Wistful Whistling Thoughts…

This morning I sat on the edge of the bed and listened to Master Johnny make his way to the bathroom to shower before work. He was whistling tunelessly, unaware of his actions. I chuckled.

“What are you laughing at?” asked Lady Barton St Mary sleepily.

I explained that Master Johnny reminded me of my dad, who also had the same habit. In fact, it was also something that my granddad did, which became a bit of a habit in later life when he showed signs of dementia, when he would whistle almost constantly.

We used to visit my grandparents every week. As you may know, we are a loving family, but not particularly sympathetic. At the time of this particular visit, I would have been about 18 years old. Granddad was watching the cricket on his TV in their council flat. The sunlight shone straight through the large picture windows, which meant that Nan and Granddad both wore flat caps to shield their eyes whilst viewing.

Granddad sat gazing at the screen, whistling tunelessly.

“‘Ere, Pop, wassat song?” asked my dad, winking at me.

My granddad stopped whistling and glared at my dad.

“Fuck off,” he said, before returning to his viewing.

He wasn’t that demented.

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All Hot Air

Dear Mr Dyson

I stopped at Membury Services on the M4 in the early hours of Sunday morning, returning from witnessing Wales steal all the points from England in the rugby World Cup pool match at Twickenham. I needed to have a well earned comfort break and take the opportunity to wash my tear stained  face.


It was here I came upon a ‘dyson airblade V’. I was intrigued by the lack of capital letters for what was clearly a proper noun, as well as wondering whether the ‘V’ was Roman or alluding to the shape of the aforementioned apparatus.

Anyway, after taking my ease, I faithfully followed the accompanying instructions (pictured), carefully placing my hands under the hand dryer, drawing them through the onrushing warm air, turning to dry them on both sides.

Now, I am an admirer of your other products. In fact, my mum described you as ‘that well spoken man who makes good Hoovers’.

However, the claim that ‘hands are dried with filtered air in just 10 seconds’ is clearly untrue. Unless, of course, your hands are the size of a small fruit monkey or a 6 day old baby.

Perhaps it is my cleaning regime that defies your assertion. I like to thoroughly clean my hands like a surgeon, carefully washing wrists, palm, dorsum and fingers before progressing to the drying process. True, most men in public toilets like to flick their hands at the tap before approaching your dyson airblade V, where they make a cursory wave before wiping their barely damp hands on their trousers.

A more accurate set of instructions would be:

‘Draw hands through air, turning them to dry both sides, several times, over and over again, then move away, hang on they’re still a bit damp and there’s a bloke with wet hands waiting to use the machine but continue to draw hands through air, turning them to dry both sides, several times, over and over again until that bloke thinks ‘whatsamatter with this weirdo my hands are freezing fuck off’ until they’re really, really dry.’

I realise you would probably have to build a bigger dyson airblade V (a dyson airblade VXL?) to get all the instructions on, but I’m sure a nicely spoken man who makes good Hoovers  like you could do this.

Yours sincerely,

rural spaceman

PS –  I was caught by the security guard taking photos in the gents and my case comes up next month. Would it be possible for you to put in a good word for me?





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Oh No, Sweet Chariot

When Lady Barton St Mary opened the e-mail regarding my ballot application for rugby World Cup tickets all those months ago, I could hardly believe what she was telling me.

“You have two tickets for England versus Wales”.

johnny rob world cup

This was possibly the best match of the first round of matches, with both teams in Pool A with Australia, Fiji and Uruguay, inevitably known as ‘The Pool of Death’. How quaint. I’d been fortunate enough to be at The Millennium Stadium last February to witness England beat Wales in their own back yard, as all good sports journalists say.

I made the necessary travel arrangements, booking a £20 park and ride at Hounslow Civic Centre. So, having arrived in good time, Master Johnny and I had the pleasure of being able to see the magical streets and lanes of Hounslow in all its glory on a 30 minute tour/search for the aforementioned Civic Centre. At last a young lad pointed us in the right direction, since whoever was responsible for parking arrangements had wisely decided to put all necessary signs within a 10 metre radius of the car park entrance, thus saving any inconvenient collection at the end of the day.

We arrived at Twickenham Stadium early, but it was already buzzing. Friendly volunteers calling out, offering help; supporters from all nations some dressed in fancy dress. Welsh fans as daffodils, leeks, dragons; English fans dressed as roses and crusaders. Fleetingly I thought how strange it was to dress like a medieval religious extremist with murderous tendencies and the

I found a leek.

I found a leek.

appropriateness of it all. Sorry, that’s just how my mind works.

We wandered around outside for a while, considering a stroll into Twickenham and a drink at The Cabbage Patch, but decided that it would be near on impossible to get a drink in there before kick-off, which was 3 hours away at this point, so instead we entered Entrance A for the in stadium experience.

We decided to dine on pasties and burgers with a small beer, which came at the usual Twickenham price of £10 apiece, which would send many of my rural friends into a faint at the shock. We found a seat and watched people passing, camera crews accompanied by legendary rugby players, cheerful volunteers, more ludicrous outfits. However, there is one outfit that does stand out, which can be best described as ‘public school casual’, a look also favoured by young men in the country usually involved in manual rural occupations (farming, tree felling, fencing). It requires a tweed jacket, preferably brown with a check, chinos, brogues and a formal shirt with the collar up. There is no age restriction – in fact, at one point, a middle aged man marched past calling for Toby, his 10 year old son, who was running off ahead of him, both of them in this outfit. As was Toby’s mum, a few yards behind Toby’s dad, carrying two foaming pints of lager.

A volunteer told us the England team were arriving at 6.30pm, so we joined the throng waiting to greet them, watching their progress with the help of the police helicopter shadowing the team coach overhead. They were late, but disembarked to loud cheers and a rousing chorus of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, as were the Wales squad on their arrival. The atmosphere was growing with the crowds. Nearly match time, so off to our seats in the south stand, where we had a magnificent view of the pitch.

Our view. Minus the veil of tears.

Our view. Minus the veil of tears.

The pre match entertainment involved an explanation of the rules, which was bemusing but acceptable considering the enormous number of corporate business people were there, who may not even know what rugby is.

The lights lowered. The anthems, the pyrotechnics, the roar of the crowd, everything was set for a great battle. The game commenced, Wales taking an early lead with two penalties, England responding with one of their own. Then the moment arrived when Johnny May received a pass and scampered behind the posts for a try. I was filled with jubilation, joy, rising from my seat and hugging Master Johnny. May plays for Gloucester Rugby, our team, so the thrill of it all made it doubly exciting.

The game ebbed and flowed, England just keeping their noses in front, like two thoroughbreds in a two horse race. We expected England to ease away in the second half.

Half time brought more ‘on screen entertainment’ from the benign presenter and the two former players, Nick Easter and the incomprehensible Ian Evans.

“We’ll be back after these messages for the second half,” said the generic presenter.

“When did a live sporting event turn into a TV show?” I asked Master Johnny. He shrugged.

“When it’s for that lot,” he replied, pointing to the brightly lit boxes full of men dressed in brown jackets with their short collars up, usually shadowed by carefully coiffured women in black cocktail dresses staring constantly at their mobile phones.

The second half started as the first half ended, with Wales clinging onto England’s coat tails. As it progressed, Wales appeared to be growing stronger, more confident. The lead was reduced to 7 points, even though Wales were losing players to injury.

“We need to score another try,” I told Master Johnny. He nodded. The man sitting next to us asked how many points you got for a draw. Two, Johnny explained, although a draw wasn’t conceivable.

And then it happened. A Wales attack, a cross field kick into England’s 22 with no cover, the ball rolling end over end, excruciatingly, languorously slowly, the speedy Welsh back Gareth Davies closing in to gather the ball to score under the posts, ensuring a conversion to equal the scores. A couple of minutes later, referee Garces raises his arm and my heart sinks. Wales score the penalty to take the lead, 28-25.

England has a chance to draw the match, but opt for a line out, which they lose, along with the match. Welsh jubilation, Master Johnny beside himself, head in hands. I just stare ahead, not wanting to take in the sheer disappointment of it all.


It’s hard to put your feelings into words at such a time – imagine your wedding day that ends with a rival shagging your spouse after the reception. All that money, all the time spent organising the event, getting to the venue, all apparently for nothing.

Waiting in the queue for the bus back to Hounslow was difficult, but we struck up a conversation with a lovely Welsh couple. Master Johnny explained how glad he was that he wasn’t going to Swansea University until next year, the sheer horror of being surrounded by jubilant Wales supporters would be all too much as they chuckled. I explained we came from Gloucester, where rugby was everything. The man, about my height and of slight build, informed me that his son had played at Kingsholm, in fact, his son played rugby in France now.

“Gosh, he must be quite good,” I replied.

His wife was a very elegant lady and much taller than him, over 6ft tall. She smiled proudly.

“Actually, he came on and played tonight,” she stated.

I stared at her. She informed me they were the parents of Luke Charteris, the second row colossus, former Scarlets and Perpignan player now with Racing in

Luke Charteris. Guess which one he is.

Luke Charteris. Guess which one he is.

France. I enquired as to how they were queuing for the bus rather than being dined in corporate. They explained that, no, the players had no special privileges and in fact were returning immediately to Cardiff after the game. Such is the difference between rugby and professional football.

The bus journey back to Hounslow cheered us up a little, singing songs initiated by four men from Birmingham who’d befriended a couple of young Uruguay fans. For some reason, the Birmingham quartet were accompanied by a prosthetic leg wearing a pair of England shorts and a sock; no explanation was offered, but the Uruguayans were keen to be photographed with it. Don’t ask me.

The following day, Lady Barton St Mary feels slightly aggrieved that we’ve spent a large amount of money, enough to watch Gloucester for a season, on an experience that was so ultimately crushing.

But that is what rugby is about; it’s what all sporting events are about. If you want to spend a lot of money to see exciting entertainment, where you know what the outcome will be, buy front row tickets for the opera. You can’t buy tickets for an international match on the proviso that your team wins. On the drive back, hurtling along the M4, comfort eating Haribo Tangfastics, my mind replayed the match over I my head. What could we have done to win that match? Where did it go wrong?

And for the first time, perhaps, I realised something. It had nothing to do with me. I had no control over the result, I had merely witnessed it. I could show my support and try and affect the outcome by shouting and cheering, but that is all. Sometimes, that’s what life is like.





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Watching Egg Chasers

The Rugby World Cup began last night with the opening ceremony at Twickenham Stadium, home to English rugby, followed by the England rugby team playing Fiji.

England is the host for this tournament, with venues all over the country being used. In fact, to serve the west of the nation, where rugby is revered, there are matches being played in Exeter, Gloucester and Wales. Yes, I know, Wales is actually another country, but it appears the Rugby Football Union authorities seem to regard it as the biggest county in England.


A Scrumpty during the hours of daylight.

Of course, being a Gloucester fan and living near to the city, it’s been great fun. There are lots of statuettes all over the place called Scrumptys, which one of the managers at (almost) voluntary work mistook for eggs, but are in fact rugby balls, all designed and painted in different ways. During the day, rosy cheeked young children scamper around the city centre, hugging the scrumptys and having their photos taken for different social media sites; during the night, certain rosy nosed drinkers stagger around the city either urinating or kicking the crap out of the poor scrumptys, but that’s city life for you. Anyway, everybody enjoys them, even if the children return home smelling faintly of piss and kebabs.

There’s also a ‘fanzone’, a purpose built area down by the dockside that acts like a mini stadium. There’s a stand, some fake grass and a huge telly to watch the matches on. I believe that the fanzone was very busy last night, large numbers of people gathering to watch the England match.



Everywhere, people are encouraged to come together and watch this fantastic spectacle, the world in union, sharing the highs and lows of their country’s fortunes. However, when it comes to watching important matches on the telly, ones that actually mean something to me, I prefer to watch them at home. I find that if you watch these particular matches in public, there’s always at least one idiot who can’t shut up. I’d prefer to be that idiot at home alone, just annoying myself.

These are the things that put me off watching rugby on telly in a public place:

People who give loud opinions as to how a team is playing or should be playing when they’ve  never played the game. You are entitled to give your opinion once you’ve experienced having an 18 stone man sit on your face on a muddy pitch in the middle of February.

People who give loud opinions as to how a team is playing or should be playing when they’ve played the game. Yes, I’ve played rugby, had an 18 stone man sit on my face etc., but I retired from the game over 20 years ago, when players wore thick cotton shirts and had a fag at half time. I have no idea what is going on half of the time, but I know what I think is good or bad.

People who like to talk about other things unrelated to the match going on in front of them. This can be equally infuriating at live matches, too. My friend The Sexton was fortunate enough to get a gold stand ticket for a Gloucester match, only to find himself sitting in front of two season ticket holding ladies who spent the entire match talking about gardening.

A couple of seasons ago, during a particularly thrilling match at Kingsholm, the man behind me was giving a review of the play he’d been to see.

“I must say, Jeremy, his Henry V far outweighed anything I’d seen before, I can’t wait to discover how he’ll measure up to Benedict’s Hamlet…’ , he espoused as Gloucester powered towards the line, the regular fan 8 rows back cawing “They don’t like it up ‘em!” in his gravelly Gloucestrian tone.

People who call rugby ‘rugger’. No. It’s rugby. Only headmasters from the 1970s can call it rugger. It’s a popular phrase among middle aged public schoolboys who wear pastel coloured polo shirts with the collar up. Not that there’s anything wrong with public schoolboys; if it wasn’t for one of them making up his own rules to his own selfish advantage there wouldn’t be any rugby. Or modern politicians for that matter.

People who don’t like rugby.

“Oh no, it’s rugby. I don’t like rugby,” they say as they walk into the bar, “I prefer football. That’s a skilful game. Rugby has no skill. Look at that bloke cuddling the other one! Haha! Handball! Oi! Yeah! Handball!”

This type of person can often be found lying under the telly with a broken nose about 10 minutes after they’ve entered the establishment.

I have no issues with Master Johnny, my son, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game and tends not to make comment unless it’s a game he cares about, when he can stand in front of the screen shouting profanities from time to time. He is the person I can watch games with, but unfortunately he’s taken after me and finds it hard to view a game in the company of an idiot, so often takes refuge in his room away from me.

“Go on Shaun!” I’d cry out at Kingsholm. Johnny, sitting next to me, would lean over to me.

“That’s not Shaun, dad,” he’d explain patiently. “He’s not playing today.”

Of course, the end of match analysis from ‘other people’ can be painful. England supporters who watch their team win by 20 points and then moan about them ‘not being very entertaining’. Fair play to Wales fans, if they scrape a 2 point win over Paquador they consider it a signal of the great re-emergence of a mighty Welsh rugby nation, dragon flags unfurled as they come out of the valleys and over the hills.

Then there’s the well-meaning comments made by non-rugby loving partners.

It’s only a game.

Oh perhaps they’ll win the next one.

Oh well, they can have another go next season/in 4 years’ time.

Can I watch Location, Location, Location now?

I do enjoy listening to the comments of the pundits at half time and full time, a hard thing to do in a crowded bar, where very often the TV channel is changed for admittedly other sports related matters (football scores, horse racing). However, I have been invited to a friend’s house to watch a game where, at half time, he changes the channel to watch completely unrelated stuff. Instead of hearing what Sir Clive thinks of South Africa’s drift defence, you’re listening to some bloke called Monty explain they have 60 minutes to redecorate Doreen’s living room before she returns from the shops. Then 10 minutes later, you’re panicking because the players must be coming back out again and we’re still watching Monty struggle with a big piece of MDF board. Arghh!!

So, I will mostly be watching the rugby at home. I’m lucky enough to have tickets for some games. I’m going with Master Johnny, so that’s alright. It’s the others I’m worried about.


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Fame at Last

I was in the baked bean aisle of our local supermarket trying to decide on organic, non organic or Snap pots when I sensed somebody standing slightly too close to me.

I turned to look. It was a rather diminutive woman, her dark hair scraped back into a ponytail, close to my side, her brown eyes looking up at me, a determined and serious expression on her face. I made a weak attempt at a smile.

“Can I help you?” I asked softly, as if I’d suddenly turned into one of Tesco’s finest employees.

“You are Rural Spaceman,” she stated, simply.

I physically jumped.

I was sure I didn’t know this woman, but if you’ve read any of my earlier rubbish, you’ll realise I’m often engaged in conversation with people I can’t remember meeting. She pulled her black cardigan tightly around herself and waited for my response.

“Well, yes, I suppose I am,” I said, trying to sound modest and flattered all at once, which somehow combined in a strange chemical reaction to produce smugness. The small lady turned and beckoned to another female studying the kidney beans a bit further along the aisle, a similar colouring and size to my new found ‘fan’.

“Veronica! Look! It is him! The Rural Spaceman! He writes on the internet!” she explained in her thick Spanish accent (Eeenternet!) her voice deep and thick.

Her friend clip clopped over in her high heels, her large hoop ear rings reflecting the light as they moved, contrasted by her thick black hair. Both of them stood and stared at me, as if I’d joined the beans on the shelf. There was a brief silence.

“Who this man, Daniela?”

“The Rural Spaceman. He writes on the internet,” Daniela repeated.


Daniela produced her mobile phone, tapped for several seconds and then thrust it in her friend’s face.

“Here!” she cried, before shoving the phone screen in front of my eyes. My image looked out, standing with Danny Baker and Lady Barton St Mary at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.



“What does he write about?” Veronica asked, not averting her eyes from me. I decided I should answer her question.

“Well I write about … erm, well it’s about lots of things,” I started to explain, before Daniela interrupted me.

“I am from Venezuela. Your blog is…” Daniela searched for an appropriate word,

“amusing. Some I don’t understand,” she explained, “but it tells me lots about English people.”

Heck, if this poor woman thought my blog would help her understand English people, I’d better get away now, I thought.

“Well, thank you,” I managed, as the two ladies continued to look at me, unsmiling.

“I am Veronica,” said Veronica, unnecessarily, “I go from Ecuador. I too will be looking Rural Spaceman now.”

My mind was spinning – recognised for my writing at last! I considered what was the best course of action – would they want separate photo with me? A group selfie? I knew I had a pen in my jacket pocket if they wanted me to sign something.

As I mentally rehearsed these actions in my head, Veronica and Daniela turned on their clip clop heels and marched away, wire baskets clasped closely to their side.

My moment of fame was over. I just wonder whether either of them will comment on this blog…




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Washing Instructions

Wordpretzels, I don’t mean to keep on about it, but I’ve recently returned from a relaxing holiday in Portugal. In Setubal, to be precise, in a lovely 10 bedroom Quinta with 2 kitchens, 2 lounges, 2 dining rooms, a swimming pool, a tennis court and, most importantly, a washing machine.


This was how we did our laundry in Portugal:

  1. Place washing in machine, add washing liquid, set to appropriate programme and let it do its stuff.
  2. Once washing cycle is completed, remove clean clothes from machine and hang outside on the line to dry.
  3. Two hours later, return to collect in bone dry clothes that hardly need ironing.


Of course, holidays don’t last and it wasn’t long until we were returning to the UK, which, travelling back from a hot and sunny Portugal is akin to stepping into a cold, dank, dark cave.

This is how we do our washing in the UK

  1. Place washing in machine, add washing liquid, set to appropriate programme and let it do its stuff.
  2. Once washing cycle is completed, remove clean clothes from machine and hang outside on the line to dry.
  3. Two hours later, return to collect clothes. Only to find they’re still damp, even though it’s quite sunny and the weather forecast is for fine sunny weather for the rest of the week.
  4. Run outside an hour later when you realise it’s raining to discover washing is wetter than it was when you put it out. Decide to leave it since the sun has started to come out again.
  5. After two hours, check again. Still damp. Decide to leave it out because weather forecast is good for tomorrow.
  6. Stare out of window at work in the middle of the day as the rain lashes down.
  7. Forget washing was still hanging out, thus entering its third day on the line.
  8. Next day, discover that not only has it rained again, but accompanied by gale force winds. Collect underwear and several other items from muddy puddles adjacent to washing line. Leave the rest where it is, since the sun is out and it feels nice and warm.
  9. Return from work 10 minutes after a light drizzle has set in. Check washing. Still damp.
  10. On the fifth day, return from work triumphant, knowing the sun has been out all day. Unfortunately, so has your neighbour, who has been burning all his old rubbish, making your clothes smell like a new age traveller.
  11. Return to 1.

Alternatively, you can use a tumble dryer, which can be expensive. Also, it is often frowned upon by those people who consider tumble dryers to be ecologically unsound and would never dream of using one. These people can usually be identified by the clothes they are wearing, which are invariably musty/smoky, slightly damp and crumpled, since they usually don’t believe in ironing either…





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Rural Spaceman’s Lisbon

Wordpretzels, you may have been aware that I have been an intrepid traveller in the last few weeks, travelling to Portugal for a city break with Lady Barton St Mary. I’d like to share my impressions of this rather beautiful city.

Having landed at the airport, we decided to ‘go native’ and take the metro to our hotel in the centre of Lisbon. Buying a ticket was fairly easy, despite my dim-wittedness and determination to ignore the advice from the very helpful railway employee. Yes, they have friendly, helpful rail staff.

We bought a very cheap ticket and metro card (Lisbon’s answer to an oyster card) and sat out the 11 stations to San Sebastiao, completing our journey to the Real Palacio Hotel on foot. This was after a long day of travelling, so we entertained the local populace with some tradition English marital bickering intermixed with an occasional demonstration of suitcase toppling (mine was top heavy). As it transpired, the walk to the hotel was a matter of a few hundred metres, but when tired and hefting half a ton of shirts, shorts and high heeled shoes (hers, not mine) at 10pm, things always seem a little harder.


‘You don’t have to be rich, to be my girl, you don’t have to be cool, to rule my world…

The hotel was lovely. The following morning, we sat in the hotel breakfast room whilst Lady Barton St Mary planned the day’s itinerary, thoughtfully consuming her yoghurt and fruit. Essentially, it meant making our way to Praça do Marquês de Pombal to catch one of the Greyline hop on/hop off open top buses that covered the entire city on different coloured routes. The square had an enormous statue of the pop star Prince, after ‘When Doves Cry’, before he became a symbol and about the time he was bonking Sheena Easton.

We hopped on to the blue bus route which basically covered the eastern side of the city. The man tore our tickets (rather worryingly) before handing us a pair of red headphones. You plugged these into the jacks in the back of the seats and tuned into a channel that spoke your language. The gaps were filled with some rather pleasant fado, Portuguese folk music.

I had trouble concentrating on the commentary, since I tend to doze off on buses, but here are some of the highlights of our hop on/ hop off tour, lasting a couple of days.

BAIXA/ALFAMA (Green Route)


A shot of Praca do Comercial: apologies to the former Portuguese royals

A lovely place which is full of shops, cafes and tourists and is the home of fado. This is where you can find The Praça do Comércio,  a large expansive, bright square with amazing statues and a real feel of Portugal’s sea faring prowess. Being a rather narrow country with lots of sea around it, they say that Portuguese people have the sea in their blood, but this is silly, since sea water is very dirty and would no doubt kill you if it entered your bloodstream in any great amount.

This grand place is where Portugal took the first steps in becoming a republic, assassinating King Carlos I and his heir Luis Filipe in 1908. They obviously couldn’t see the point in keeping something that needed lots of taxes but sold gazillions of tea cups, bunting and tiny national flags once every decade.

It’s also where there is a statue of Pedro Avares Cabral, remembered for discovering Brazil. However, the people who lived there already were a bit taken aback by being discovered, but as Lady BSM pointed out, their opinion hardly mattered once the Portuguese had slaughtered them all.

We had a very leisurely lunch, served by a delightful Portuguese girl from Poland. Beer in Lisbon costs about 4 euros a litre in cafes and restaurants, at least half the price it would be in England. Therefore, I thought it proper that I drank at least twice as much as I normally would at lunchtime. This made the hop on/hop off bus’s commentary even more confusing; for example, this is what I recall from our other tours:

BELEM (red route)

IMG_2213A lovely journey, passing the Ponte 25 de Abril, a bridge which is a replica of the Golden Gate in San Francisco, overlooked by a replica of the massive Jebus in Rio (Cristo Rei).

Here is where you will find a very big church called Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, named after St Jeronimo, the patron saint of jumping out of aeroplanes. You could queue up to go inside and see the tomb of Vasco de Gama, famous discoverer and inventor of Gama bears, those colourful sweets so loved by small children.

A short walk away you can find Torres de Belem, a huge fortification that was originally built in the middle of the river Tagus to scare

Torre de Belem. Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.

Torre de Belem. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

the bejebus out of potential invaders. Conveniently, it has now been towed into the shore so that people can queue up for hours and look inside it instead of the lovely big poster sized pictures adorning the walkway along the river bank.

We also took the opportunity to join the enormous queue for Lisbon’s famous cake shop, Casa Pasteis de Belem, buying some of the famous Portuguese custard tarts with a secret recipe. They were lovely, but no different to the other custard tarts I ate in Portugal (I ate a lot of them).


Lovely square with fountains and a statue of King John I, who was revered in Portugal and really stuck it to the man abroad. By the way, there are a lot of statues in Lisbon.



Sintra Castle – King Ferdinand II built this as the first ever Disneyland in 1790. It ultimately failed, since Walt Disney hadn’t been born and film wouldn’t be invented for another 100 years.

Not in Lisbon, but a 40 minute train journey away. The best way to see Sintra is to find a nice café in the centre of Lisbon with wi-fi access and view it on the internet. The train is a bulk standard one and very full. The transportation delights do not end there. You then have to catch a bus up the hill to Sintra Castle, a steep ascent of 2 km that, due to the huge amount of traffic, takes another 30 minutes. Once you’ve queued at the ticket office and joined the queue for the small bus to the castle, you’re hoping it’s going to be pretty bloody special. In fairness, with help from the audio tour, it was an interesting and enjoyable experience. Homesick Londoners would love the whole day, being crammed into trains and buses next to travel weary male smokers wearing polyester football shirts, allowing easy access to their heady aroma of body odour and stale tobacco.

The only disappointment for a Londoner, used to paying eye wateringly high prices for substandard food, would be the excellent restaurant there. It was here I learned that your choice of beer in Lisbon depends on which football team you support; Sagres if you’re Benfica, Super Bock if you’re Porto.

More entertainment ensued upon the arrival of the bus returning us to the railway station. Having waited an hour in the queue, the European tactic of ignoring said queue backfired on several miscreants as the furious Italian ladies set about them with loud shouts and slaps to their arms. The offenders slunk back to where they came from, under the glare of the indignant elderly matriarchs. We didn’t get on the bus, so decided to walk down the hill. Two other buses overtook us, the Italian ladies waving as they passed. We half-heartedly practised our marital bickerings from San Sebastiao, but it was all too much effort.



Casa Pasteis de Belem – a typical British family’s daily cake intake whilst on holiday in Portugal.

At last, my faith in Portuguese cooking was restored. Having suffered a traditional fish soup last year in the Algarve – (essentially a tin of salmon in boiling water, accompanied by an Eastern European maître de standing next to me kissing his fingers and saying ‘delicious’) – we found two wonderful restaurants, namely Sessenta and O Talho.

In Sessenta (we could see the restaurant from our hotel room, but Lady BSM forbade me from shouting my order out of the window), I ordered a Turbot meal which ranks in my top ten dishes of all time. I loved it. We returned the following evening.

O Talho (The Butcher) is a restaurant behind a butchers’ shop, where we had a fantastic steak dinner for a very reasonable price. They are both in El Corte Ingles area of Lisbon, if you’re interested.


Our breakfast in Lisbon.

As we sat in our customary seats at the local bakery, eating cake for breakfast, I decided that Lisbon is a very fine place to visit. The people are genuine, polite, dignified, and friendly and prepared to put up with me.

I am now at home, trying to remove 9lbs of Portuguese custard tarts and several gallons of Satres (Benfica!) that has become attached to my body in the form of blubber.

I look forward to returning soon.


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