My Tour of ‘Nam – The Cheltenham Literature Festival

Not being one to follow convention, or, as others call it, being disorganised, I’ve decided to tell you all about The Cheltenham Literature Festival two weeks after it finished.

This was the first year we seriously followed the festival. Lady Barton St Mary and I went to a couple of talks last year (Ian Botham, Johnny Vegas, Midge Ure) but never really did the ‘literature’ bit. We needed to prepare, so we became festival members. Of course, in order to look the part, I needed to visit Marks and Spencer and purchase a new sports jacket, some chinos and a flowery shirt. Sort of ‘Paul Merton casual chic’.

Indeed, this year, we did get to see a lot more literature rather than celebrity. It was an opportunity to play the part of the sophisticated intelligentsia, whatever that is. Sitting in Cheltenham Town Hall, enthralled by Kazuo Ishiguro, talking us through his distinguished career as a writer, I nodded in all the right places and started to realise what it was like to be a proper writer.

In fact, as I saw more and more of people who wrote books for a living (Will Self, Nick Hornby, Martin Amis) I came to realise that what they did was a job. Not writing a load of old claptrap like this. Mind you, Ishiguro’s wife read the first 80 pages of the novel he’s writing at the moment and told him it was crap. He started again. It’s nice to know that other people rely on their wife’s opinion as much as I do.

Of course, there was the celebrity bit, too. My hero, Danny Baker, was appearing at the festival to promote the second part of his memoirs. My colleague Little Andrew had been to see her personal hero Brian May the night before I saw Danny Baker and had been disappointed. Brian had been a bit grumpy, although that may have been because Little Andrew turned up with his guitar book to sign rather than the art book he was trying to flog at £45 a go. Never meet your heroes, they say.

In this case, ‘they’ were wrong. Danny was a real pleasure. The whole hour was wall to wall Danny Baker stories, most of which I’d heard before in different forms but still immensely entertaining.

danny baker 2

The man himself. Notice my festival attire. Next year I may adopt the waistcoat like Danny.

“He’s like this all the time,” said Emma Kennedy, who was interviewing him. We queued up to meet him and sign my books. It took over an hour, but all you could hear in the Waterstone’s was Danny’s cheerful voice and encouraging tones. I hoped I wouldn’t lose the power of speech when I shook his hand.

Fortunately, I didn’t. He was amused at Lady Barton St Mary’s title. I told him that I’d followed him since the days when he co-edited ‘Sniffing Glue’ the punk fanzine, through his NME days and radio career. His upbringing has some parallels with mine – for example, when he impersonates his dad, it’s as if he’s channelling mine. I explained that my dad was a cockney and my granddad a docker, like his dad. Danny was a really nice bloke. Thanks, Danny Baker.

Gerald, my old fag from school and his wife Sarah (who won’t use her title for political reasons) joined us for the final weekend. More sports jackets and colourful shirts. I considered a cravat. I was getting lost in this literary fervour.

Saturday morning, Gerald joined me to see Rod Liddle. The surprise was that he was interviewed by Anne Robinson, the hard-nosed, surgically enhanced hack and host of The Weakest Link.

Afterwards, as we left the venue and headed to the local coffee shop, I spotted Anne Robinson heading towards us. Gerald braced himself and decided to engage her in conversation.

He leaned forward as the petite but spiky redhead approached.

“Miss Robinson, may I say thank you very mu-“ , he began.

Miss Robinson , not breaking stride, waved a hand in poor Gerald’s face and made a “duhduhduh” noise, almost a perfect impression of Bruce Forsythe in mid dither. Gerald, bemused, stared at her back as the diminutive diva disappeared in the crowd.

For the next hour and a half, Gerald and I spent our time discussing literature and politics in a coffee shop before walking around in Marks and Spencer for more Lit Fest kit. Admiring each other’s choice in tailoring and enquiring as to whether they had Gerald’s size in these slacks and do they have an elasticated waistband, I looked at the expression on the young shop assistant’s face. Naturally, she thought we were an item. She marched off to the stock room. I looked at Gerald.

“You do realise that she thinks we’re a couple of old queens,” I explained to Gerald. He snorted.

“Sorry, I can’t see why she’d think that. You’re not my type”, he replied.

He can be so hurtful sometimes.

Saturday evening and I went to see Martin Amis on my own. For some reason, a talk about concentration camps and the people who worked within them didn’t fit in with everybody else’s idea of having fun, so they waited for me in All Bar One, sampling the cocktails.

As I walked to the venue, I stopped briefly to check messages on my phone. I felt the presence of somebody standing next to me, arms folded, staring out across the park. I vaguely knew him from somewhere, but where? It must be from work. Was he a manager or boss of somewhere? A head teacher?

He turned and caught my eye and smiled.

“Hello! How are you?!” I asked brightly, trying to get some clues, searching my butterfly brain for a name.

“I’m fine thanks. You?” he replied, nodding his head in my direction.

“Oh yes, I’m fine. Are you enjoying the festival? Do you come here every year?” I asked.

“Mmm, yes, I always like to make the effort”, he chuckled.

“Well, nice to see you,” I said, proffering my hand.

“You too”, he said, shaking my hand and giving me a wide smile.

Half way through Martin Amis’s interview, when they were considering how long a prisoner lasted in Auschwitz, the name of my friendly acquaintance dropped down into my head like a penny in a money box. ALAN YENTOB!!!

Yes, I’d asked The Creative Director of the BBC whether he made it every year to the literature festival. Oh dear.

The evening finished with an hour of John Cleese, who was very entertaining. I considered John Lydon, but very often the former Sex Pistol can get over excited and act like an arse when interviewed, so I decided against it. Steeley the Tinkers’ Friend and She-La! did see him. Steeley said he was good. She-La! said he was an arse. Perhaps she’d met him before when she had her minor hit “Touch Me (But Not There) back in the 1980s.

On Sunday, Gerald graciously gave up his ticket to Lady BSM to see Damian Lewis and his wife Helen McCrory read love poems and accompanied me to see Mark Haddon talk about his book ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’.

Andrew Holgate the literary editor of The Sunday Times, introduced him to a packed Town Hall.

“Of course, I realise that each and every one of you here have read the book and know the story so well”, he started.

Gerald gave me an alarmed look. ‘I haven’t’ he mouthed.

The next hour I spent listening to Mark Haddon talk about how successful he is whilst trying to stop my old fag from snoring too loudly.

We made our way home as the festival came to an end. I realised that this was the new type of festival going for me, rather than the muddy, drunken rock festivals of my youth. I realised I’d swapped being surrounded by denim and leather to being surrounded by corduroy and tweed, the smell of cannabis to the smell of roasted coffee, beef burgers to Chateaubriand.

What’s more, I’m happy with that. I like feeling as if my brain’s been nourished. I like the occasional cocktail. I’m happy to shop for clothes with another middle aged man who also moisturises.

We’ll be back next year. I’ll look out for my friend Alan.

danny baker 3

Enough said!

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She Thinks I’m a Medical Wonder…

One of the curses of having a butterfly brain is that I have a tendency to look for the gag in everything. This caused me a little bit of a dilemma the other week, with a comment that politeness prevented me from correcting without offending the person concerned.

I was running in The Forest of Dean Half Marathon, which is conveniently staged in The Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. This course is notoriously ‘undulating’, which for those uninitiated in the idiotic pursuit of ‘running’, means it is bloody hilly and you generally get puffed out.

The participants are a very friendly and supportive bunch. In the first mile, a rather athletic looking man ran alongside me and nodded at my right leg.

“How is it running with that on?” he asked. He was referring to the rather industrial leg brace I wear to stop my knee from falling off. I have no ACL or cartilage left in it. Recently it’s started to make a rather worrying clunking noise, but that’s another story.

rob marathon2

A fine specimen. The shorts were longer for The FOD HM.

I smiled stoically and told him I was used to it. He informed me that he was going for a knee operation and was looking for something to wear while recovering.

Usually, people give me shouts of encouragement, rather impressed that an old cripple such as myself can manage to run at all. I tend to agree with them.

Lots of other runners (mainly female) put their head to one side and mouth “Awww!” as they jog past, showing sympathy. My shallow nature and large ego means that I’m grateful for any attention from fit attractive ladies in lycra.

So it came to pass five miles into the race. A young blonde lady eased up beside me and said “Awwww”, staring at my leg brace. I was wearing long lycra shorts which never, ever chafe but one day may result in my arrest. The shorts covered the top of the knee brace.

“Have you lost your leg?” she asked me and I puffed along. I didn’t even think about it.

“Only the top half,” I explained, pointing to my obvious lower leg. There was a pause before she gasped.

“Oh my word, how did it happen?” she enquired. I looked at her closely out of the corner of my eye to see who was teasing who here. I realised it was definitely me doing the teasing.

“Oh, it was a surfing accident off the coast of Falmouth. Shark attack,” I told her solemnly, knowing this should do the trick. I waited for the laughter. Or the slap. Or the trip. It didn’t come. I looked directly at her watery eyes and wobbly lip. This had gone far too far now. But I couldn’t stop.

“The shark ate my thigh, but I managed to swim ashore using my lower leg as a flotation aid. Some kind holiday maker called an ambulance which rushed me in for emergency surgery.”

I could sense the young lady thinking beside me.

“So how do you feel your lower leg?” she asked.

I told her about all the sophisticated electrical devices available to surgeons these days. By now I was starting to feel a little ashamed.

“Well, I’m amazed at what doctors can do,” she said, “and I think you’re amazing too.”

She gave me a sympathetic rub on the top of my arm and increased her pace.

“Just wait until I tell my boyfriend about this!” she called back over her shoulder.

As the run progressed, I forgot about our short conversation.

I was chillingly reminded of our chat five minutes after I’d crossed the finish line. Leaning on my haunches, trying to return to some form of normality rather than looking like I was playing ‘air bagpipes’, I looked up and caught a glimpe of a blonde pony tail and pink running top. My sympathetic, gullible girl. Talking to a rather muscular, 6’3” man, who had a bemused look on his face. I watched for a couple of seconds as he pointed to his own leg, chuckling. The expression on his pretty girlfriend’s face darkened as she immediately started to scan the crowd of competitors. I deceided this was a good time to slink back to my car and drive home.

By the way, the race itself was a complete disaster for me, my worst by far. Which means there is such a thing as divine retribution.

Forest

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Showerdee People – A night with James Taylor

I must admit, I wasn’t that keen to start with. Six months ago, Lady BSM had spotted that James Taylor was playing at The LG Arena in Birmingham on 26th September.

But he is one of the great living singer songwriters, introduced to me  back in the mists of time when I first met her ladyship. His soft, smooth style was the perfect background for wooing. At the time, I hadn’t realised I was being wooed.

So I agreed and Lady BSM bought tickets for us both and also one for Pen. The Sexton said he would pass on this occasion, not being the James Taylor type.

So it was with expectation that we took our seats in the upper tier; good seats they were too, with a perfect view. The show start time was 7.30pm, but we arrived at 7.25pm without worry, since experience has shown us that the main event rarely starts on time. Not in James Taylor’s case: he was on just after half past seven and straight into ‘Something in the Way She Moves.’ In his awkward way, he explained that it was the song he played to Paul McCartney and George Harrison in 1968 when he signed for Apple. The Beatles obviously held a special place in his heart as he described sitting in the studio with them as they recorded The White Album. Wow.

james taylor

This is the second half of the show. I know because he wears the hat for the second half only.

“I ‘d like to play some new stuff,” he explained, which as always was met with faux approval from the audience. I was unaware that JT had a new album. He hasn’t, I discovered, since it’s ‘still in production’.

It wasn’t long before all the gems started to appear, Taylor’s distinctive country/blues sound, his lead guitarist Michael Landau playing brilliantly on his bright red Fender Stratocaster.

Every Day, Country Road, Carolina on my Mind, they all made an appearance, along with ‘Millworker’, a song from his unsuccessful musical. Like Burt Bacharach, Taylor does a pretty good line in self deprecating humour. I suppose they can afford to. Watching him play guitar is quite impressive, but, he is one of the greatest and has been doing in for probably nigh on 50 years.

‘One More Go Around’ was a song describing Taylor’s keenness to do it all again.

“Maybe next time I’d remember it!” he laughed, referring to his fondness for chemically induced recreation in his younger days. It was his chance to show he could play some mean blues.

“Sweet Baby James” was written about his nephew, giving him the opportunity to describe driving across the States in his Ford Cortina GT, an iconic British car of the 1970s. It’s easy to forget that James Taylor spent a long time in the UK, what with the sheer ‘Americana’ feel to his music.

“We have to have an intermission,” he explained, “I don’t know why we have to have an intermission, I’d carry on, but we do.”  Perhaps there’s some law about singer songwriters over retirement age having to take a break.

So the first half ended with ‘Shower the People’ and I was immediately transported back to Lady Barton St Mary’s room in Lancaster House at The University of Sussex, lying  together on her 2 ft 6in bed as this sweet flowed over us from the speaker of her Amstrad radio cassette player. It took me a while to realise there wasn’t a special race called The Showerdee People. I didn’t mention it at the time.

Returning to our seats after 20 minutes, James was already on stage, but on the edge of the stage furiously signing autographs and posing for photographs with thrilled middle aged women. He continued signing as the band returned and started playing. It’s at times like these you realise all these musicians would be happy to play their instruments without a crowd and without money, probably. Go figure, X Factor.

James played another ‘new’ song – ‘You and I Again’, all about long term relationships and wanting to go back and do it all over again. Very poignant, lovely song. Completely untraceable on the internet.

Then back to the hits: Handyman and a great version of ‘Steamroller Blues’, with James Taylor parodying the blues style without disrespect. By this time, the audience were in Taylor heaven, as hoardes of excited ladies (and a few gents) wiggled their way to the front, forming the politest mosh pit I’ve ever seen.

Up on the Roof, Mexico and Smiling Face kept the crowd shuffling back and forth a respectable distance from the stage, finishing with tumultuous applause.

The encore included You’ve Got a Friend and How Sweet It Is, James Taylor ‘encouraging’ the band to play on. His final song was an ancient Celtic song, accompanied by band member Andrea Zonn on fiddle.

So there it was, a lovely evening of true American folk/country/blues, all familiar songs, like a comfortable pair of shoes. James Taylor defies his age – his voice is clear and has not diminished. Maybe the drugs do work.

In the car on the way back, the motorway had been closed and I had to take a diversion that the sat nav didn’t like. Lady BSM and Pen gave their own input, meaning I had three strident alpha females all telling me what I should do. Normally, this would have been stressful, but in my head, James Taylor was singing ‘Showerdee People you love with love, show werdem how you feel,” and everything was fine…

 

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Writing 101. One.

I saw it at the last minute, an opportunity to take part in the Writing 101 Challenge, so took the plunge. Just write anything for 20 minutes, anything you like, a stream of consciousness where it doesn’t matter what you write, just write. Have they been reading my blogs? You see, I know that there is a whole community out there, millions of wordpretzels, all doing the same thing as me, all of them better than me. Do I have to do this every day? No. Do I have to do it at all? No. Will I do it every day? No. The real challenge for me to try and take part. As regular readers of my drivel will tell you, letting my butterfly brain loose on a piece of random writing could be a dangerous thing. I hardly make sense when I blog normally and that’s after I’ve spent several agonising minutes revising what I’ve written – most of my work is like a well insulated house, with hardly any drafts.

Yes, I realise that being English the word is draughts, but at least my American friends will appreciate the terrible pun. Yes, I’m English, home of queuing (a word I can never spell), poor plumbling, a lack of good dentistry and a tendency to hog all the sun loungers on holiday and blame the Germans.

At the moment, the whole nationality issue is big news in the UK. Scotland are having a referendum, where they’ll decide whether they want to be independent or not. But, like many others who can’t admit it, I’d be a bit confused if I were Scottish. If I vote yes, am I voting for independence? Or is it no?

It turns out it means this:

Yes, we don’t want to be part of the Union, no, we don’t, or No, we want to say yes to being part of the union, oh no to not being out. You decide. Or rather, they decide.

You see how it all goes around in my head? How the heck do I get through each day without a carer?

Oh well. Time’s up.

The twist is that I have to post this on my blog.

Sorry.

 

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The Colours, Man …

Wordpretzels, there’s something I have to tell you. I’m afraid I’m not quite as perfect as you think I am. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I am, in fact, colour blind. Let me explain how I found out. Let me take you back to when I was 10 years old … (wibbly lines, wobbly music…)

My school decided to give us all an eye test, which included a colour blindness test – showing lots of multi-coloured circles with numbers and patterns in them. In order to up the tension in these tests, the school had thoughtfully invited mothers along to see how we performed. I have deliberately identified the ‘parent’ a mother, since these were the days when dads didn’t go near a school, a maternity ward, an iron, cooker, washing line, moisturiser or even deodorant. So, the moment arrived when I sat in the powder blue medical room with a man in a tweed suit who, like most figures IN AUTHORITY at the time, had a heady scent of stale tobacco. He showed me the first page in his book of colourful circles.

“Now, young man, what number can you see?” I looked intently at the coloured circle. Number? I stared at him blankly. I felt a nudge in the back. “Don’t be silly, tell the man it’s a nine,” my mum hinted, helpfully. The doctor gave my mum a reproachful glare.

“Please, Mrs Randall,” he said, “it would be best to let your son give me the answer.”

My mum was rather taken aback, but made no complaint since the man was IN AUTHORITY. The next circle produced the same result. I saw nothing. My mum shifted in her seat and gave a sigh.

“What about this one?” the man said helpfully, turning to the next page in his colourful book. Nope. “Could you draw the pattern you see with your finger?” he encouraged.

I waved my index finger vaguely over the page, drawing, well, I don’t know what. Mum couldn’t contain herself. I felt a gentle clip on the back of my head.

“Stop showing off!” she cried, “just trace out that number 8!”

“Mrs Randall,” said the man, “if you cannot contain yourself, you’ll have to leave,” he told her in a very calm, level tone.

I swallowed hard. Please let me get the next one. I didn’t. Nor the one after, even with my mum clipping me firmly on the back of the head and shouting duck. It was at this juncture she was ejected from the room and made to sit in custody under the watchful eye of the school nurse. By the end of the test, I’d managed to get one right. My mum was accompanied back into the room.

“I’m afraid your son is colour blind,” said the man IN AUTHORITY. My mum’s bottom lip wobbled momentarily. “Will he need bottle bottom glasses?” she asked, “ or a special operation?” Before my mum could go on to suggest a rainbow cane or colour seeking dog, the man IN AUTHORITY interrupted her.

“No. Nothing can be done. It’s genetic,” he explained.

We left the room together and for the next 40 years tried our best not to mention it again. Of course, explaining to people that you’re colour blind can cause some interesting reactions.

“What colour’s my top? What’s green? How do you see traffic lights?” are a few of the questions thrown at you. It’s hard to explain exactly what colour blindness is. I know there have been times when my favourite dark blue shirt I’ve had for several years turns out to be brown, but most of the time, I can cope quite well. It’s not as if I dress like a children’s entertainer or somebody auditioning for X Factor. As far as I know. No. Most of the time I can cope. Snooker is a bit of an issue. I can’t tell the difference between the red balls and the brown one. Playing PES (Pro Evolution Soccer) on the X box is another problem. Which one am I? The player with the light yellow/orange/green/wtf colour above his head or what??

Then there are the jobs you can’t do:

Flight controller (my goodness can you imagine).

Pilot – the only reason I couldn’t be exactly the same as Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

Electrician – although the colours of wires has been changed to help blind people like me. But I’d still go bang, much like I would if I were a Bomb Disposal Expert – red, green or blue wire? What about the one in the middle?

Painter/decorator – But I can do this as an amateur. Lady BSM chooses the paint. I just put it on the wall. As far as she’s concerned, I’m taste blind as well as colour blind.

Colour Blindness Tester – 8, you say? OK…

Apparently, in some countries, such as Romania, you’re not allowed to drive if you’re colour blind, which seems a little extreme in a country where I believe it’s legal to marry at 14 and use a handgun in a supermarket. I could be mistaken, however. Just for some fun, here are a couple of those circles the man IN AUTHORITY showed me all those years ago. Good luck. I can feel my mum prodding me in the back as I stare at them now.

What? There's a number in this?

What? There’s a number in this?

Cross your eyes, it makes it easier. No. it doesn't.

Cross your eyes, it makes it easier. No. it doesn’t.

What about this one?

What about this one?

If you can see something in any of these pictures, my mum would have been proud of you. Having trouble with the last one? It’s the easiest for me. Of course, it’s 5. But you have to be colour blind in order to see it. Now you know how I feel.

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I Say Obrigado and You Say Obrigada…

“Where shall we go on holiday?” Lady Barton St Mary asked me, “What would you like to do?”

She’d only had a couple of days off this year, what with running a multinational company and supervising staff below stairs. I had also been busy. I was at least 4 episodes behind on Deal or No Deal. Noel would be livid.

I thought for a moment. Then another moment. Nothing came to mind.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, exasperated, “what would be your ideal holiday?”

I thought a little longer and my butterfly brain went into freeze mode. I had a sudden realisation that I wasn’t actually interested in anything – what about staying at home, drawing the curtains, opening a bottle of scotch and turning on the X Box? Oh dear.

Of course, she came up trumps. 10 days in Portugal in the Western Algarve in The Penina Golf Hotel. Of course, I don’t play golf, but Lady BSM had carried out her research and discovered it had a running route. 10 days was long enough to relax and not too long before I started pacing up and down or offering to run a bar at the hotel.

We had a room overlooking the pool, the largest pool in Western Algarve. This again gave me the opportunity to watch the sun lounger reservists go into action. Disappointingly, there didn’t appear to be any on my first morning of observation, returning from my run. How civilised, I thought, until I discovered the pool gates were locked until 9 am. I saw them all queuing up to get in a couple of days later. The queuing gave it away, of course, in that all the lounger hogs were British. The thing about the Germans is all mythical, made up by the Brits.

The hotel was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There was a bus service that took you down to the beach and we took a ride on our second day. We looked out over the golden sands, deep blue sea, sunbathers under little straw parasols.

“I can see you’re completely underwhelmed,” said Lady BSM, shaking her head. I managed to look impassive as we promenaded along the front, past the fisherman repairing nets and made our way into the centre of Alvor. It became apparent fairly quickly that Alvor the town was not the most picturesque of places, so we went to the local supermacado to buy our contraband.

You see, the hotel had a strict policy that you weren’t allowed to bring in any of your own food and drink ‘for security reasons’. I think the ‘security reason’ was that if you did so, they wouldn’t be able to charge such eye wateringly high prices for drinks and snacks. We returned to the hotel, Lady BSM doing her best to keep me upright as I carried in a rucksack stacked with gin, tonic, beer, lemonade and peanuts as nonchalantly as possible. It was only the following day when I watched a Portuguese family march through the lobby laden with carrier bags full of hooch and a defiant look on their faces that I realised the hotel staff were rather reluctant to challenge any maverick guests.

By the second evening, we were suitably relaxed. Lady BSM, realising that she had to spend 10 days alone with me, followed her usual tradition of sinking a couple of stiff gin and tonics and sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth and weeping quietly for half an hour.

The buffet breakfast was OK. Buffet breakfasts are always more of an entertainment than a culinary experience. It’s great to sit there and make up the back stories of the other guests – he must be a former professional footballer; she’s run away with her boss; she’s the boss and he’s run away with her…

It’s also a great time to judge people. Lady BSM and I spent hours appreciating some the cosmetic surgery some women had subjected themselves to. One women looked as if somebody was continuously having her bottom pinched, her face in a permanent expression of surprise. A couple of others had so much botox injected into their lips they were pulling that face your kids make when you refuse to buy them an ice cream.

Talking of kids, this was a ‘family’ hotel, so there were quite a  few of them scuttling about; toddlers with hollow eyed parents discouraging them from headbutting concrete steps or chewing electric cables; other parents telling their children to do something or to be quiet in a loud voice; parents repeating their young child’s name over and over again as he/she disappears onto the fairway. All the things you’ve forgotten you did with your own children, but somehow find harder to tolerate as you get older. You see, children are like passing wind; you can tolerate your own most of the time, but anybody else’s can be hard to cope with and often appear downright obnoxious.

The cuisine at the Penina was interesting, as my mother used to say. To be more accurate, my mother would have said the ‘so-called’ cuisine at The Penina was interesting. We spent one evening having the ‘fine dining’ menu, where I chose the traditional Portuguese fish soup. The waiter was delighted, giving me many compliments and kissing his fingers passionately. It was memorable. Here’s the recipe:

Take one tin of salmon. Open and place in the middle of a large bowl. Pour hot water over it. Serve.

 

“The Penina is not renowned for its food,” a regular guest informed us.

We decided to go further afield after a few days, catching a taxi into Alvor. The bus stopped at 2.45pm, with one running in the evening to the hotel’s beach side restaurant. I asked if we could catch the bus, but alas, the member of staff told me it was for diners only, but if I paid for the meal in advance, we could have a seat. He wasn’t stupid, he’d obviously tasted the food himself.

We found a lovely restaurant called O Arco da Velha, recommended by Trip Advisor the sort of place you would have walked straight past normally. The fillet steaks were wonderful and the service fantastic. Alvor didn’t improve in the evening, but seemed busier than ever, all flashing lights and binge drinking opportunities.

Downtown Alvor. If you like that sort of thing.

Downtown Alvor. If you like that sort of thing.

The following evening, we ventured into Lagos, via Portimao and Praia da Rocha, which apparently has a beautiful beach. We never saw it. Both places were a Portuguese version of Croydon.

We found the best place to eat in Lagos – a restaurant called Xpreitique, which apparently means ‘have a look’. The tapas was fantastic, even though there was a power cut in the restaurant and the entertainment provided by several electricians fiddling about in the fuse box. So fantastic, we returned for a second time a couple of nights later. It was also far, far cheaper than the hotel, if you discounted the 40 euros we had to spend on the taxi to get there and back.

Ah, the taxis. We quickly discovered that the taxi company employed by the hotel consisted of the Portuguese taxi drivers’ version of the seven dwarfs – Chesty, Snotty, Sneezy, Smelly, Nutty, Speedy and Normal. Guess which one we had the least.

We spent our days walking around looking at the lovely villas on the golf courses or on a lounger a little distance from the pool with other European guests, since the British had commandeered all of the pool side loungers before catching their buses into Alvor to stock up on lager and baked beans. Lady BSM amused herself researching properties for sale. For a while, it looked like the dream I shared with Chicken Sue about running away to Portugal was going to come true. In hindsight, having to spend all day sitting next to my own pool writing my first novel wouldn’t be as romantic as I imagine it to be. Would it?

Lady BSM even contemplated the possibility of taking up golf, but after considering the cost and the disadvantage of having to dress in silly clothes, it started to look less appealing.

The day before we left, Lady BSM gave me a big hug.

“Thank you for a lovely holiday,” she said. I think she may have been suffering from heatstroke.

I would happily return to the Algarve and to Portugal. The people are genuine and friendly, quite happy to let you know how they feel. This was best illustrated on a visit to a bar in Alvore. A rather lugubrious looking waiter approached.

“How are you?” I asked him cheerfully.

“Shit,” he replied, “ I am so tired. I’ve been working non-stop for 9 months, the boss is an arsehole, I hate this place and I am paid hardly anything.”

“Oh dear,” I sympathised, pausing for a moment. He looked at me with a steady gaze. There was an uncomfortable silence.

“You want drink?” he asked.

We flew home on bank holiday Monday. As we stepped out of the plane, we were assailed by a stiff breeze and lashings of cold rain. The air smelled damp and the glowering clouds made everything appear dark. Welcome back.

Below are some pictures of the lovely beaches we never visited and the Atlantic Ocean we never swam in.

 

The beach at Praia da Rocha. I didn't see it.

The beach at Praia da Rocha. I didn’t see it.

portimao

Portimao. Portuguese style sunbathing. Clacton style town.

 

 

 

 

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Maybe it’s Suzanne Who’s Mad.

We spent Saturday evening at Brummie Lawrence and Jo’s house. They were having a garden party to celebrate Jo’s birthday, so the usual crowd was there: The Sexton and Pen, Jacko and Nurse Lynn and Mad Kev and Suzanne.

Now, as you probably know, Mad Kev is not known as Mad Kev for no reason at all. It’s because he is impetuous, clumsy, tactless and, well, mad.

This was a man who took the view that a narrowboat could be made to go at maximum speed with very little need to control it, since there were canal banks either side to stop it going anywhere it shouldn’t.

Many years ago, Mad Kev arrived at a gathering with an enormous gash in his forehead. He’d been chiselling a doorframe to take a new lock and decided the most accurate way of doing it was to stand with his eyes level with his working area and hammer away. Towards himself. Still, it was only 8 stitches, he reasoned.

The same Mad Kev, who, on a stag do, after we had been yelled at to leave by the angry landlord, hurled a stone doorstop in the shape of a hedgehog at the beleaguered man’s forehead, scoring a direct hit and rendering him unconscious.

Or the time he gave his first wife a birthday present by hurling it across the dining table where we all sat for a celebratory meal. Again, a perfect head shot. I think she regretted asking for cycle spanners.

Mad Kev tends to be more extreme after adding alcohol. When you see the special look in his eyes, you make sure to keep out of his way.

So it was more than a little surprising when Suzanne, married to Mad Kev for nearly 20 years, told us about Mad Kev’s latest DIY project from earlier in the week. He’d been fitting some worktops.

“Suzanne – hold this piece of wood whilst a saw it,” he requested.

She duly did and Mad Kev went to work with his circular saw.

Which just goes to prove that the love and trust that Suzanne had in her husband would overcome all his previous personal traits and accidents. It was truly inspiring and touching.

Suzanne only lost the tip of her index finger and a slice out of her middle finger. Hopefully the skin grafts will go well.

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