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.

No Frills, No Thrills

No Frills, No Thrills

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.

Come on Baby, Do the Loco-motion with Me

With low eastern skies the colour of Milk of Magnesia, I’ve been pining for the hazy days of last summer when we were giants of the steam age, quite a result for a hobbit like me. It was the hottest August bank holiday in years when we rode the Dinky toy Bure Valley Railway to…

…experience a nostalgic trip by steam on Norfolk’s longest narrow gauge railway which runs between the historic market town of Aylsham and bustling town of Wroxham, at the heart of the Norfolk Broads…

… as it says in the blurb. We choo-choo’d past lush, glowing pastures. Our green and pleasant flatland had never seemed quite so green or quite so pleasant. For the spotty trainspotters among you, here are a few snaps to put you in the picture.

And, as per, Liam had to do the silly arty video. It’s enough to make you travel sick. No, really, it is.

Ours was to be a two-centre beano, or so I’d been promised. At the end of the line, Liam had intended to press gang me onto a double-decker pleasure boat to cruise the Norfolk Broads. For the uninitiated, the Broads are a network of flooded medieval peat excavations popular with those who like to mess about in boats. As much as I love a landscape of reed-beds, grazing marshes, rare wildlife and wet woodland, it was the on-board bar which really drew me in. Sadly, the rest of Norfolk had the same idea and we couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money. We settled for a bottle by the Bure instead. Daffy, the nosey duck wasn’t too impressed by the vintage. I don’t blame him.

Cheers!

Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside

Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside

Wells-next-the-Sea was the venue for this year’s works outing with Jo Parfitt, my partner in crime and the force of nature who is Summertime Publishing. We love a day out at the seaside when the weather’s set fair. Getting there was a bit of adventure in itself. The first stage was a stately railway journey through the ripe fields, reedy wetlands and sleepy hamlets of North Norfolk. My sedation was only interrupted when I spotted the large station sign at Gunton. Well, it didn’t look like a G to me. The two-carriage train deposited us at Sheringham, a bucket and spade resort where undertakers and vets never go out of fashion. Then onto a little bus for a white knuckle ride along the curvy coast, through flint and stone villages with impossibly narrow streets called ‘Old Woman’s Lane’ and the like. There was little time to admire the view. I held on for dear life, wishing I’d worn Pampers.

Well-heeled Wells is a gorgeous little resort and working port surrounded by pine forests, sandbanks and saltmarshes. We lunched aboard the Albatros, a genuine Dutch cargo ship serving up fake Dutch pancakes. They were delicious. The tide must’ve been out because the boat had a distinct starboard list; I felt quite tipsy even before a drop had passed my lips. Happily, I managed to regain my sea legs after half a bottle or so. We didn’t make it down the agenda to the 2016/17 marketing strategy. We got stuck on gossip. Can’t think why.

The train back to Norwich was packed with sunburnt kiddies and lively country cousins out on the lash. The painted ladies opposite shared shots of raspberry liqueur and a Bottecelli babe squeezed into the aisle next to me. As the crowd nudged past, the shapely Norfolk broad fell off her heels and tipped her ample rack into my face.

‘My, my,’ I said. ‘A total eclipse.’ How she laughed.

Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest

Norwich Bus StationYou need a second mortgage to park in Norwich city centre.  When we moved into the micro-loft, we flogged the sexy-arsed Mégane (to my sister) and Liam now rides the bus to work. He no longer risks life and limb on the narrow country lanes with their tail-gating yokels, blind bends, loose livestock and black ice.

Bus travel in Norfolk belongs to a bygone era.  People still (mostly) queue at bus stops and drivers apologise for being late. Just imagine that! It’s the kind of civilised behaviour long since abandoned in London, a place where the law of the urban jungle prevails and it’s survival of the fittest. The last time I visited the Smoke, a bright red double decker actually yelled at me. Over and over it screamed…

This bus is under attack. Call 999!

London Bus

I’m delighted to confirm it was a slip of the driver’s wrist. Still, it was enough to wake the dead and give nervy tourists on-the-spot seizures. The hapless driver was frantically trying to switch off the announcement as the bus cruised slowly by. After events in Paris, Beirut, Turkey and elsewhere, I felt his pain.

Murder, She Wrote

Murder on the Orient ExpressAfter I survived the surgeon’s knife, I was told to put my feet up and let nature do the healing so I’ve been doing the bare minimum to keep the wheels on the bus of Jack Scott enterprises. I must admit, my lolling about on the sofa has involved a fair amount of daytime TV – a thin diet of magazine programmes, flashy quiz shows, racy gossip, silly soaps, mindless vox pop, meagre news and convoluted whodunnits. It’s all been quite soporific and great for helping me catch up on my sleep. This healing lark is so exhausting.

Occasionally though, a classic grabs my attention and holds it for the duration. Such is the 1974 film version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express with a stellar ensemble headed by Albert Finney in the role of Hercule Poirot, Ms Christie’s fey and fussy Belgian detective. I’ve seen the movie loads of times. It’s hugely OTT and I can only assume that the cast laid down bets during the first read-through on who could ham it up the most. My vote goes to Wendy Hiller as the ageing Russian princess, all lacy widow’s weaves and truly dreadful Romanov accent. She would have given the Bolshies a run for their money. Sadly, along with Dame Wendy, most of the players are now dearly departed – Anthony Perkins, Ingrid Bergman, Rachel Roberts, Denis Quilley, Colin Blakely, John Gielgud and, of course, the fabulous Lauren Bacall who popped her clogs just last month.

It’s rumoured that Agatha Christie wrote at least some of her famous book when she stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul back in its glory days, the digs of choice for princes and presidents visiting the Ottoman capital. I’ve lodged there myself a couple of times during its more recent rundown years. Or as I put it in the new book (cue the plug):

“The Pera Palace was once the opulent end of the line for the Orient Express but had fallen on hard times, a piece of Istanbul’s neglected family silver in dire need of a good buffing.”

Chapter Eight, The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

It was Liam’s first visit to old Constantinople and we endured four seasons in three days – driving snow, bitter winds, low grey clouds and sparkling sunshine under blue skies. Our room at the Pera Palace was so cold, we were forced to share the huge antique bathtub to keep warm. It wasn’t too much of an imposition. Since then the hotel has been buffed to buggery with a multi-million lira facelift. Even the prolific and profitable Ms Christie might now baulk at the rack rate (if she were still alive, that is).

Gumusluk Travel Guide

Roll, roll up for your free Kindle copy of the meticulously researched Gümüşlük Travel Guide: Bodrum’s Silver Lining by the incomparable Roving Jay. This one-time offer is available for two days only – the 7th and 8th of June – so grab it while you can.

The book in Roving Jay’s own words:

Gumsuluk Travel Guide1Whether you visit Gümüşlük for the day; make it your holiday destination; or plan on visiting long-term, the “Gümüşlük Travel Guide: Bodrum’s Silver Lining” provides you with all the information you need to discover this Turkish location for yourself.

I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly into the process of writing this guidebook, and as well as gathering information, I’ve accumulated a collection of memorable moments along the way.

This is the start of your very own journey down the historical and well-trodden path to Gümüşlük and I trust my travel guide will help to create some unforgettable memories of your own.

Start creating those memories. Get the Gümüşlük Travel Guide at Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com and all Amazon stores worldwide.

Oh, and I’m in it by the way, but don’t let that put you off.