Rural Spaceman’s Rogue One

Last week, Master Johnny and I found ourselves alone when Miss Katherine returned to University and Lady Barton St Mary was called away on business of international importance. This meant that we could treat ourselves to a night out, starting with a meal at Nando’s (I bloody love Nando’s) followed by a trip to the pictures to see a new Star Wars film called Rogue One.

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Now, I am not a massive Star Wars boffin. My friends queued outside the Leicester Square cinema for the premiere of the first one in the seventies (they were even caught on camera, the grainy footage of my nerdy schoolmates in their tank tops and flares turning up on the occasional Star Wars documentary on TV) and I loved the first three, but had lost interest when the fourth one was made years later.

However, I did enjoy the last Star Wars film – The Force Awakens; the one with Hans Solo and Princess Leia, but when they’re much older. In fact, Hans Solo looks like he’s been left next to the radiator and has melted a bit. Also, The Force Awakens has the same story as the first Star Wars film in the seventies. Anyway, full of spicy chicken and coleslaw, we settled into our seats for the performance.

The story is about a girl called Gin (I’m amazed that Lady Barton St Mary never called Miss Katherine this). Gin looks like my sister in law Ellie, which was a little distracting; Ellie is not part of the Rebel Alliance, exactly, although she is Welsh and lives in Swansea, so as close as you can get, I suppose.

 

The action moved at a very brisk pace – Ellie Gin as a little girl hides in a hole and turns into a grown up. There’s Forrest Whittaker as a goodie, dressed up in one of Wallace and Gromit’s inventions, with a chest plate made out of an old kitchen sink, including the plug hole.

Eee it's the wrong trousers, Gromit!

Eee it’s the wrong trousers, Gromit

There’s a suave, exotic character who might be a goodie or a baddie. We’re not sure. However, all the super baddies wear lego bricks on the front of their shirts to make things easier, except for Daft Ada, of course, who has his own style.

Also a new robot, too;  a taller, black C3PO, showing that Star Wars can do characters without turning them into racial stereotypes (I’m thinking of the Womble with a Jamaican accent in the crap Star Wars films). Also a fair bit of kung fu action, which appeals to all the 50 something men who used to bunk into the cinema underage to watch such shinnanigans.

Everything moves along at a pleasing pace, without too many interruptions to explain who everybody is to the watching audience, but it wasn’t long before I was confused once again. This time it took several seconds to sink in. One of Daft Ada’s famous henchmen from the first Star Wars film suddenly appeared on the screen. What was the character called? Moss Bros? Muff Top? Big Moff? As I searched my memory, I realised that Peter Cushing had been cast in the role once again. Hang on. Peter Cushing? Still acting? Looking the same as he did in 1977? Let’s just say he looks fantastic for a man who’s been dead for 20 years. Grand Toff! Grand Pop Larkin! Moff Tarkin! That’s it!

The film built to a climax, Ellie Gin helped by an air force consisting of a group of World War 2 RAF pilots and rejects from the 1970s auditions for the part of The Six Million Dollar Man.

I won’t give away the ending, just to say it is very dramatic. Like all the other Star Wars films, the plot is driven at such a pace that you hardly have time to care for the characters. It’s an enjoyable, entertaining yarn that everyone can enjoy.

 

 

 

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I Gave My Tonsils for an Action Man

Medical science, as you may well know, has a tendency to follow trends from time to time. It’s always based on what they know at the time, but tends to change as time passes. For example, when I was a young child, a visit to the dentist invariably meant having a filling and a rather austere dentist telling you the dangers of eating too many sweets. I remember Mr Rabin, our family dentist, telling me so.

“Young man,” he would say as he snubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray next to the array of tortuous looking implements, “sweets are very unhealthy,” before drilling another big hole in one of my molars and cramming it full of mercury filling. It was like a one man mission to turn my entire set of noshers into a grey, gleaming example of dentistry work.

What’s more, I never realised that I could have anaesthetic until I was grown up and had to visit another dentist. I think Mr Rabin saw it as a way of making a man of me.

“Don’t be a baby!” he used to yell above my agonised screams, his yellowed and ash scented fingers jammed under my nose as his drill excavated its latest cavity. A couple of years ago, I plucked up the courage to ask Dr Gorgeous, our latter day dentist, whether his colleagues in the 1960s received extra money for fillings. I expected  him to refute my theory, but he simply shrugged and said, “Yep.”

I was speechless. Mainly because my mouth was full of cotton wool as Dr Gorgeous endeavoured to replace the teeth Mr Rabin had drilled the buggery out of 40 odd years ago.

Then there was the tonsils theory, a method to prevent young people from suffering in their adult life with the inconvenience of sore throats and swollen glands, by simply removing the little blighters.

Thus it came to pass that, at the age of 6, I was struck down with a cold and sore throat and carted off to the surgery to see Dr Marks. He examined me, prodding my swollen glands, sticking a lolly stick in my mouth and making me say ‘Arrr’ before taking his stethoscope and planting the freezing plate in the middle of my chest, listening intently as I concentrated on not squealing and being told ‘not to be a baby’.

“Hmmm. Well, Mrs Randall,” he said, directing the conversation over my head to my mother, “ I think it best if he has these tonsils removed. I’ll send a letter to the hospital to make an appointment; you should hear within the next week or so.”

As he leaned back in his chair and offered my mum a cigarette, I contemplated what this meant. Within a couple of weeks, I found out.

Mum, dad and my sister Janet took me into the children’s ward of the hospital. I’ve always thought that this hospital was called St Stephens, but cursory research doesn’t record any hospitals with that name in the area.

Having been shown to a bed in the children’s ward, I was instructed to change into my pyjamas. Now, as far as I was concerned, changing into pyjamas in the middle of the day was a bizarre thing to do, especially when you’re 6 years old and want to play outside. It wasn’t as if I was ill, the sore throat had cleared up a couple of days after I’d seen Dr Marks. However, it was always unwise to question the requests of my parents, so I dutifully put on my cotton winceyettes and climbed onto the metal framed bed. My mum sat down next to me.

“Now, be a good boy, you’re going to have a little operation. Don’t panic! It’ll be alright!” she said, giving me a big hug, something that was quite a significant event at that time. I looked at Janet, who smiled back.

“Ooo, when you’ve had your tonsils out, the nurses will give you some ice cream!”

Janet was my kind, affectionate older sister, who couldn’t have been more than 18 at the time. She would give me anything, even though I’d ruined her chances at being an only child, robbed her of half of her inheritance and had condemned her to spending her leisure time being my babysitter. I was well aware of her devotion and took every opportunity to take advantage of the situation in a materialistic and mercenary way.

“Tell you what,” she whispered in my ear, “if you’re good I’ll buy you something nice. What would you like?”

I thought for a second, but already knew what I wanted. It had been on my ‘big things that Janet might get me’ list for a while. The TV commercials made it the biggest new thing around. Made by Palitoy/Hasbro, it was an attempt to grab the market nobody had thought of before in the UK. A doll for boys.

“Action Man,” I said. Now, I’m not sure how much money Janet made at that time, but Action Man wasn’t cheap. Typically, Janet never flinched.

“Well, be good then and I’ll see what I can do,” she said, which translated in my head into ‘as long as you don’t burn down the hospital and kill all the other sick children, the Action Man is yours’.

Then she kissed me on the cheek and landed the bombshell.

“See you tomorrow.”

As I tried to come to terms with this, mum and dad followed up with their kisses, embraces and goodbyes. I was being left here alone? I swallowed something hard.

“Be a good boy,” mum said, “do as you’re told. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

She turned to leave, then thought of something else. Turning back, she patted my arm.

“Don’t worry,” she said, looking worried.

I sat in bed and contemplated my fate. My mummy, daddy and sister had gone away, far, far away, leaving me alone. But not quite. There was still Micky.

Micky was my constant companion from as long as I could remember. Me and Micky went way back. He was a knitted mouse, kitted out in grey blue jumper and green trousers, yellow feet and a red school cap sewn jauntily on to the top of his head. I held Micky close and told him everything would be alright. Don’t worry.

Not long after this, a nurse appeared with a big canister on wheels attached to a tube and a rubber mouthpiece.

“It’s time!” she said cheerfully. “I’ll just pop this over your head,” she continued, passing the masks straps over the back of my head. She slowly turned the valve on the canister.

“OK, dear,” she said gently, “ I bet a big boy like you can count to ten. Can you?”

Solemnly, I nodded. I probably made it to five…

When I awoke, it was twilight. Somebody had set fire to the back of my throat. I tried to call out, but could only make a few guttural noises. My head swam and I smelled the strong rubber scent of the mask I’d been wearing earlier. A nurse appeared.

“Hello dear, how are you fee— oh!” she exclaimed, as I puked onto the tiled floor of the hospital ward. I awaited the scolding, but it never came. The nurses were very kind. They cleaned up the mess and left me to rest.

“Hello!” a bright voice said in the neighbouring bed, “what’s your name? I’m Phillip.”

I turned to see a boy with bright blonde hair grinning at me. I told him.

“Who’s that?” he asked, pointing at Micky. I painfully explained who Micky was, how clever and funny Micky could be, how he loved to play all my games and was never nasty.

“Can I hold him?” Philip asked.

I hesitated. What harm could it do? Micky was my friend, it would be kind to let this other little boy enjoy his company for a little while. I handed Micky over. Phillip held him close to his chest, closed his eyes and smiled.

“I like Micky,” he said, “I think I’m going to keep him.”

Cold blood coursed up my body like an oncoming wave. No. No. You can’t keep Micky, I said in my head. Say it out loud! My brain demanded.

“Err, you can’t keep Micky,” I croaked bravely.

“I can. I like Micky a lot,” he replied simply, giving me a cold stare and an icy grin.

“But…” I started, but a nurse appeared once more, holding a plastic cup.

“Here you are, here’s some orange juice. It will make your throat feel better. Drink it all.”

Disorientated and panic strikes, I took the cup and gulped down its contents. Orange juice. Warm orange juice.

Within seconds of the juice disappearing down my gullet, it decided to make an about turn and come back up in a steady pastel stream. This time I managed to decorate the sheets, blankets and the front of my kindly nurse’s uniform. I sat and stared in disbelief as the last remnants of juice dripped from my chin. I glanced over at Phillip, who grimaced, held Micky a little tighter and turned over to face away from me.

The nurse sighed.

“Come on, let’s clean this up,” she said, helping me out of bed and calling for assistance.

By the time I was back into my freshly made bed, they’d decided that it was late and, rather than take a chance with feeding me, decided it was best that  I had a  good night’s sleep. Tucking me in, my tolerant nurse patted me on the head.

“Sleep tight, mummy will be back tomorrow.”

Don’t worry.

I dozed off to sleep. When I awoke, the ward was in semi-darkness. The awful realisation that Micky had been absconded by my fair haired neighbour glowered into view. I fidgeted about, wondering what I could do. I turned over and looked at Phillip. He was sleeping soundly. Micky’s head poked out from under his body. It was if he was looking at me. (Save me! Come and get me now before this little boy takes me home!)

I looked around the ward. In the far corner sat a nurse, the desk bathed in light as she read. I made my move.

Don’t worry …

Keeping my eye on the nurse, I slid out of bed and took the three or four paces over to the slumbering Phillip. Gently, slowly, I reached out and grasped Micky’s head in my right hand. Phillip stayed asleep, so I pulled gingerly on Micky’s head, revealing half of his torso. At this point, Phillip took a deep breath and flung out an arm. I froze, waiting for his eyes to flicker open and scream in my face. I felt the muscles in my own face pull back my lips. Please don’t wake up, please don’t wake up…

Don’t worry …

I followed the arc of Phillip’s arm as it rose above his head and behind his back. With a small groan, he turned over and Micky was free. I gathered him up and quietly returned to my bed, vowing never to let anybody touch Micky again.

The following morning, we were treated to ice cream, Phillip and I. Strangely, he never mentioned Micky, who by that time had been carefully hidden from view ‘in a safe place’ under my pillow.

Not long after this, mum, dad and Janet appeared to take me home. More significantly, Janet was holding a cuboid shaped box in wrapping paper. Janet always liked to wrap my ‘occasional’ gifts. Carefully removing the paper, it revealed Action Man in all his glory, in green khakis and a plastic peaked hat.

Mum and dad gathered my things and we left for home. Phillip had left earlier, with a cheery goodbye.

“Say goodbye to Micky, too,” he said, giving me that cold, knowing smile once more.

We returned home with a detour to the local newsagent, where mum and dad treated me to a Sky Ray ice lolly.

Mum and dad are no longer around, but  Action Man and Micky still live with me. No, you can’t hold him.

Micky. He's very old, not scary.

Micky. He’s very old, not scary.

"Action Man, is here" ...  The lyrics to the TV advert

“Action Man, is here” … My very own Action Man.

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Rural Spaceman’s 2016

Blimey. 2016. Who would have thought that one year could cause so much chaos, death, divisiveness and nincompoopery. 12 months of worldwide chaos, fear, destruction and idiocy.

I don’t have to tell you about the number of famous people who have died, many have already been mentioned in earlier blogs, but 2016 started with a corker by claiming David Bowie and made sure our musical morale was completely ground into the dirt with the death of George Michael.

It got so bad it reminded me of my parents watching old films at Christmas, pointing at the TV screen and stating flatly, “He’s dead. She’s dead. I’m not sure about him…”

Courtesy of Chris Barker  @chisthebarker

Courtesy of Chris Barker
@chisthebarker

Then we had the weird referendum our shiny faced prime minister decided to call in June. Allowing the general public to decide whether we would stay part of the European Union or leave, which is a bit like giving a chimpanzee a loaded revolver. Again, I have covered this fully in earlier blogs, so don’t really have to tell you any more about elderly ladies being interviewed on telly, saying how they’d voted leave because ‘it wasn’t their cup of tea’, or rather forceful leave voters explaining how we needed our sovereignty back and to take control of our own laws, whatever that means.

Perhaps things will turn out alright; give it 10 or 15 years, everything will be fine. It’s just the 10 or 15 years I’m worried about.

Travelling to Corfu the day after the referendum was a sad affair; Lady BSM and I have never been so miserable before travelling to a beautiful, sunny island. We tried to claim asylum at the airport, but they just laughed and looked at us with deep sympathy in their eyes. I hid my union jack t shirt and apologised for being British.

But running has taught me that with every uphill struggle, there’s a downhill waiting. The USA came up trumps, literally. The most powerful nation on earth suddenly became stupider than us by voting for an orange hued TV character who hated muslims, Mexicans and women. Like the EU referendum, I retired to my bed confident that common sense would prevail and awoke to a whole new world of mindfuck. Despite all of this, the tune ‘Nelly the Elephant’ echoed around my brain with these alternative words:

“Hillary, elegant, packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus,

Americans voted for Trumpety Trump,

Trump, Trump, Trump!”

Enough.

Travel

Yes, Corfu was lovely, although we travelled to the all inclusive resort, laid on sunbeds for a week and then returned home without looking around Corfu at all. It was too hot.

Barcelona was much more active, giving us the opportunity to travel on open top buses once more, a pastime I hope to continue into old age. Sorrento was the perfect Italian job, where I relaxed my carb free diet, spent a week consuming pizza and Peroni at every opportunity and returned home 8 lbs heavier.

Music

I told Lady BSM it was about time we saw a musician or band who didn’t release an album before 1980, but heck, we’ve seen some good old stuff this year. I fulfilled a childhood dream of seeing Gilbert O’Sullivan, who still has the same hair as he did 40 years ago but disconcertingly has shrivelled underneath this magnificent bouffant, like a well preserved mummy. The tunes were fantastic and I knew all the words.

Interestingly, in a year when so many ‘hard living’ musicians have passed on, Brian Wilson, who now adopts the Ozzy Osbourne technique for perambulation due to his historic proclivity for all things druggie; however he survived I do not know. What I do know is that he is a tremendous musician; seeing him perform the album Pet Sounds in its entirety along with several of the Beach Boys’ other hit songs was a great evening.

I’d officially retired from stadium gigs until the opportunity to see AC/DC came along. A family trip to see a band, who, it turns out, despite all of my music snobbery, are probably the greatest live band of all time, even without their regular lead singer. Again, I knew almost very song and all the words.

As for new albums? The only one that really sticks this year is Black Star by David Bowie. Listening to it on the morning his death was announced was genuinely spine chilling, especially the opening line of Lazarus: ‘Look up here, I’m in Heaven’…

The only other album that comes to mind is HYMNS by Bloc Party, with the great single ‘The Love Within’.

It seems I spent the year in retrospection, with Mott the Hoople, Supertramp and Pink Floyd. It was inevitable, since most of my friends find Brotherhood of Man too musically demanding.

Another act we had the great pleasure in viewing this year was Billy Connolly, now in the grips of Parkinson’s disease and not as mobile as he once was. Even he referred to the drug culture of the sixties and seventies when talking about smoking.

“Remember,” he said, “every cigarette that’s smoked puts an extra day on Keith Richards’ life.”

Cinema

I must admit, I don’t go to the pictures that often. Two events I didn’t go to were the screening of The Italian Job at The Sherborne Cinema in Gloucester, which included a talk by Dick Sheppard, local stuntman and one of the drivers of the minis in the film. The other was I, Daniel Blake, which I have yet to see, although because it’s a Mike Leigh film and ultimately depressing, seems to be a rather odd ambition.

We did get to see The Hateful Eight, an rather quirky, long and brutal film by Quentin Tarantino. I’m ready to see it again.

The other was the new Star Wars film – sorry, I don’t keep up with the titles, but the one that’s the same as the first Star Wars film that wasn’t the first but really the third made in 1977. It has Chewbacca and Hans Solo and Princess Leia played by Carrie Fisher (cue dad saying ‘she’s dead’). We did enjoy it, but, as Lady BSM states so pragmatically, it was alright. Cue death threats from Star Wars fanatics.

Theatre and Dance

The Father, starring Kenneth Cranham, originally a French play about a man suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Disconcerting, chilling and extremely well staged. You decide where reality ends and tricks of the mind take over.

The Red Shoes, Matthew Bourne’s balletic interpretation of the 1945 film was the final cultural outing for the year. As always, where MB is concerned, the whole production was powerful, visually stunning, sensual and emotional. Lady BSM declared it to be the best ballet she has seen to date.

So what will 2017 bring? A  chance to see Danny Baker, one of my heroes, live at Cheltenham Town Hall. We have front row tickets; Roger Hodgson (formerly of Supertramp); Paul Weller, the modfather; Abigail’s Party at The Everyman.

It appears our 1970s affection continues unabated.

Whatever happens, let’s hope that 2017 is a good year. 2016, I’ve never been happier to see the back of a year. Do one.

‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.’

Jo Cox (1974 – 2016)

Dedicated to our good friend Stanley the cat, 2007 – 2016.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-19-43-06

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I Am Not An Object

A short tale about what happened to me whilst out shopping a week before Christmas, when I popped into Marks and Spencer for a few essentials, not shirts or suits, no, I don’t need any more suits and shirts, although there was a rather nice suit on offer… but no. I resisted. This isn’t about clothing, it’s about an intimate encounter. Let me explain.

I’d finished my Christmas shopping, buying some wrapping materials, shiny bows, ribbons and tags, along with a t shirt that was an absolute bargain and wasn’t a shirt or a suit.

As I made my way out of the shop, I was distracted by an array of Christmas gifts on an aisle near the exit doors. As I peered at the rows of games and jigsaw puzzles, I felt something brushing the underside of my left buttock; deliberate, firm and disturbingly pleasant. I started slightly and glanced behind me. There stood a blonde woman, the curls of her hair cascading down from underneath her fur hat, settling onto her fine woollen red coat, her big brown eyes staring at me.

We spent a couple of seconds staring at each other, me trying to process what had just happened. She cocked her head to one side, still considering me. I was completely confounded. What was my next move? Ask her what she thought she was doing? Thank her for her attention, I was very flattered but I am a happily married, middle aged man?

In fact, my next thought was – yes, I am middle aged, I’m not 20 years old, when my attractiveness would justify the attentions of an older woman. But her sheer forwardness had disarmed me. I merely smiled. Head still cocked to one side, she pursed her lips and furrowed her brow briefly – was there a hint of a pout, a slow, luxurious attempt to flirt with me? She was in her mid 40s, I judged. Then she gave a smile of her own, the deep red of her lipstick contrasting her bright, white teeth, before directing her gaze onto some scented candles, her leather gloved hands passing over the glistening cellophane.

I swallowed hard and moved along the aisle, pretending to consider the parping cardboard penguins that were on offer. As I did, I was aware once more of my buttock being stroked, this time more carefully, more deliberate. Oh dear, I thought, how do I get out of this situation? How do I explain a predatory, albeit attractive woman trying to seduce me in Marks and Spencers? I span around this time, to find her a couple of paces behind me. She must have sensed my unease, but I decided not to be impolite. I gave a faint smile once more and lightly shook my head. Gently wagging my finger, I backed away and made my way out of the shop. She watched me leave, that mischievous look of defiance on her face, as if what she had done was the most natural act in the world.

I considered my newly found sexual magnetism as I waited for the lift. As it arrived, I once more felt  my buttocks being tickled. I hardly dare look around. Had my attractive blonde friend followed me? Slowly I turned, and felt a caress once more. I looked down. In the large bag I was carrying, 2 rolls of Christmas wrapping protruded, swaying back and forth. As they did so, they lightly stroked the underside of my bottom…

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Flibberlob

Word pretzels. It’s been a while. For a month I have sat on my laurels and not written a word, as thousands upon thousands (don’t take any notice of those figures on the right hand side of my page) of dedicated followers rent their shirts and cry, “Where is he? Where has he gone? How can he forsake us?’

Well, truth is, like most writers, I just run out of puff. Nothing inspired me. My life memories deserted me. Nothing significant or thought provoking happened in November. Well, besides the presidential election, but nobody was surprised there, were they?

It’s true. Me, the most verbose, opinionated social media junkie had run out of things to say. I’d sit at my keyboard and wait for the words to flow. Nothing. I’d force it and try and write words. I couldn’t even manage that. ‘Start writing!’ I’d tell my brain.

‘Flibberlob’,it said, ‘gamma jujube floobilip.’

I was finished. The chances of writing a gripping 21st century defining novel were about as likely as Donald Trump joining a Tijuana band. What’s more, all the stories of my bewildering life from council estate to edamame bean munching middle class country squire appeared to be told.

But that’s writer’s block for you.

However, one thing my overconfident and conceited self conscious keeps telling me is: writing isn’t a hobby, it’s a compulsion. So there will be more to follow, including my review of 2016, which, following the year we’ve had, would be next to impossible NOT to write.

For now, respect. Me out…

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We are so Sorrento – Rural Spaceman on the Amalfi Coast

 I had the great pleasure to holiday with Lady Barton St Mary in Sorrento, Italy, accompanied by our good friends The Sexton and Pen. Therefore, it was inevitable that I would write my usual informative, insightful and smug blog, showing how well travelled and sophisticated I am. Or, at least, how a rather confused Englishman with no addition language skills blunders his way around a European country trying to avoid making a fool of himself or offending the locals.

Lady BSM, as usual, had organised the entire trip with a frightening efficiency that would put any of those orange faced teenagers pushing buttons on a desktop computer in a travel agents to shame. The only slight worry she had was the quality of the hotel we booked in Naples for the first night before travelling by train the following day to Sorrento, which was described as ‘boutique’.

Indeed, having acquired a taxi amongst the normal Italian organised chaos at Napoli Airport and confirming the agreed €19 fare, we were driven dodgem style into Naples, to the aforementioned lodgings. Which was situated down a very narrow side street, where several characters sat on the side of the road, the lights of Napoli airport radiating out at the end of the road. The taxi driver pointed to a roller shutter door as he unloaded our cases and pocketed his €25 fare. As he disappeared into the distance, we surveyed the roller shutter door, with a very narrow door built into it. I rang the bell marked Hotel Sayonara. A muffled voice answered.

“Hello, we’re staying at your hotel!” I announced, before being reprimanded by Lady BSM. I was unaware of what I’d done wrong, but I think she feels its safer to reprimand me abroad, just in case.

The small door clicked and swung slowly open. The street residents continued to stare at us; the majority of them appeared to be of African origin, in vests and track suit bottoms. One or two other white characters were also present, one with torn trousers revealing a crotch devoid of underwear, walking on the spot.

We crammed our bodies through the narrow doorway, squeezing cases after us. Narrow doorways are a common theme in Italy, we discovered, along with very narrow, small lifts, wooden in construction, like antique telephone booths. They’re ideal for Italian supermodels on a hen do, but not so forgiving when it comes to four well developed English people trying to travel together. By the end of the week, getting in the similar lift at the hotel in Sorrento meant that our bellies touched after all the Italian food.

Walked across the courtyard and looked up at the five storeys above us – similar characters to the ones we’d seen outside stared back. The Hotel Sayanora was on the third floor. The helpful receptionist booked us in and showed us to our room. Here’s a picture:

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea...

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea…

“Do you think it’s a homage to Sponge Bob Squarepants?” I asked Lady BSM. She just stood and stared. As somebody has remarked, I shouldn’t have been taking pictures the bed, rather Lady BSM’s face.

As it turned out, everything was OK, we managed to find a small restaurant up the road and had our first pizza and Peroni of the week. Many more to follow. The following morning, the sun was bright and from the balcony of the hotel, you could see Mount Vesuvius looming nearby, just behind Napoli station. Below, the characters we saw the night before laid out their wares in the street market. Napoli’s answer to the King’s Cross district wasn’t so bad in the daylight.

Naples to Sorrento – Using the railway

The journey from Naples to Sorrento takes about an hour and a half on the romantically sounding Circumvesuviana, because that is what it does – circumvents the brooding volcano to get to the coast. It’s not quite that. It’s packed with passengers and there are 34 stops from Naples to the train’s termination in Sorrento, so standing was compulsory, giving you the opportunity to sample the heady aroma of deodorant (or not) of strap hanging travellers from around the world.

Hang on, where's the buffet car?

Hang on, where’s the buffet car?

Lots of people get out at Pompeii (to follow) and by station 23 we were all seated. To add to the entertainment were the buskers, who would scramble onto the train with saxophones, accordions and a speaker playing a backing track, before demanding spare change for their art. The performances were short, due to the fact that the buskers would hop from carriage to carriage to avoid the ticket inspector before eventually bailing to avoid paying any fare.

Sorrento

We stayed at The Carlton International Hotel in a room with a stunning view, overlooking the ever present Vesuvius (it is a natural photo bomb), the Isle of Capri and Amalfi in the distance. The hotel had a swimming pool, which we all used, especially Pen and I, but it was on the chilly side. I think they had a man out there early in the morning with a net on a long pole fishing out the penguins.

Sorrento was delightful; bustling, busy, pretty and somehow relaxed. This was off season, so I should imagine that peak holiday times are more stressful. Lovely shops and great

All aboard! Try not to peg out before disembarking!

All aboard! Try not to peg out before disembarking!

food. There is a lift down to the harbour and a road train. The demographic of Sorrento holiday makers tended towards the older generation and the train was popular. Hence, we christened it ‘The Grunter Train’.

 

 

 

Positano and Amalfi

We booked the tour bus, joining the rest of the grunters. It was good value and gave you a great view of all the sites as it took the winding, narrow, hilly road to Positano. Positano and Amalfi reminded me of some of those old romantic films starring Sophia Loren or Audrey Hepburn.

Amalfi. 'It looks like you've been cut and pasted on a postcard", said Miss Katherine.

Amalfi. ‘It looks like you’ve been cut and pasted on a postcard”, said Miss Katherine.

Pompeii

Pompeii. This was an ancient car park and shopping centre in AD50.

Pompeii. This was an ancient car park and shopping centre in AD50.

Again, back onto the Circumvesuviana from Sorrento to Pompeii with the other intrepid passengers and buskers. I always thought Pompeii was a few ancient dwellings containing several gruesome plaster cast figures in their death throes. How wrong was I. Pompeii is enormous, magical, thought provoking and takes hours to see. The forum contains some amazing examples of modern art.

There is an amphitheatre that had crowd trouble in AD59 and games were banned there for 10 years. I studied the photographs of the archaeological digs in the early 20th century. Imagining finding a wall with painted adverts from 2000 years ago sent shivers down my spine. Of course, after 5 hours of audio guidance and wondering at the thermopoliums –  ancient fast food joints, which are scattered all over Pompeii – you start to wonder – where are the bodies? The ones they discovered and poured plaster of paris

The victims of Pompeii. The guy on the left sat up as we arrived. Not really.

The victims of Pompeii. The guy on the left sat up as we arrived. Not really.

into the holes to replicate the victims buried remains (genius). We didn’t know, but a rather elderly Italian man with a fake laminated staff badge was happy to show us for ‘a drink’ (€5 approx).

I lost the others for half an hour after discovering the ‘Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii’ exhibition. I spent the rest of the week in my downtime listening to the album on Spotify.

Capri

A jet boat takes you over to the island of Capri, a beautiful island that is or was the holiday destination of choice for lots of Hollywood stars. Everything is smaller to accommodate – tiny buses and cars, trucks and electric buggies. We wanted to visit the Blue Grotto, but unfortunately the weather and tides were against us and it was closed. We had a very nice meal overlooking the sea, where Pen told us about the song ‘The Island of Capri’, which none of us had heard of, but Pen insisted it existed.

There was an Island of Capri...

There was an Island of Capri…

“There was a girl from the Island of Capri,” she crooned, before forgetting the next line. I’m still dubious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food

Is it impossible to dislike Italian food? Usually my diet is very low carbohydrate – no bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, low sugar intake. I decided to forgo this for the week and wasn’t disappointed. Most meals, I ordered pizza and Italian beer. Both are of an astounding quality in almost every establishment. The pasta dishes are simple and very tasty, with discerning and pleasant waiting staff. On one notable occasion, Pen ordered a seafood linguini.

“Can I have some grated parmesan, please?” she politely requested.

The waiter gave her a steady stare.

“No,” he said, straight faced, ‘you a have a seafood linguini, you have a no cheese on a dis.”

She laughed, thinking he was teasing. He wasn’t. Sprinkling parmesan onto my bolognese, he strode away, still looking at poor cheese less Pen.

We had one historic night in a taverna with tapas – lots of olives, cheese, meat – watching a very entertaining guitarist. We were the only ones in the taverna for an hour or so, but it gradually filled up with more English and American diners. The evening must have been entertaining, as the Peroni beers kept coming, along with the wine and the inevitable limoncello. Everywhere you go along the Amalfi coast, you will encounter lemon based products.Whole shops selling lemon everything, except real lemons.

Limoncello – a vodka based lemon drink- is compulsory at most eateries. It’s not my drink of choice, but I bravely carried on that night.

The drinks bill came to €85 and we made our way onto the narrow streets of Sorrento.

Parma Violet ice cream. It was so nice I eat loads before taking the photo.

Parma Violet ice cream. It was so nice I ate loads before taking the photo.

Where we discovered another Italian highlight – gelato. Ice cream. Even at 11pm, ice cream can be ace, like an Italian version of a doner kebab. There’s a myriad of flavours, too. I was hoping for liquorice, but instead made another wonderful discovery – parma violet ice cream. I was in gelato heaven.

Napoli Museum of Archeology

On our final day, we returned to Napoli and visited this museum. You see, most of the beautiful stuff from Pompeii is housed here. Statues, frescoes, mosaics and artefacts. It’s an amazing place. Another of those venues that make you gaze into the middle distance and whisper, ‘gosh’.

There is also a secret room containing the best of Pompeii’s porno collection. By the time we entered the secret room, two rather flustered teachers from France were trying to extract their bemused and giggling pupils. It’s nice to know that other Europeans share our humour for tits, bums and willies. Apparently, the best way to dispel evil spirits was to display either a model or drawing of a penis and

Pen appreciates the artwork of these ancient pots and wonders at the flexibility of ancient Pompeii residents.

The Secret Room – Pen appreciates the artwork of these ancient pots and wonders at the flexibility of ancient Pompeii residents.

testicles on your building. Very impressive they were, too, although I think it may take time to catch on in the UK. I should imagine the WI would take a dim view of somebody hanging a huge wanger on the entrance to the village hall.

As we sat together in the airport, waiting for the flight home, we discussed the things we hadn’t done. We hadn’t been to Herculaneum, allegedly just as impressive as Pompeii; the ‘Walk of the Gods’, a 7km hike along the cliffs of Amalfi; eaten more pizza, drank more Peroni, sampled more Limoncello. We’d have to come back, despite The Sexton’s fears of Vesuvius erupting at any moment.

I researched the song, ‘The Island of Capri’. Sorry Pen, for doubting you.

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Rural Spaceman’s Status Quo

I was listening to Danny Baker interview Francis Rossi on a podcast, when Danny asked Francis about Rick Parfitt. Francis made it quite clear that it was very unlikely that Rick would ever perform with the Quo again. The latest news from the BBC confirms this, saying it’s due to Rick’s heart problems; rather candidly, Rossi hinted at memory loss being Rick’s issue.

Which made me think of the time I met Rick Parfitt. I had stopped at the local petrol station to refuel. As I filled my car, I noticed a Rolls Royce ease into the space opposite me, with the giveaway registration of RP1.

Having finished, I headed toward the kiosk, aware of a flash of blonde hair to my right. As I reached the door, the famous guitarist was just behind me. Opening the door, I looked behind me, as Rick approached, limping. Our eyes met.

“My, the rock and roll years have taken their toll, haven’t they?” I commented.

Rick gave me a steady stare for a couple of seconds.

“You cheeky bastard. I fell off me ‘orse,” he explained, before giving me a broad grin and limping through the open doorway.

Which is why everybody should love Status Quo.

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