Christmas comes but once a year


Blogdaughter is always prepared to hang out with her parents if there’s stuff on offer, and this Yuletide (if Trump claims to have relaunched the word Christmas, that seems enough reason to use another one) has been no different.

We headed for the Shuttle on 20 December, en route for Belgium (who needs the Caribbean in midwinter when there’s Flanders mud on your doorstep?) I’m always puzzled that emails can reach me overseas, or indeed under the sea – but, then, driving through the Mersey Tunnel when younger, I was unfailingly surprised that my music cassettes could still be heard even if the car wireless, and Sports Report, couldn’t.

We bought a “GB with EU stars” bumper sticker at the Folkestone Shuttle terminal to demonstrate in a post-Brexit future that it wasn’t our fault.

Alongside the minor drawbacks of Brexit  – national impoverishment, the falling pound, loss of export markets, acute labour shortages in the building and farming sectors, reduced ability to attract foreign students and funding to universities, reduced employment rights, social upheaval, more overt racism, reduced environmental and food hygiene protections, an NHS starved of staff and a sufficient taxpaying population of working age to support it — we can at least look forward, hallelujah, to the triumphant return of the good old blue passport.

A passport is of course the ultimate product of the sublimation of national aspirations in favour of co-operation. The basic requirement of a passport is that it should meet the demands of the nations to which one wishes to travel. The UK, and every other nation, can devise whatever passport it wants but if its contents and standards don’t meet the security and other requirements of, say, the USA or countries of mainland Europe, you ain’t going anywhere even if you can still afford to. But you will have a nice souvenir of Empire to look at on your mantelpiece alongside a bottle of Camp coffee and a copy of the Just So Stories.

That those intellectual giants of the Leave movement, Johnson, Farage, Rees-Mogg and IDS, have trumpeted the return of the blue passport as something to celebrate tells you all you need to know. Provided it still contains all the requirements laid down by the EU there may be little to worry about but that won’t stop many of us from buying an “EU coloured” cover for our passport to reduce the acute sense of embarrassment that we now belong to a nation that, while once regarded as reasonably grown up, is now viewed by our European friends and neighbours with a mixture of amusement, bemusement and pity.

What better way to celebrate man’s love for his fellow man at this festive time of year (sorry, person’s love for his/her fellow person) than attending, as we did, the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Because nothing says Christmas quite like the half million casualties at Passchendaele.

Blogdaughter has never entirely forgiven me for the “Holiday of Death” in the north east of the USA which the family so enjoyed a few years back. Personally I thought it was really interesting as well as educational to visit the Arlington cemetery with the Kennedy memorials, Ford’s Theatre in Washington where Abraham Lincoln was shot, the Peterson house across the street where he died, the Iwo Jima monument, the Vietnam War memorial wall, the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial… But I digress.

After one night in Ypres, to Bruges via a really, really big Commonwealth war cemetery at Tynecot. We visited Bruges last year at this time for the seasonal (another synonym for Christmas?) market and were very happy to repeat the experience, complete with horse-drawn carriage ride, canal boat trip, ice rink and way too much Gluhwein and street food. Nothing touristy about Family Blog.

One treat which I’d missed out on last year but was delighted to discover this time was Bruges’ Frietmuseum, “the first and only museum dedicated to potato fries”. What’s not to like?

The potato, we learn, was first domesticated near Lake Titicaca in Peru. Which leads one to assume that, until then, it had enjoyed the freedom to roam the Andes, no doubt searching for a welcoming salt pan or vinegar cascade (Sarson stones?)

The popular root vegetable’s progress from uninviting Peruvian tuber to global success story was not without its challenges. In 1597 a certain John Gerard denounced this economic migrant from the Americas as “provoking debauchery” – which, as anyone in a British city centre around Saturday midnight can confirm, isn’t a bad summation — a conclusion supported by Shakespeare, no less, in Merry Wives, who also refers to the humble spud’s aphrodisiac qualities.

I can speak with the authority of one who has carefully studied the display panels of the Frietmuseum in telling you that “French Fries” first appeared under that nomenclature during WW1 (which is never far from this narrative) when French speaking Belgian squaddies offered them to GIs – the Americans no doubt under the impression that, with the exception of the Germans who were something of a special case, one European nationality was much like another.

The Belgian Union of Potato Fryers (I wonder if I could have joined that one in the 1970s instead of NALGO) awards medals each year on National Belgian Fryers Day (should we have gained another bank holiday for this?) Deserving cases might be eligible for a Silver Cross after 15 years while, after 25 years, one might be designated Knight for “Outstanding service to the sector and the identity of the Belgian Fries Culture”. Even more elevated status is afforded to an Officer of the Union and – the ultimate recognition – Grand Officer (“For invaluable contribution to the defence of potato frying”).

Back home to Sussex in good time to prepare for Santa’s visit but, as ever, too excited to sleep for fear of waking to find that the bearded, white haired, overweight chap padding to the loo in the middle of the night wasn’t, in fact, me.

Mrs Blog and I, knowing one another’s interests too well, proved to have bought each other a copy of “You Can’t Spell America without ME”, Alec Baldwin’s tribute to Donald J Trump. But otherwise I think we did ok. Fortunately, most of the presents that I had bought for Mrs B – books, restaurant vouchers, designer chocolates – proved to be suitable for sharing with me. And the person who gave me the suffragette coasters and the tea towel carrying a likeness of Sylvia Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline, sister of Christabel) and an extract from one of her speeches could clearly see into the future. Sylvia’s words “a society where there are no rich or poor” and “everyone will have enough” are clearly aimed at a world which still lies just out of sight around the corner.

So far so good.

Life took an unwarranted and unexpected turn just before New Year when this blog was delivered cold and unconscious and with a barely discernible heart beat to the main Brighton hospital. It seems that either I was whacked on the back of the head by a family member or neighbour after a more than usually competitive game of post-prandial Monopoly or experienced some dramatic form of “ticker” malfunction. (I missed all the excitement at the time and must rely on witness statements and bloodstain splatter analysis – a lifeskill acquired from years of watching subtitled crime drama on telly). But at least the nature of my injuries blended in well with the other Saturday night regulars in A&E.

How much we all owe to the NHS and its underresourced heroes and heroines, and how easy it is for politicians to damage it without even trying. If government were to shift its priority from seeking to create profits out of the NHS for shareholders to the provision of healthcare, there may still be hope.

Enough. I’m home now under the TLC of Mrs Blog and kitted out with a pacemaker which will add to my nuisance value at Gatwick’s security gates.

2018 will no doubt bring its own unique challenges and opportunities. Blog family are ready. I have a book to publish. Bring it on!



Up the Creek with a Paddle Steamer


Mrs Blog’s grandfather, with help from a lot of other people, built ships on the River Clyde. He was a riveter on the Queen Mary (the 1930s art deco version, currently doing time with no remission as a heritage experience in California). I know this because Blogfamily spent some hours a few years ago on board the beached liner searching for Grandad’s rivets.

When Mrs Blog informed me this year that her mum had, when young, worked on the Waverley, the last seagoing paddle steamer, I was naturally keen to hunt down her rivets in search of any inherited family “style”. This turned out to be a misunderstanding: Mrs Blogmum had indeed worked on the Waverley “doon the watter” but as a waitress.

That was good enough for me and this month, after a pleasant meal the previous evening with Blogdaughter at the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, saw the two of us boarding the Waverley for a day’s excursion on the Thames estuary.

While Mrs Blog has, in what she refers to as early middle age, taken something of a shine to cruising, she likes to see her ships furnished with stabilisers or whatever it is that reduces her propensity to share her lunch with the sea and the gulls. Hence the Thames for our excursion rather than, say, the storm-tossed Outer Hebrides.

This notwithstanding, Mrs B was clutching a double dose of Stugeron as we boarded at Tower Pier and I could only hope that she would be less than fully comatose for the day. Her four extra layers of clothing provided reassurance that – in the event of the captain inadvertently taking us into Arctic waters – she, for one, would survive any recourse to the life rafts.

Finding there was nobody to transfer our bags to our cabin – indeed, no cabin – we started to plan our day and looked forward to joining the captain at his table for a black-tie dinner, no doubt after an exhausting day at the onboard casino and art auction. Unlike our last shipboard experience, we received no drill to guide our response to attacks by Somali pirates. We could only assume that the captain’s laissez faire approach to security wouldn’t come back to bite us.

The day got off to a gorgeously sunny start with a full complement of passengers jostling for the best viewpoints as we passed under Tower Bridge, gazing up at the people who gazed down at us through the bridge’s glass bottomed walkway.

An excellent commentary as we passed downstream, taking in familiar parts of the city from an unfamiliar angle – Greenwich, the O2, the Emirates Airway —  was only marginally impacted by one group of passengers totally occupied in sharing their latest, fascinating office gossip at a full shout with no apparent interest in their surroundings.

Being obsessively and nerdishly geographical by birth and nurture I needed to follow our journey with the aid of a map – a real one, not a pretend one on a screen. This meant I had been faced with an awful dilemma. The best map I could find which would cover the whole journey was my national road atlas, cost £2.99 in 2008. For me to tear the two relevant pages from the atlas to take with me caused the kind of pain that only a fellow sufferer can understand.

We passed Tilbury docks on our left (I’m still learning to say “port”) side. It wasn’t possible to establish just where Queen Elizabeth 1 (not the ship) had made her “body of a weak and feeble woman” speech to the assembled troops in 1588 during one of our periodic tiffs with mainland Europe. One must assume that she perched on a stack of steel containers for maximum effect and to avoid any prankster handing her a P45.

We parked, if that’s the correct term, at the very end of Southend pier. This blog has long been a fan of piers – devised of course so that the English might feel they could safely put to sea without the unwelcome prospect of encountering the French. Piers are designed so they can be readily torched when the owner has brought the insurance up to date and is short of ready cash. Fires have occurred several times in Southend pier’s history but inconclusively, and it still stands today as the longest pleasure pier in the world.

The moving parts of the Waverley are clearly on display, both internal and external, and one doesn’t need to be into Meccano or car maintenance to appreciate the simple majesty and beauty of the wheels and pistons in motion.

It transpired that this jewel of Scottish engineering is the mark 2 version of the Waverley built in 1946, the original having been sunk by enemy action off Dunkirk in 1940 while evacuating troops.

While constantly and lovingly maintained in working order, unfortunately our Waverley experienced a minor boiler problem and suffered delay at Southend sufficient to mean that our intended hour ashore at Whitstable was cancelled.  Our planned “teacakes with strawberry jam and oysters” treat must await another day.

As our trip was to be almost the Waverley’s final journey of 2017, the crew were keen to urge our attendance at the onboard shop to seize the opportunity to buy overpriced wine gums, repackaged in a tiny Waverley plastic bag. We bought Waverley branded chocolate oranges “as Christmas presents for Scottish relatives”, then ate them.

The captain sounded Scottish and reassuring, the east European crew and catering staff were attentive and efficient, Sunday roast was excellent, Mrs Blog held hers down and a sluggish afternoon’s cruise back up the river was enlivened as night fell and the lights came up romantically on the Dartford crossing, the Thames barrage and Canary Wharf.

Mrs B felt that the toilets could usefully have been brought forward into the second half of the 20th century, especially with the sound of all that running water bringing its own issues. “Caite bheil an taigh beag?” as she put it so succinctly.


 The Waverley in her natural habitat



“Forever for Everyone” says the National Trust


Visiting posh houses on Sunday afternoon was what we did when I was little, along with castles and ruined abbeys. Seeing where the monks sat in a line to move their bowels was great if you were a child but I never really got into all that furniture and porcelain. And you always saw it from behind a rope – no fun at all. In later years I didn’t take my own family to National Trust places very often as we had a dog that needed a lot of exercise so we spent any free time at weekends meeting her needs – and she wasn’t really into porcelain in a big way either. Only when the old Labrador died and our day jobs tapered down a bit did we get round to joining the Trust as members: this is what I guess the marketing people would call the “dead dog” marketing segment.

Two “fascinating facts” from the Trust’s website which I’m happy to share. Over 43% of the rainwater in England and Wales drains through a NT property, but fortunately not always the same one. And gravity was invented by Isaac Newton in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1665 on what is now NT land.

Never one for half measures, as soon as I became a member of the Trust, I signed up with them as a volunteer — to serve on a committee on the grounds that you can never have enough committee meetings. I’m pleased to see that my recollection of old houses of the rich being saved for the nearly rich to savour is no longer the be all and end all of the Trust’s mission.

The name of Octavia Hill comes up on a regular basis as one of the Trust’s founders back in 1895. (Not enough people are christened Octavia these days, if you ask me.) As concise tributes go, it would be difficult to improve on these words from the website of her birthplace museum in Wisbech: “Octavia Hill (1838-1912) was a woman ahead of her time. An artist and a radical, she was a pioneer of affordable housing and can be seen as the founder of modern social work.” Which isn’t a bad way to be remembered.

This was not a woman, I’m inclined to think, who would have wanted me to peer at boring old porcelain from long range as some form of punishment for not eating up my peas at Sunday lunch. This was someone who clearly wanted me to have a good time, climbing trees, poking about in Victorian kitchens and dressing up as an undertaker’s mute. Now that’s worth conserving stuff for.

If you’re passing nearby, as Mrs Blog and I did recently, do visit Wisbech and the Octavia Hill house. You can’t but feel in awe of someone who broke free of the shackles traditionally imposed on Victorian women and made a difference.

From Wisbech to King’s Lynn and more fine buildings than you can shake a conservation area management plan at.  Very proud to display its Hanseatic League history, and with so many of its regeneration schemes financially supported by the European Regional Development Fund, the area voted heavily to Leave in the EU referendum….

And so to York where Mrs B has fellow clan members.

The Jorvik centre, interpreting the city’s Viking history through a Disney style ride, has reopened after severe flooding. Apparently these be-horned invaders were into mindfulness and just wanted to be left alone with their embroidery and tofu. Who knew?

I felt a profound bitterness at my parents that they hadn’t been able to bestow on their offspring a decent moniker like Mum and Dad Bloodaxe were able to pass on to their little Eric. Now that’s the kind of name badge you’d fancy picking up at a conference before heading for the twiglets.

There was still time to take in (again) the National Railway Museum. Awesome! But I’m reminded of the tendency for history to big up the achievements of those who write it. As a child I was taught that, along with killing or enslaving natives to make them (a) Christian, and (b) civilized, we could take pride that, in Mallard, we broke – and indeed still hold – the world speed record for a steam train. It’s only later that you discover that the record speed of 126 mph was attained for one second at which point the “big end” overheated and Mallard had to limp to Peterborough for repairs. But hey…

En route home from York we diverted to Isaac Newton’s old pad handily placed for the A1, or Great North Cart Track as old Isaac probably knew it. They still have the apple tree or, at least, its direct descendants so you can see if it still works. The kindly National Trust volunteer asked us if we had any questions to which Mrs Blog, not unreasonably, replied, “Does it work for cooking apples too?”  Bless.


Famous for being a bit rubbish

Reputations can be hard to establish. You don’t get to be the UK’s worst post-war PM like Theresa May (oh, ok, second worst) without a lot of determination. But other reputations  are acquired with ease. Eddie the Eagle became famous for ski-jumping without bothering to be good at it. The swimmer Eric Moussambani Malonga (“The Eel”) of Equatorial Guinea reached new heights (depths?) at the 2000 Olympics by completing his 100 metre freestyle heat in just shy of two minutes, or roughly a minute slower than anything other than Gondwanaland had managed before him.

It occurs to me that there are plenty of individuals and organisations out there whose reputations for particular products or performances are based on equally flimsy porridge. You will have your own list; this is mine.

Agatha Christie: may have been jolly good at, I don’t know, arm-wrestling or disappearing acts, but, Agatha, stay away from crime fiction. All that last chapter stuff when you produce brand new characters and scenarios out of the hat that we’ve never heard of to explain the inexplicable, come on! It’s like watching every episode of Death in Paradise, again and again and again…

Lynda La Plante: stick with the TV screenplays, Lynda, cos the books are clunky beyond belief. Like trying to read a Jeffrey Archer.

Starbucks: give up on the coffee – it’s just not you. Seriously, have you ever had a decent cup of coffee in a Starbucks?

Pret a Manger: ok provided you’re not looking for a sandwich. How can they be that dull? Fillings are supposed to be tasty for goodness’ sake.

Hershey: I have met people who claim they can eat Hershey bars but no non-Americans. How can they get chocolate so wrong?

Humous/hummus/hommous: no other words are needed.

Australians: sport? Really? Other than cricket, which?

Joe Allen: give up on the football, Joe. Try something you have an aptitude for. I could choose plenty of examples for this one – you’re just unlucky, Joe. Or a special case.

Boris Johnson: famous for what? Political acumen? Humour? Being an approximation of a trustworthy, half-decent human being? Nope, on all counts.

Virgin Holidays: hit the top of my “put them on hold, play them hugely irritating, ‘jolly holiday’ sounds for hours on end but, whatever you do, don’t answer the phone” list every time. “Your call is important to us – but not important enough for us to employ anybody to talk to you.” Customer care? Oh pleeeeze….

The Lord of the Rings films: Give me strength. Need a wee during the film? No need to press “pause”, you’ll miss nothing. They’ll be doing one of two things: marching across some landscape or it’ll be another fight to the death between people and things it’s impossible to care about. When you come back there’ll be some more marches and plenty more pointless scraps. Only the addition of a car chase could make it worse. If they feature the special effects in the trailers, you know it’ll be rubbish.

The King’s Singers: there used to be the Flying Pickets and a cappella singing was – briefly – fun. But sadly there’s also the King’s Singers, like dragging your finger nails down a blackboard.

Omid Djalili: the world’s unfunniest man in an admittedly crowded field? (Donald Trump has his own edgy “high risk” category). I’ve caught this bloke on numerous occasions on TV or radio and I always hope that humour will be along any minute. But it never happens. Is he a spoof?

The Nou Camp, Barcelona: it’s supposed to have “atmosphere”. I’ve been, for a vital, end of season Spanish championship decider. Trust me on this, it doesn’t. Unless you’re easily impressed by sweet unwrapping noises in a cinema and polite applause. If they built a roof it might help them.

White supremacists: if they’re so superior, how come they never win anything?

UK: once famous for showing the world how to do democracy. Now it’s too complicated for us and we’ve given up the pretence. Just leave us alone….


Apologies for the temporary absence of illustrations from this blog. There may well be a reason for this. Normal service will be resumed shortly.





The Play’s the Thing


Mrs Blog and I like to take in the occasional play. Nothing too challenging, mind. We don’t do thought provoking. Or, heaven forbid, contemporary. More, a nice bit of Shakespeare or something with a few tunes. We like to write it on the calendar in the kitchen so that visitors think we have a social life. (We fill out the calendar with “recycle”, which happens on alternate Thursdays, our dates with the men who come round to fix things that they should have sorted last time, and reminders of neighbours’ holidays so we know when we have to feed their cats.)

September’s looking quite busy already…

But looking back through the July entries reminds me that recent planned “encounters with thespians” have not been working out well.

A fixture in these parts is the annual tour by the Rude Mechanicals. Eastbourne based and loosely described as commedia dell’arte, the Rudes produce a clever, funny new play each year and perform it in the grounds of stately homes, in parks and on village greens across the south east. They were founded in 1999 and Family Blog has seen about 15 of their plays. But not when it rains. When it rains the actors’ white facepaint runs and you remember why you’ve thought about retiring to Spain.

This year we booked with friends to see the Rudes perform The Commercial Traveller in Lewes. It rained. The company acted decisively a mite too quickly, took the decision at 4 pm to cancel the evening performance and watched it turn out fine and dry. We transferred our booking to a performance in Alfriston, a village nearby, taking place tonight. Today it has poured all day. Mr Mechanical himself – it’s all excellent, personally tailored customer care – has just phoned (you don’t get Cameron Mackintosh doing that) to tell me it’s off again. We’ve rebooked for the last evening of the summer run in another village in Sussex. Fingers crossed, and where is that Spanish property brochure….

Why would you want to see an outdoor performance anywhere else?

Family Blog have been Friends of Shakespeare’s Globe for almost the twenty years it’s been open. (I’m sure our friendship is appreciated but he’s written nothing of real merit since we joined.) Twenty years ago we bought cheap tickets and stood in the pit. Now we book seats under cover – at least, twelve inches or so of unyielding wood – and watch the groundlings get wet. In July we had seven tickets for a Saturday evening performance with friends and neighbours but both Mrs Blog and I went down with something nasty and were obliged to bail. I wouldn’t have minded if there had been some decent murdering on TV. But “talent” shows? Give me strength.

Longer term (longsuffering?) followers of this blog will know that it is also a big fan of Mikron Theatre Company who tour plays of social and economic verite around the canals and rivers of England and, less romantically, along the M62 corridor. Mrs Blog and I travelled far to the north – to a marina near Oxford – last summer to see them perform Pure: the Business of Chocolate with a storyline embracing Quakerism, overbearing industrialists, aggressive marketing, a tightfisted landlord and the deserving poor over two different time periods. This year we booked to see In at the Deep End: An RNLI Story which promises tales of “choppy emotional waters”, uncompromising management, “eccentric fundraising” and, no doubt, some deserving poor. We arranged to see it at the lifeboat station in Selsey, along the coast in West Sussex, on our way home from the Oxford area where we were to visit old colleagues of mine, with Mrs Blog’s fellow clan member from our northerly territories also joining us.

It was a highly successful trip – in an “apart from that Mrs Lincoln, did you enjoy the play” kind of way. After a jolly wander round the Oxford colleges and DCI Morse’s favourite hostelries and blood spatter scenes (I spent three years there at uni and discovered hardly any corpses, though perhaps I wasn’t up and about early enough), we were royally dined by our chums in their splendid garden running along the Kennet and Avon Canal. Unfortunately, at the point when dusk’s tentacles (tendrils? dark bits?) began to stretch across the garden and we gathered up the debris in order to continue being witty and enchanting indoors, Blogcousin tripped badly on the decking and impaled herself on a shattered jug of Pimms.

This proved to be both more and less worrying than it might appear. On the one hand she lost serious quantities of blood and was taken swiftly by ambulance to A&E in Reading; on the other, there was plenty of Pimms in another jug.

We were booked for three nights in the Travelodge at Reading Services — westbound. (No, seriously, we’re OK with that.) The patient was staying in hospital overnight and at around 2.30 a.m. Mrs Blog and I returned to the service station which we shared only with a chapter of Hells Angels from Wales and one young man from eastern Europe serving coffee.

The next day was an odd one for all concerned. While Blogcousin lay in hospital recovering from surgery (careful removal of cucumber, fruit and sprigs of mint) and  our hosts reported unusually erratic behaviour amongst (no doubt alcohol fuelled) hedgehogs while they were working to remove all traces of the previous night’s incident from the decking. We all had plenty of the victim’s blood and DNA on our clothing and might reasonably be considered suspects.

With cousin laid up it would have seemed highly inappropriate for us to head off to some local National Trust property, funfair or pleasure dome and we needed to be nearby for hospital visiting and potential discharge purposes. Happily our hotel of choice lay delightfully handy for the facilities of a full-blown service station – with all the culinary charm and comforts which that conveys.

We took breakfast there. We wandered about, admired the array of confectionary, remaindered CDs and extensive selection of bottled tap water in WH Smiths; we people watched, studied the news of traffic holdups on the overhead screens (strangely, dated several weeks earlier) and discussed which outlet deserved our custom next. After a long drawn-out lunch we set off again round the “food” court, Mrs Blog looked at some phone accessories (I preferred the out of date traffic news) and we wondered why there are so few attractive people hanging out in service stations these days. Have those glamour days gone for ever?

After visiting the hospital we were keen to get back to our by now favourite seats in the service station to check how the hold up on the M5 near Bristol in June had resolved itself. At this point I started to worry that CCTV might have picked up on the sight of this peculiar couple and their idea of a cheap pensioners’ day out. Indeed, when cleaning staff started to greet us like old friends, I began to see myself as Viktor Navorski (think Tom Hanks in The Terminal), trapped forever in a daily round of the West Cornwall Pasty Company, Greggs and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

A further visit to the hospital confirmed that the patient would be enjoying another night of institutional catering and we went back to the service station for dinner. And, a bit later, supper. And breakfast the next morning. Then elevenses.

At which point we received the all-clear to collect Blogcousin and head northwards to deliver her into the arms of fellow clan members.

Which has been a roundabout way of telling you that we didn’t make Selsey lifeboat station for the play about the RNLI so I can’t confirm that it features any deserving poor. But it’s a decent bet.









Two wrongs don’t make a summer


Strong and stable, my nether regions. That’s two huge miscalculations by Tory Prime Ministers whose sole aim was to benefit the party and retain power. In Teresa May’s case, of course, the “worst manifesto in living memory” (and that from her friends in the party) and the idea of basing an election campaign on her personality when she clearly doesn’t possess one and had to be hidden from the press, the public and, basically, the world, was guaranteed to fail. But none of that compares with the folly and incompetence of David Cameron for adopting a core policy of blaming the EU for his government’s failings, calling a referendum on our membership and being taken by surprise when he found that many people had believed him.

With a year having passed since the referendum, no potential benefits having yet been identified and the huge costs – financial, social and environmental – becoming increasingly clear, it’s not surprising that those supporting Brexit are reducing by the day.  Nevertheless my social media space is regularly invaded by an ever diminishing band of hardcore Leave voters claiming victory, as if claiming the accolade of “chief lemming” were a great line for one’s CV.

And yet. Because our two biggest political parties fear a voter and tabloid backlash if they were to act in the interests of the nation and terminate the absurd Brexit process, we press on into the mire with our friends in Europe and across the world shaking their heads and wondering how a once moderately respected and influential country could shoot itself so determinedly in the foot.  At the time of writing the government’s plan appears to be to spend many billions of pounds, firstly on a divorce settlement and thereafter on a trade agreement with the EU on significantly worse terms than the present one while – of necessity — allowing for little change in immigration levels, and, as a non-member of the club, with no ability to influence any future EU policy. After two years of “negotiation” a “deal” will no doubt be presented to satisfy the Leave vote and pretend that something has been accomplished, as is the way with these things. To be in serious competition with the US as global laughing stock does us no favours.

At a recent public debate which I attended in my own town involving local politicians of the significant parties (I choose my words advisedly – UKIP weren’t there) the speakers were invited, having had at least a year to think about it, to indicate what, if any, benefits might flow from Brexit.  After musing on the opportunities which would now surely open up for us to work with China to improve their human rights record, the chief merit identified by our sitting MP – herself a self-confessed Leave voter and therefore at odds with her own constituency — was that the anomaly of French nurses having priority for jobs in our NHS over, say, Philippinos would be ended. Eh? Say again? At least that worrying problem seems to have been solved: in the light of the referendum result the NHS has seen a 96% fall in job applications from nurses overseas. Result! The fact that our MP is herself a nurse I throw into the pot to assist your understanding…

One hopes even at this stage that politicians might display statesmanship and either act directly against Brexit or at least ask the nation if this lunacy is what they actually want. The wellbeing of the UK matters far more than party unity and our younger citizens will not forgive us for treating their future with such disdain. Politicians who allow this absurdity to proceed will have it on their conscience for many years to come. The rest of us won’t forget. Never in my lifetime have the prospects of the nation seemed so bleak. And I’m someone who can remember Lynsey de Paul in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Two constructive themes did however emerge from the general election. The nauseating and preposterous garbage which has been the stock in trade of waste paper producers like the Express, Mail and Sun for so long appears to have had its day and seems to have influence on nobody below the age of 50.

At last, a respectable use for the Daily Mail

And, very sadly, it has taken the Grenfell Tower atrocity to highlight that there is nothing inherently beneficial about cutting taxes, local authority budgets and regulatory standards.

Also in a more positive vein – though not a jolly one – was the news last week that there will be criminal prosecutions arising from the 1989 Hillsborough stadium atrocity (apologies for reusing this word from the previous paragraph but words like “disaster” may suggest just an unfortunate accident or freak of nature).

Personally I’ve always felt more anger about the malicious, organised and sustained cover up by the police and others that followed Hillsborough than the fatal mistakes and incompetence of the authorities on the day. Justice has been too long in the coming but we seem to be getting there.

But in Brighton the sun has been shining, and not just because an excellent young man and good family friend has been elected as one of the city’s MPs. Go Lloyd!

Mrs Blog and I, on our current (modest) exercise kick, took a five mile stroll along the city’s seafront at the weekend, taking in the ambitious programme of regeneration and renovation, an excellent bacon and egg roll and a mint’n’choc chip ice-cream. Mrs B also liberated from the beach, without the benefit of planning permission, several nicely rounded pebbles. These are key elements in the continuing struggle to defend her birdfeeders against the predations of squirrels. The pebbles, you should understand, are not intended to be launched at said grey rodents, either manually or through the mechanism of tripwire and crossbow, but are to be lowered into place on top of the seeds in the feeders to prevent the grey b*st*rds going headfirst down the tubes, from which one has already had to be rescued. The adorable little chaps are nothing if not determined and resourceful but Mrs B is their intellectual equal and they provoke her at their peril. Marguerite Patten is silent on squirrel recipes but hey….

The sun has also brought ‘em out a mile or two along the coast in Saltdean – to be precise, to the newly reopened Grade 2* listed, 1938 lido close to the seafront. Having closed and reopened more than once before, let us hope that the present incarnation will prosper. The specially constituted charitable body that acquired the lido on a lease from Brighton and Hove City Council has worked its socks off, secured millions of pounds from the National Lottery and other sources, reopened the two heated pools to great acclaim in June and is still pursuing grant applications to enable the full restoration of the gorgeous Art Deco buildings next year. Brilliant people, brilliant project.

Talking of restoration (see what I did there?), Blogdaughter and I paid a visit in June to another Grade 2* listed treasure — Wilton’s, just east of the Tower of London, the world’s oldest surviving music hall, evolving over the years from Victorian sailors’ pub to music hall, from Methodist mission to rag warehouse. Reopening – and not for the first time – in 2015 as a multi-arts performance venue, Wilton’s is, like Saltdean lido, a jewel, saved and adapted by devoted volunteers.

This Blog waited to visit Wilton’s until it was scheduled to host an event of particular interest to him – in this case, a Tom Lehrer tribute act. For those unfamiliar with his oeuvre in the 1950s and 60s, Lehrer – a professor of Maths at Harvard – wrote and performed at the piano such evergreen gems as “Fight Fiercely, Harvard”, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, “The Old Dope Peddler”, “We’ll all go together when we go”, “Masochism Tango” and the immortal listing of the periodic table to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” known as “The Elements”. Lehrer said of his musical career, “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

So, Blogdaughter and I arrived early to take in the ambience, appreciate the history, the beautifully conserved architectural features and a leisurely drink in the bar and eagerly await the “turn” in our front row seats in the gallery.

Shame about the acoustics that evening but, as most of us could have sung the words in our sleep, little matter – I think it was a one-off issue involving something technical with amplifiers and cooling fans. Don’t let it put you off the venue. You can, and indeed should, buy the Tom Lehrer CDs. In your car they let you sit right at the front and the only one singing along annoyingly will be you.

Tom Lehrer is, as they say in Private Eye, 89.




When you walk through a storm


As the pound continues to fall, food prices and the cost of holidays rise, businesses switch their investment to mainland Europe, the universities struggle to attract foreign students and the NHS, farming, construction and hospitality industries highlight their growing labour shortages, and the Leave EU voters mutter, “Nothing to do with us”, this Blog has sought diversion in harmless pleasures while awaiting the next Tory party inspired crisis known as the general election.

Owing plenty not only to the NHS but also the charities that keep it afloat, this Blog and Mrs Blog, and, in the past, both Blogdaughter and Blogdog, set out each May in the sponsored Brighton Heart Support Trust stroll along the seafront. I think this is aimed in part at showing bystanders that bionic “body parts scroungers” can still put one foot in front of another, and perhaps also at convincing us survivors of the same thing.

This Blog has made full use of the NHS over the years

The weather usually looks kindly on our walk, it provides more opportunity to enjoy the city than when you’re trying to park, and it offers unlimited prospects of bacon butties and donuts on the pier.


Displaying great self-discipline, we restrict ourselves to just one sandwich each….

….so we can afford to be a little more self-indulgent at the donut stall.

Mrs Blog and I, both being semi-retired, have taken to walking on the South Downs and  visiting National Trust properties, shops or tearooms during midweek with the result that the world seems full of old people. I suppose they have to be somewhere but they do seem to take a long time to choose a cake.

Midweek matinee fun

On the other hand, we find that children are also best avoided. The housing estate where we live (Mrs B doesn’t like me using that word — I think she has middle class aspirations) has organised a Street Party one Sunday in June. Now, we’re British and, despite recent security warnings, not easily frightened, at least not until the threat level hits “Replacement Bus Service” or “Street Party”. We have accordingly Googled, “HELP! Where else can we be on 11 June??” and will be attending the annual memorial service at the Chattri.

Our cul de sac always overdoes it with these things. This was to celebrate the completion of the draft neighbourhood plan

As it happens, this is a favourite walk destination for us and we have planned to make the service for a while. The Chattri is a fine, marble monument, a listed building, set high on the Downs outside Brighton with distant views of the sea. It marks the spot where Hindu and Sikh soldiers, injured in action in the WW1 trenches and brought to the temporary hospital in Brighton’s famous Pavilion, were cremated if they failed to recover. (Only if they died, as Mrs Blog rather pedantically insists that I point out.) Wiki tells me there were over 800,000 Indian soldiers fighting for the Empire at the time and that King George V felt that the exotic mock-Indian surroundings of the Pavilion might help them feel right at home.  That, and the pier, sticks of rock and Donald McGill postcards, no doubt.

Visiting any scene of “ultimate sacrifice” like the D-Day beaches, Flanders war graves or the Menin Gate is inevitably a most moving experience and to stand at the Chattri and think of those men a century ago, fighting and dying so very far from home, is right up there.

There must be something in the air because I met up with an old school friend a week ago at the Imperial War Museum. (Did I say I was seeking diversion in harmless pleasures?) He was over from where he now lives near San Francisco (it’s always sensible to retain friends in useful places) where they don’t have any history of course. This Blog isn’t really into weaponry and not obsessed about set piece battles, but the IWM is about so much more. It’s one of the best places I know for telling a story and engaging your interest. We spent a good three hours without even making the shop or café, which Mrs B found hard to believe – the shop and café bit. The more or less permanent, extensive exhibition on the holocaust would be hard to beat – and we did take in the equivalent in Jerusalem during a recent cruise – but our starting point was the temporary gallery on “Fighting for Peace”, the story of conscientious objectors, the Greenham Common women and protest marches against the Iraq war.

You put your whole self in….

The age old scenario: you finish your demo and there’s never enough buses

Adopting our “we’re approaching middle age” practice of buying tickets for midweek matinees, Mrs Blog and I went to see Richard Wilson as the headmaster in Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On at the Festival Theatre in Chichester. Having read the play several decades ago it was nostalgically comforting to hear Bennett’s familiar lines:

“wild horses on bended knees couldn’t have dragged me away”

“it was the kind of library he had only read about in books” and

“I have never understood this liking for war. It panders to instincts already catered for within the scope of any respectable domestic establishment”

That’s about as experimental and challenging as theatre needs to get for Mrs Blog and me.

Not exactly Alan Ayckbourn, though, is it?

Next week we take another adventurous step, this time musically, to the hip coastal resort of Eastbourne. Sorry, that should read, the hip replacement coastal resort.  It’s for a Gerry and the Pacemakers concert and there’ll be pacemakers everywhere. Along with all the other scouse ex-pats on the Sussex coast I’ll take me red and white scarf for the cardiac recoverers’ encore…..

“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your hearts….”

Gerry always gets a great encore at the Eastbourne Hippodrome





The Discreet Charm of the Hop-on Hop-Off Bus


Knowing that what we really, really needed this year was to hang out with lots of overweight old people keen to tell us how much they love Donald Trump, we booked a cruise in April from Dubai to Venice.

The flight out to Dubai was memorable only for the chap in the seat in front lecturing a young mum on the need for her toddler to show respect for other passengers. (He had, as it happens, complained about the wi-fi before taking his seat, occupied one entire luggage bin with various bags and rebuked a steward loudly for bringing him the same wine as he’d had previously and not a different one – but, hey, he knew how toddlers should behave.)

Our trip from the airport to our hotel was enlivened by the taxi driver showing me photos on his phone of his family and the countryside in his native Nepal while the car in front braked hard and my subsequent scream may have saved him a significant repair bill. Indeed taxi drivers throughout our few days in Dubai seemed to hail from a wide range of nations, and it seems reassuringly “equal opps” that a complete lack of knowledge of the road network, traffic regulations or visitor attractions was no barrier to employment.

Dubai, a definite first for Family Blog, proved fascinating. We learned from a video that the Maktoum family – the ruling dynasty – isn’t interested in money but in creating a Vision for Dubai in which all may share. And that many innovators are attracted from all over the world to help build this Vision (and not to make money. Though I think our Nepalese taxi driver may have been OK with making some money, as that may be easier to send home.) Mrs Blog, working on the assumption that the MacToums were of Scottish origin, has in mind setting Blogdaughter up with one of them if we can work an introduction.

….and nae’ for the money, Jimmy

Dubai has shopping malls in much the same way as a hedgehog has fleas – all over the place. At the end of the day, while the one that Mrs Blog took me to (presumably by way of retribution for some failing on my part) did boast its own ice rink, huge aquarium (the largest crocodile in the world, allegedly) and, no doubt, full-size replicas of the Great Wall of China and the solar system, it’s still a bl**dy shopping mall and therefore guaranteed to ensure that one’s will to live drains rapidly into the desert sands.

Mrs B, you will be unsurprised to read, felt differently. The discovery of several branches of Marks and Spencer put a real spring into her stride and she was observed texting to her clanswoman in Scotland “You’d love the shops here. Gorgeous. Nothing you can afford at all.” And Subway did us a nice butty.

Burqa clad women sporting fetching eye make-up and Samsung 6 phones seemed well in control of their menfolk and were clearly setting themselves for a long stint of retail experience.

Mrs B made a pit stop at the “usual facilities” but had not, some 20 minutes later, reappeared. It took a while longer, and a series of text messages and a phone call via the nearest satellite, to locate her, having emerged via an alternative exit seemingly located in a different emirate.

It’s my belief that the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus is a much maligned, guilty pleasure – and rightly so, I hear you cry. Not afforded much coverage in the Lonely Planet guides, the lack of a flexible open top bus trip for city orientation purposes won’t, in my opinion, do anything to help places like Sana’a, Aleppo or Gaza build a sustainable tourist economy. I’ve grappled with faulty headphones, wandering language channels and noisy passengers who have clearly boarded the bus, not to see or be informed, but to shout continually to each other, but I’m still a fan – and have amassed a significant collection of route maps and little red and yellow earphones which I’m prepared to donate to a reputable museum. (On the Dubai tour I assumed there was only a brief introductory commentary rather than a full narrative, until I noticed that Mrs Blog had disconnected me while rooting around in her handbag.)

After three days’ sightseeing in Dubai (only partly on the bus – we also took in the top of the Burj Khalifa, the older parts of the city, the souk and the river) we joined our cruise ship. The ship’s departure was delayed until Mrs B pronounced herself satisfied with the new ID photo taken at check-in, but eventually we found our cabin (outside, with balcony), Mrs B rapidly annexed 90% of the cupboard space and, after a few false attempts, we were soon able to find our way back to our cabin from most parts of the ship.

As Brits we were naturally appalled to find there was no kettle in our cabin but, on urgent request, one was soon supplied and an international incident was avoided. Mrs B shouldn’t be expected to start the day without a nice cup of Twinings. You can take globe-trotting only so far.

An addition to the lengthening list of “Things you only do once”: Mrs B, in sensible cost-saving mode, packed into my suitcase a large plastic bottle of stuff for washing clothes. On unpacking in the cabin, all of the liquid was undoubtedly still in the suitcase but only part of it was still in the bottle. This had an interesting, and in one or two cases terminal, effect on the contents of the case.

Before departure we were all invited to muster on deck with our life jackets, standing in searing heat while we waited for those passengers who had found more interesting things to do. At least it was an opportunity to check out the other people you were intended to share a lifeboat with if things turned turtle. It wasn’t encouraging.

…and you won’t catch me saying “Women and children first”

Later, in our cabins, we were given further instruction on how to respond to anything that might arise involving pilates off the Somali coast. This made more sense once Mrs B, whose hearing may be better than mine, clarified this to “pirates”. On the basis that this was effectively an American ship, I assumed that at least half of the passengers were armed and we should be ok. The thrust of our briefing was that access to the open decks would be prohibited for three nights and all lights dimmed with the intention that we might be mistaken for a cargo ship rather than a cruise liner. My subsequent research (very expensive wi-fi) revealed that, while no cruise liner had ever been approached by pirates in this area, cargo ships were a fairly regular target. I thought it important to bring this point to the attention of the captain but was unable to do so.

Extract from our briefing video

Our first night’s cruising brought us to Muscat, capital and major port of Oman. And the opportunity for another Hop-On Hop-Off Bus tour followed by a spot of retailing in the Muttrah Souk. A chap doesn’t like to wander too far from life’s essentials, like wi-fi, but the internet café boasted a line of frustrated users looking for a “fix” like the sort of queue I recall from university outside the only working phone kiosk.

Entertainment that evening was “Musicals from Broadway and the West End”, or more accurately “Musicals from Broadway”, though some were familiar. This was also characteristic of the food on offer (no reference to the part of the world we were passing through; a wide choice each day but essentially the LCD of what, one assumes, an unimaginative American family might wish to take with them.)  Many of these passengers do not look as though what they really need is unlimited free food 24 hours a day, or more elevators, come to that. TRY THE STAIRS FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!  Just because there’s hot dogs and cheesecake and grits and eggs and chocolate pie and rib-eye and syrup on the counter doesn’t mean they have to go together on your plate.


I have come to the realisation that most bodies look better covered up, and that those which don’t are not on this ship. Mrs B tried on a dress she’d brought for the formal evenings onboard. She wondered if it might be too big but I was able to reassure her that, on this ship, it soon wouldn’t be: for some reason this seemed not to be the right answer. I suppose one could prepare in advance for this kind of trip, not by honing one’s “bikini ready figure” but by building steadily for months towards a “cruise ready body” to make it easier to blend in.

A North American flavour also arose with some of the onboard quizzes: they were much easier if you were au fait with US soaps and crime series. Perhaps they should operate a handicapping system to give foreigners like us a sniff.

Longstanding readers of this blog may know that it takes itself way too seriously when it comes to quizzes and that robust debate with the question setter is never far away. I did try to pretend to myself that it didn’t matter but I put it to you, members of the jury, “What is an appropriate response to the following?”

Questionmaster (bearing, presumably following bouts of cosmetic tweaking, an uncanny likeness to Kryten in Red Dwarf): In which country are the Victoria Falls?

Blog, whispering to Mrs Blog: They’re on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe so what shall I put? Both? Which is he more likely to have down, Zambia?

Questionmaster: The answer is Rhodesia. No, I’m not taking any other answers.

Questionmaster: Which capital city is on the River Danube?

Blog, whispering: Shall I put down all four of them? Or should we go and get a coffee?


“and the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is still…”

It is with some satisfaction that I can report that the team of Blog and Mrs Blog romped home in the quiz that was purely on geography, though joy was short-lived when Mrs B GAVE AWAY our prize – a yellow highlighter pen bearing the name of the ship – to the first person she met afterwards….

There followed no fewer than five successive days “at sea”, scanning the horizon for any signs of piratical activity, made doubly necessary by the captain’s clearly misguided tactics of subterfuge. Undertaking this task had the benefit of taking Mrs B’s mind off the absence of affordable wi-fi. Lacking this basic ingredient for life we were obliged to talk to one another more than seemed reasonable for a married couple and Mrs B was reduced to checking out the world clock repeatedly on her mobile as the only function that was still operating – and you don’t want to see anybody reduced to that. She was also obliged to put on her make-up in the dark which had an effect similar to seeing Bridget Jones applying her lippy in a fast-moving taxi.

Intriguingly, fellow passengers were prepared to complain about delays in being served at the bar despite having b*gg*r *ll to do for five days.

Mrs B wasn’t keen for me to enter either the “World’s Sexiest Man” or “International Belly Flop” competitions by the pool, which seemed a shame, but I guess she wouldn’t want people ogling.

We eventually succumbed to the need to renew contact with the outside world and invested in a day’s wi-fi, not least to check via Wikipedia our recollection of old news broadcasts about Aden (Mad Mitch and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) and my favourite all-time country name, the Territory of Afars and the Issas (now Djibouti, if you’re bothered.)

Happily we made it safely through the Red Sea to landfall at Aqaba in Jordan and this was the starting point for our excursion to the wonders of Petra – “rose-red city, half as old as time” and all that. The coach trip was enlivened by a comment from our tour guide:

“One more question before I go for a motion.”

I glanced down the coach, wondering where he might have in mind, and saw one or two puzzled expressions.

“OK, here’s my motion: shall we have 30 minutes’ quiet before I start up again?”


I’m sure you can read about Petra elsewhere. It is of course fabulous, and will be even nicer when it’s finished, but after a couple of hours in the coach through the arid heart of “rural Jordan” I decided that my next solo coast to coast walk wouldn’t be across the Arabian peninsula.

From Aqaba through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. I was so keen not to miss this that, when we entered the canal at 4 a.m., I took myself up onto the open deck to watch. Not too many Mister Universes by the pool at that time, I can tell you…

By this time our list of “passengers to avoid” was lengthening steadily: the elderly male American with the pigtail and his purple haired partner sporting “I Voted Trump” T-shirts; the very loud Australian man (it’s mainly men) recounting what he’d paid for a cup of coffee in every port he’d ever visited; the Brit who wanted us to know how much he’d saved on the cruise and the excursions by booking through some kiosk in Harwich; the Australian couple who’d left the UK 30 years ago and wouldn’t consider returning as the place had gone downhill ever since – I replied “Yes, they weren’t able to replace you” but received a kick under the table from Mrs Blog.

To Ashdod in Israel and another coach trip to a place we’d never been, Jerusalem. Impossible of course not to be fascinated by the Holy City, which was especially busy, being Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday in the Christian calendar, and Passover in the Jewish calendar. We toured on foot many of the locations familiar from the Bible (or Life of Brian) including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western or Wailing Wall, with literally thousands of armed police in attendance, and followed up with a visit to the highly moving Holocaust Museum. We were treated to a heartfelt running commentary from our Israeli guide throughout the day and wondered how a Palestinian perspective might differ.

We docked the next day at Haifa and opted to potter round the town rather than take another coach trip. Possibly a mistake. An attractive and interesting place but effectively closed, being Good Friday.

At sea again on the Saturday and I’m going through my books at a fair old rate. I’m not fond of Kindle, so bring the real things with me. Heavy, I know, but I don’t really bring much else. To date on this trip:

Michael Frayn: Travels with a Typewriter: one of my favourite writers and he’s been knocking out great stuff for decades

Polly Bagnall and Sally Beck: Ferguson’s Gang: “the remarkable story of the National Trust gangsters”

Olivia Laing: To the River

HG Wells: The History of Mr Polly

James Runcie: The Grantchester Mysteries

Fraser McAlpine: Stuff Brits Like

Maria Trapp: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers: I’d run out of books and “borrowed” this from the ship’s library. It’s interesting to compare this original account with the film – and I reckon both the family and the songs were a lot duller…

…plus sundry travel guides…

….well, I’ve never had literary pretensions.

Easter Sunday was spent in Athens, with public buildings again closed but plenty of eating places and shops open. We could see the Acropolis and the Parthenon from below (we’d both been before) and tucked into great moussaka (with retsina for nostalgic purposes) in Plaka. Oh, and two hop-on hop-off bus tours – have I mentioned those?

Two more days at sea approaching the final cruise destination, Venice. The cruise “entertainment” comprised a load of stuff you wouldn’t want to see or do (Family Helicopter Origami, Finish that Lyric Game Show, Walking in Comfort sponsored by Goodfeet, “Thriller” Dance Class) but we had enjoyed two classical/”crossover” concerts by a (British) pianist and young violinist, another two by a (British) electric violinist with small backing orchestra, and two by a Beatles tribute band. Now, these were good, and generated plenty of noise and atmosphere, but I’m not prepared these days to stand, wave my arms in the air and jig about on demand. If I’m going to do “fun” I like to choose my moments…

And so to Venice, the third time for both of us. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise but, even though you know what to expect, it’s still mindboggling. You could look at those views for ever and still have to be dragged away. To do something new, we took in the Peggy Guggenheim collection of modern art. For a change I recognised almost all of the names and some of the works, though at one point I had worked my way through the explanatory panel accompanying one of the exhibits and was attempting to share this with Mrs Blog when it was pointed out to me that the panel referred to the rather different picture on the other side.


Our hotel on the Grand Canal. There are worse places to have breakfast.

IKEA now do a nice flat-pack Bridge of Sighs

Having run out of Colgate I picked up a tube of toothpaste at a small shop in a quiet back street. Our “turning in for the night” routine in our hotel on the Grand Canal took a surprisingly tense turn when Mrs B squeezed an unexpectedly brown substance from the tube onto her toothbrush, applied it in the standard way and let out the most fearsome stream of oaths and spitting noises followed by what I feel was an unwarranted degree of abuse. Subsequent investigation of the offending tube has failed to identify quite what we bought in that shop; it may of course have been an Italian response to Brexit.

Not quite ready yet to return to the world of work, we travelled by train next day through the Tyrol to Vienna. Other European nations seem to run better train services than us.

Vienna was a first for both of us, but by no means our first hop-on hop-off bus tour of the holiday. I was pleased to see they had taken a leaf out of Hull’s book and branded part of the city centre Museums Quarter. Buildings like the opera house, Hofburg Palace, St Stephans Cathedral and the upmarket coffee houses (yum) dominate the typical images of the city but we successfully sought out the Hundertwasserhaus (check it out, amazing) and the Secession building, and half of us took a ride on the ancient wooden Ferris wheel (The Third Man, and all that.) The other half of us fancied a go on one of the Lippizaner horses at the Spanish Riding School but my blagging powers are clearly waning.

The wonderful Hundertwasser building and the cafe

If you’re going to go round in a 212 foot tall Ferris wheel in extremely strong winds, make sure it’s made of wood and 120 years old…

…and for those who remember, welcome to 1979…

And so to home to catch up with all our recorded episodes of Line of Duty (no, don’t tell us!), Broadchurch and Homeland, and managing to pick up two lousy colds en route.

Talk to you again soon.