?