The tail end of August saw us in old London Town to commemorate what would have been the 59th birthday of an old friend who died unexpectedly in January this year. It was our first trip to the Smoke since lockdown and we were understandably anxious. It’s only about 100 miles from here to there but it might as well be another country.
The shiny new train wasn’t busy. We almost had the carriage to ourselves and most passengers complied with the ‘new normal’ – face mask-wise. Booking into a hotel for a couple of nights gave us the chance to test the waters. We rode the Tube and drank in familiar Soho haunts. It was fine.
The early August heatwave gave us hope that we might have a picnic in St James’s Park – a fun and fabulous tradition developed over many years – but, alas, the weather turned blustery so we made do with a restaurant as ‘Storm Clive’ passed overhead. We came together under the shadow of Eros on Piccadilly Circus – except of course, it’s actually a statue of Eros’ less well-known sibling, Anteros, but everyone calls it Eros anyway.
I can’t share any images of the actual birthday bash. Some of the assembled are social media shy and don’t want their images online. And who can blame them? Suffice it to say it was a joyous occasion – old friends talking old times through a jolly, drunken haze. And Clive was there in spirit.
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.
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.
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With the weather finally on the up and blossom dripping from the trees, the citizens of Norwich were out in their droves doing what the Brits do best – shop and sup. Purses and plastic were loosened in a brave attempt to drag the economy out of the abyss. Technically, the economy is as flat as a witch’s tit, rather than triple dipping and the patient needs all the TLC it can get. Market stalls toppled out onto the pavement, till queues weaved round Primark, the M&S food hall heaved with Norfolk broads and we couldn’t find a table in Pret a Manger when we bagged a baguette.
We escaped the madding crowd by browsing the floor show in the Forum. Modern art isn’t everyone’s cup of char but Liam loved it. I left him to peruse the exhibits and ordered a couple of drinks at the bar. Cheers!