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.

 

Driving Miss Daisy

Driving Miss DaisyApart from a half-hearted attempt at learning to drive in my twenties (booked some lessons, took a test, nearly killed someone, didn’t bother with a replay), I’ve never seen much point in getting behind a wheel. After all, the Tube has always been the best way to get around the Smoke; only plummy-voiced wankers in Chelsea tractors and micro-dicked Russian oligarchs in Jags drive through Central London. And let’s face it, I’ve always been partial to sipping the sauce, so a night bus was always the obvious choice as I tottered off home in the wee small hours with a drunken Yank in tow. I do admit though that I’ve always taken the precaution of stepping out with a bone fide driver;  a chauffeur comes in very handy for those out-of-town errands.

Liam was driving a company VW when we first met. I can’t deny it was convenient and the cross-Channel lunch in Le Touquet via Le Shuttle was a fun date. My pert booty slipped quite nicely into the front passenger seat and the sound system was loud and fabulous. When we took the momentous decision to jump ship and paddle ashore to Asia Minor, the Golf went back to the dealer and we didn’t buy a car in Turkey. Why would we? We were neither mad nor suicidal. Four years later, with family duties to perform in London, we pitched our tent in Norwich and parked a sexy-arsed Renault Megane outside it. And now, with a new flat and different duties, va va voom has been handed down to my sister and we’re car-less once more. They’ll be no more driving Miss Daisy here. And anyway, Sainsbury’s deliver the Pinot Grigio free of charge.

Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolley

Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolley

Tren de Soller

With hours to kill before our night flight back to Blighty, we plumped for a day trip to Sóller and its coastal sister, Porto Sóller on the north side of Mallorca. The touristy thing to do is ride the antique tren that runs from Palma railway station so that’s exactly what we did. The vintage rolling stock slowly pulled out of the station, chugging through the burbs and breaking free of Palma’s grim industrial hinterland towards a verdant agro-plain bursting with olive groves and pretty market gardens. Thirty minutes into the journey, we began to ascend towards the lush, pine-smothered mountains, passing through a series of long damp tunnels on route. For no apparent reason (Freudian?) Liam was visibly excited about the tunnels. After a couple of photo opportunity pit stops, we arrived at our destination.

Built in 1912, the railway is quite the engineering feat but I do wonder if it was a bit of a folly back in the day; the end of the line is a sleepy village in the middle of nowhere. Still, it’s doing a roaring trade these days judging by the international crowd shifting uncomfortably on the hard wooden benches. Note to self: next time, take cushions.

Sóller itself is a picture-postcard hamlet with a handsome main square given entirely over to tourism. A spot of lunch was on the agenda and we sat down at one of the many eateries ringing the piazza. Our set-price tapas plate was a huge disappointment – overpriced, underwhelming and partially inedible. If you ever find yourself milling around Sóller, avoid the Sacova Restaurant. The next leg of our grand tour was by tram to Porto Sóller, a non-descript purpose-built resort set around a stunning bay in the shape of a Celtic bracelet. The sandy beach was packed with marinated sun-worshippers. Parasols and sunbeds, like much of the clientele, had seen better days. As the sun gave up the ghost, we hopped on an air-conditioned bus back to Palma (half the journey time and a fraction of the price) sated, slightly sozzled and steeled for the Sleazyjet scrum.

You might also like other posts in the Palma series:

abaco2I’m So Excited

Fawlty Towers

Jack and Liam go to Palma

I’m So Excited

I’m So Excited

i-m-so-excitedLiam’s possesses a fine pair of lanky lalls and doesn’t look good with his knees wedged against his chin so I booked emergency exit seats for the flight to Palma. You can do that on Sleazyjet these days (for an extra fee, obviously) and this helps to mitigate the scrum at the gate where it’s every man for himself and the Devil takes the hindmost. Senior citizens have been known to break a hip in the sprint. As Liam enjoyed the extra inches, our neighbours gathered around us: a squawking clutch of bottle-blond Essex grannies with fake nails, fake teeth, spray-on tans and spray-on micro-skirts. They hit the bottle as soon as soon as the captain switched off the fasten your seat belt sign. Drinking the plane dry, they even demanded a discount as they polished off the bar. The saintly cabin crew indulged them with grace and patience. We were relieved that an emergency landing was not required since these pissed-up ladies would have struggled to see the doors, let alone release them and the only brace position they knew was chucking up in the gutters of Magaluf. One senior attendant, a slightly camp Spanish trolley dolly with an Andalucian lisp, had clearly seen it all before. He looked over at us with a wearied expression, throwing his eyes up to the clouds in resignation. Almodóvar met Essex and lost every time.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

The traditional high street is under seige from a flat-lining economy, increased rents (no, I don’t understand that either during a recession) and the relentless pressure from the big boys with their charmless out-of-town retail parks sucking up all the trade. Norwich seems to have bucked the trend by preserving its novelty. Of course, the narrow maze of city centre streets has its fair share of chains with their identikit offerings but there’s also a treasure trove of independents to graze. Maybe the city’s relative isolation is its saviour (the last section of the dual carriageway from the Smoke is only now being built and the train service is express-less). Perhaps it’s a benign planning environment by farsighted burghers. Who knows? Whatever the reason, long may it continue. Here’s just a small sample to whet the appetite and loosen the purse.

Jarrolds is a Norwich institution. The family-run business has outlets dotted about all over the shop. The Book Hive is the best independent bookshop in town. Both Jarrolds and the Book Hive declined to stock my book. Jarrolds refused (politely). The Book Hive didn’t respond at all. I don’t hold it against them (much).

The Grosvenor Fish Bar on the corner of Pottergate and Lower Goat Lane offers delicious, artery-hardening deep-fried heart attacks. It gets my vote because punters are welcome to finger the fish over a pint in the pub opposite. Personally, I prefer to nibble on a battered sausage (cue Liam). The public house in question, The Birdcage, has been the scene of our undoing many times now.

Fish Bar and Pub

I doubt Meryl Streep ever visited this corner of the Dark Continent when she was attempting a truly terrible Viking accent in ‘Out of Africa.’  Do they really sell slices of crocodile, ostrich, springbok and zebra? Well, if Tesco’s can flog donkey burgers, why not?

Liam spends endless hours thumbing through the sheet music in this old-school music shop as he contemplates a profitable sideline teaching piano. He’s quite talented with his fingers, my Liam. This little gem is right along the street from our weaver’s cottage.

St George's Music Shop

Finally, my personal favourite – not because I’m a cock in a frock at weekends and call myself Jacky but because Pepperberry’s sell ‘clothes designed with your boobs in mind.’  It’s just as well, as I have noticed that quite a few Norfolk broads do look like they’ve eaten all the pies.

Pepperberry