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On Sunday we went to a lovely lunchtime wedding in a park

bee gees

I reckon for many of us it’s about a decade. It begins in your mid-twenties and drops away as forty looms like a stop sign. I speak, of course, of weddings.

I attended lots of great ones in little country churches surrounded by paddocks of waving wheat, on golf courses, by the beach in Victor Harbor, at large suburban places of worship.

The receptions have been in country footy clubs with the catering done by the matronly pillars of the community, no nonsense women. Pubs, backyards, function centres and more than I can count have been at Ayers House, in the middle of Adelaide which I think is somewhat compulsory if you live here.

One Saturday we had four weddings and as we’d both been given a duty, I went to the one in the Barossa and Kerry, another in the city. She was a bridesmaid and I was asked to do a reading from Corinthians 13. You know the one-

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell.

Sunday’s affair was special. The boys were invited, and it was their first. The last wedding we’d been to was in Singapore over three years ago at the Fullarton overlooking the harbour and the heat.

It was in a park along the Torrens with the reception in a community hall. It was one of those great days where the sun shines and everyone enjoys it knowing it could be the last time before winter’s rain and cruel wind forces us inside.

The ceremony was lovely and people smiled and took photos on their phones but also held hands and cried when the groom choked up as he said his vows and I paused and thought of the many things for which I should be grateful.

Max sat on the grass right at the front listening intently and drinking in the language, and his special treat of a can of lemonade while Alex sat on the nearby wooden fence looking about the trees and sky but also concentrating.

After the knot was tied the new bride sang along with Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” which will weld these two together whenever I hear this song. This is the job of a song.

Central to the catering was that most 2017 of experiences, the food truck. Parked on the fresh bitumen behind the hall, folks lined up and ordered Argentinian burgers. We had the steak, the chorizo and the chicken. They were great. Alex had some pumpkin soup, but it wasn’t as good as Nanny’s.

People sat inside or out in the sun on plastic chairs. There was music, mostly from the sixties. I’d finished my lunch and was talking with the celebrant about St Albans and London. On her second glass of Bird In Hand bubbles, from across the table my wife winked at me. They then played one of my favourite all time songs, the Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody.” I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye.

There were other kids and pregnant women and older folks too. A widower got in my ear with lots of detail about the vans and dogs he’s owned, but I didn’t mind. There were reminders everywhere of the richness of life. Max and I went for a walk along the linear path. Alex flopped his gangly self about the playground. For the last hour we sat in the sun on an ornamental rock with old friends who’d visited us when we lived in England.

Around mid-afternoon we drove home through the lazy Sunday traffic and I took the dogs down to the Old Gum Tree where there were two or three gently swirling groups also enjoying life’s landmarks.

It was a wedding. A gentle, affirming wedding.

sun

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Park life

cocks.png

Tell me about your perfect park.

Rambling, grassy expanses? Babbling brook? Ornamental lake? Roman ruins? Golf course? One of the planet’s oldest pubs? Yep, I hear you. Just over a decade ago this was our local park.

Verulamium Park is on the site of the Roman city in St Albans, north of London. We lived a short walk away, and most weekends we spent time there. We’d take our dog Roxy on a lap of the lake, and on summer Sundays we’d sometimes throw out the picnic rug and an hour or two would drift by.

Every now and then when we had visitors from Australia, I’d pump up my Sherrin and take them for a dob. This would telegraph our nationality, and more than once a passing voice would holler, “You boys from Australia. Melbourne?” We’d shake our heads and retort, “Adelaide.”

Around Christmas the lake would freeze over and tapping the glassy plane by the bank I’d marvel at the thickness of the ice. On Sunday mornings pub teams played soccer, and I’d wonder about how different life might be if I’d grown up in this compact, beautiful city.

And now five paragraphs in I turn to the pubs. On the western perimeter of the park is the village of St Michaels and the neighbouring inns: The Rose and Crown, provider excellence of club sandwiches, and The Six Bells into which we took Roxy one February afternoon as the Six Nations rugby flickered on the television. There, waiting was a bowl of water. She ignored it, and raised her leg instead.

The Ye Olde Fighting Cocks dates from 793AD. Bill Bryson once wrote of his expectant joy at turning the key to a new hotel room, and I always felt a similar frisson strolling into the Cocks. The huge fireplace and the tiny nooks in which to sit with a pint. Not only is it a pub, but it’s a museum, and a theme park. It’s my favourite real-estate.

*

And now back in Australia with two boys and two dogs? A half wedge from home? Newly renovated? Fully enclosed?

The Old Gum Tree Reserve is now, again, our local. During the three years we were in Singapore the former Catholic Church and long-empty school were purchased by the council, and half the land was added to the existing park while the rest now hosts six houses. I reckon this is terrific.

Among the inclusions is a flying fox, and Alex and Max love it. Of course, simply going up and back holds marginal appeal and they’ve devised methods of use which maximise personal danger. Did I mention that within a two year span they collectively broke their arm on four occasions? All in playgrounds- Bali, school, our condo and under the Singapore Flier. I could affix a google map, but won’t. Alex is especially proud of a manoeuvre he calls the “Fettuccine of Doom.”  No, he couldn’t explain it to me.

Probably inspired by a desire to escape our seemingly endless winter we had a BBQ in the park one recent Thursday. A simple affair, snags on the gleaming hotplate while the boys surged about, and the dogs Buddy and Angel raced around also learning how to interact with others. I supervised with tongs and beer in hands, like Arnie but without an Austrian accent.

Soon this evolved into a weekly event. Is it possible to have too much ritual? I doubt it. The first over on Boxing Day, Derby Day’s opening race, and the entire secular religion accompanying AFL grand final day. Our petite cycle can sit alongside these.

My wife Kerry celebrated a major birthday at the Old Gum Tree, and earlier this year Max turned six with a Sunday party. The seasons roll on and we move from cricket to footy to bikes. Alex and Max wait for the fruit to ripen on the mulberry tree, and steal a few berries before the birds vandalise the rest. More than any other space, private or public, I reckon parks instruct us to ignore the past and the future, and the heaving complex planet, and live only in the moment.

With summer stretching out before us, I’m sure we’ll be down there twice a week.

*

Saturday in the park,

I think it was the Fourth of July

Saturday in the park,

I think it was the Fourth of July

People dancing, people laughing

A man selling ice cream

Singing Italian songs

Everybody is another

Can you dig it (yes, I can)

And I’ve been waiting such a long time

For Saturday

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mnw9uiYggU

 

 

vp

 

 

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Dylan Thomas and the mammalian protuberance

sixpence

Reaching the front of the Moon and Sixpence’s meals queue, the portly Welshman announced, ‘A chicken tikka and half ’n’ half.’

Half ’n’ half? I wondered. What could that mean? What could you have with Indian in half ‘n’ half portions? The blinking-eyed tavern employee also found his order baffling. ‘Sorry. Can you explain?’

And then the bloke did, encapsulating the essence of contemporary British dining, the way tradition is combined with the exotic. ‘Darling,’ he sighed, drained after a long day of golf and Abbot Ale, ‘half rice and half chips.’

Of course, I thought, just as they prefer it in downtown New Delhi. Chips. The UK runs on potato. Next time you’re in your local Tandoori Oven be sure, as a loyal member of the Commonwealth, to order a dish with half ‘n’ half. After all, surely there aren’t boorish people on this planet who subsist only on rice?

Besides combining the culinary, Wales offers much: bottle green mountains, picturesque villages and at least one castle per resident. Driving into Tintern late afternoon blonde sunlight blanketed the town, and through its narrow valley gushed the River Wye. Standing majestically is Tintern Abbey: arresting and vast, and it’s easy to see why William Wordsworth was inspired by this setting

Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky

Dylan Thomas described Swansea as that ‘beautiful ugly place’ and we agree. Its eastern approaches are gruesomely industrial and smoke pumps into a dirty sky whilst rows of terrace houses cower and weep in the heavy shadows. Zooming through as smartly as our timid Renault allowed we emerged in the dishy village of Mumbles.

The name, a bastardisation of mammalian, is inspired by the twin headland landmarks which once reminded folks of breasts. After fifteen minutes of gazing and slack-jawed dribbling I couldn’t see them, and so Kerry and Roxy (by now barking in fluent Welsh) took me to nearby Oystermouth Castle, built in the twelfth century.

After, waiting on the misty Mumbles foreshore for the wife to return with lunch a dishevelled labourer wobbled out of his breakfast pub onto the esplanade and slurred the following at his phone

Mrs Smith? I won’t be able to tile your bathroom today. No, sorry. I’m stuck in traffic. I think there’s been an accident.

Hanging up on the trusting Mrs Smith he lurched back into the Fox and Hounds to his conspiratorial pint where I’m sure, to keep his conscience tidy, he spent the afternoon accidentally getting roaring.

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobble streets silent and the hunched, courters’ and rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.

So starts my favourite play Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, and the Carmarthenshire village of Laugharne presented a pilgrimage. The foreshore’s dominated by the obligatory castle, and an estuary laps tranquilly below the house (now a museum) of Thomas, his wife Caitlin and their children.

Up on the cliff rests an impressive boatshed, and it’s in here that Thomas wrote. Inside, a wooden table strewn with paper and brown ale bottles posed in a poignant tableau, and after several photos, we wandered through some picturesque lanes before discovering where the poet applied himself with tremendous verve: Brown’s Hotel.

The bar is hazy, musty and residence of sassy octogenarians. I ordered a pint and a bowl of water as two whiskery retirees enchantingly crooned, ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?’ for an entirely indifferent Roxy. We claimed the rickety table where Thomas invested countless singular hours.

The tobacco-stained walls are collaged with newspaper clippings and yellowed photos of their celebrated former patron, and I was smitten by an ancient advertisement for local ale whose slogan is Under Milk Wood’s opening: ‘to begin at the beginning.’ It’s marginally more elegant than, say, ‘Queenslanders don’t give a XXXX for anything else.’

Downing my Stella, Roxy and I abandoned the beery citizens to their throaty laughter and endless self-amusement. An intriguing footnote occurred shortly after our Welsh trip with the news that Neil Morrissey, of Men Behaving Badly and more impressively, Bob the Builder fame purchased Brown’s Hotel for a few pennies shy of 700,000 pounds.

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Pembrokeshire’s Tenby is kaleidoscopically bright and explored perfectly on foot. The beaches are fabulously broad and white, the cobblestoned streets zigzag here and there, and a stonewall once protected the old town from invaders like, for example, the feckin’ English.

Appealing to all ages with bucks’ and hens’ nights and bowls tournaments dominating its social calendar, Tenby bursts with jovial pubs, cafes and restaurants. We ambled happily about and then dropped Roxy off in our room after she bravely endured her first elevator ride; mercifully not initialling one of the lift corners. Many hotels and pubs here are pet friendly, and this is something Australia could better embrace.

An unhurried drive through some showery, but charismatic countryside included a pause at Llandovery where we saw a silver sculpture of an esteemed elder that resembled Darth Vader, who may or may not have been born in Central Wales. It was raining when we arrived at Brecon Friday afternoon and still drizzly when we departed Saturday- not surprising given that seventy inches annually tumble down.

Following Indian snacks from a gleefully criminal take-away, we then investigated the town centre, boating canal and River Usk banks across from which we could spy some lush green and soggy sponge-like golf course fairways.

Back in Hertfordshire having concluded our holiday we ordered some chicken tikka and half ’n’ half from our local Indian restaurant up on Holywell Hill.

We’d assimilated.

bob

 

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Sausage FM- less talk, more pork!

bsw

A month on and we’re still recovering from the rush. A gargantuan week as the UK whizzed along in a mad passionate whirl. Of course I refer to October 25 to 31 which, if you’ve forgotten, was British Sausage Week.

Up in the Peak District we bought and fried six sausages from Tideswell’s butcher, but these gastronomic impostors were devoid of texture, aroma and flavour. The week was saved only when we strayed past a York pub window and read its British Sausage Week (BSW) testimonials. Mr W of Leeds wrote, and I ask you to contemplate this during the festive period, ‘My wife still talks of the sausage the chef here gave her two years ago.’

Sitting hidden among undulating green hills is the village of Tideswell. Its market square is hugged by stone shops. Tindall’s is stuffed with exquisite home-cooked breads, cakes and pasties, and apron billowing, stood the matriarch, beaming behind her wooden counter. The glass cabinet parades black-pudding, scotch eggs and streaky bacon and in their store, eternally 1952, the doorbell chimes welcomingly and foodstuffs are dispatched in thick brown paper.

Also noteworthy is the chippy (chip shop) advertising not opening hours but frying times. Courtesy of the summer sun’s disappearance at only 11pm, the Tideswell Cricket Club competes in Wednesday evening fixtures. How fantastic’s that? Time was against us so we couldn’t visit the other delightful emporium, World of Icing, but hopefully, another day…

We love rambling with our dog Roxy about the countryside, and Derbyshire presented abundant opportunity. The hamlet of Litton sleeps in an autumnal hollow. It is hushed apart from a sporadic dog bark. Their branches blazing burgundy; trees watch its placid streets, leaves like a Hawaiian lava flow. We swim through the footpaths, our shoes drowning in swirling colour.

The village green is pocket-sized, and wooden stocks speak of an unruly past. A boisterous tractor roars past, and lurches to a halt. Bounding down from his cabin, a green-capped farmer nods at us, and ambles into his lunchtime pub.

Friday evening in Litton’s Red Lion is among the finest pub experience we’ve had in either hemisphere. Tilly the Airedale traversed the antique entrance, a jovial fire bellowed and homely chairs creaked with rustic tales and belly laughter. We’d been in the bedroom-sized bar but a minute when Harold pumped my paw, thrust a Black Sheep pint at me and told me a yarn about his 1992 Australian holiday; notably punctuated by wearing his pristine Crows tie during a roasting Christmas at Christies Beach.

The grimacing Terry doles out the falling-down water in this family-run pub whilst matriarch Joyce steers her kitchen, and insists on autographing her little home-made booklets of home-spun poetry. The titles are flawlessly kitsch: Re-Joyce, Jump for Joyce and the forthcoming Orange Joyce. We bought copies for Kerry’s grandma in Gympie.

Retreating bar-side after some tremendous lamb shanks I’m button-holed by Joyce’s husband, thirty years my senior but insisting, Yorkshire style, on calling me Sir. He asks of Adelaide and cricket and St Albans as if these are the most vital things in his world. Meanwhile Kerry chats with the rugby-loving couple from Portsmouth who is also commemorating their second anniversary. Afterwards we retreat to our cottage and its popping, cracking fire. Perfect.

*

York is staggeringly handsome and we liked spending our anniversary there ambling through its abbey, across the River Ouse (why it belongs to all of us!) and atop the Roman Wall, which smartly entraps the city. The Minster is a towering, honeyed church, and humbling to behold. However we didn’t venture in as the six pound fifty ‘compulsory donation’ appeared a little, well, un-Christian. Gladly, back at home St Albans Abbey demands no fixed fee but visitors may part with their pounds through a credit card machine, positioned conveniently in the bookstall at the cathedra’s entrance.

Steering our Fiat Punto at the appealingly tranquil Eyam proved fascinating for we learnt that in 1665 it lost much of its population. Shortly after unwrapping a package of cloth from London a local complained of feeling poorly. He was soon dead as the Plague again lowered its cold noose. Panicking, the minister urged his brethren to quarantine themselves in their houses, and only collect provisions from designated places, and mercifully this self-sacrifice partly confined the disease.

Strolling the 4WD-ed boulevards we read solemn plaques describing the demise of families of eight in as many days. Hundreds were claimed, but today it’s tricky to picture Eyam suffering any modern disaster beyond the Agricultural Society cancelling, due to heartless disinterest, the Strawberry and Fig Conserve Competition (Open Section).

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2017 will be the twentieth year of British Sausage Week. Check the website for details, and remember to tune in to Sausage FM: less talk, more pork!

autumn

 

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My best pubs

 

Love a list. Love a pub. Don’t you?

This week the Footy Almanac sought opinion on our favourite pubs. I instantly penned a digital love letter to some cracking watering holes. How could I refuse?

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks- St Albans, Hertfordshire

England’s oldest and most charismatic boozer. Ceiling so low it made me feel like a centre half-forward when I walked in, and most certainly as I left. We lived about a Par 4 away, and invested some time there on weekends. When we returned in 2014 it was the only pub in town we visited twice with Alex and Max.

cocks

The Magpie and Stump- Mintaro, Clare Valley

Gum trees and vineyards; idyllic beer garden. No aural pollution from within or without, just birdsong. Happily by its bar on a rainy Sunday morning before the SANFL grand final I first heard a publican say, “Another cup of tea, Vicar?” which amuses me more than it should.

Prince of Wales- Kapunda, South Australia

Hometown favourite. Colossal former mine host. When I lived five hours away in Kimba, and would visit, he’d greet me with, “Hello, West Coast smack-head.” I knew then that he missed me. Also home of spoofy.

The Kings Inn- Mousehole, Cornwall

Redolent of pirates and rum, romance and treasure. Of course, it’s pronounced Moz-all.

kings

The Exeter- Rundle Street, Adelaide

Eclectic perfection. Once, this happened: Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remain, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. We met in school. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

ex

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Honourable mentions

The Goat- St Albans, Hertfordshire

The Taminga- Clare

All Nations- Richmond (frequently home to Mick Molloy and Bill Hunter, drinking in concert)

Greenock Tavern- Barossa Valley (mine host Norton, and then Mick)

Lemon Tree- Carlton (sadly now gone; snuck in there when in Melbourne during my mulleted 1980’s)

Seacliff Hotel- Adelaide

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What’s your top battle-cruiser?

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The original Footy Almanac post is worth a look and you can find it, and other great stuff here-

Best pubs of all time?

 

 

 

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Voices

foghorn

 

I wrote this memoir about a decade ago. It won me a trip to Darwin for the national English teachers’ conference the highlight of which was sneaking off to Adelaide River and seeing the jumping crocodiles.

Of course.

*

Classrooms, for me, are largely about voices. These voices shout, whisper and demand. Guiding some to sing roughly in tune and gently handing a microphone to the shy student who just might sing like an angel are among our challenges. Now more than ever, it’s vital that students and teachers have voices that leap into laughter. As often as possible.

Many years ago, to conclude SAS English, pupils were invited to write a so-called ‘warm report’, summarising their successes. One student, for whom spelling was difficult, triumphantly declared to me that, ‘he had enjoyed improving his pubic speaking.’

Whilst in the UK a Year 10 class and I were crawling through an endless media unit from which the authorities had untimely ripped all the joy. One morning, instead of asking, ‘Sir, are we doing media today,’ one girl mistakenly said- without irony- ‘Sir, are we still doing mediocrity today?’ I could only reply, ‘Not just today, my little hombre, not just today.’

I’d just returned some coursework to- my fingers are trembling as I type this- a streamed, bottom-set Year 11 English class. One boy- I’ll call him Edward- began loudly announcing, somewhat curiously, that he’d gotten a G (Yes, it’s true, the UK system utilises the esteem-crushing F, G and U). His classmate Kyle started hollering, ‘A G! A G! Edward! What is wrong with you? You’re so thick.’ Kyle then glanced at his own work and with an utterly honest face, enquired, ‘Sir- is an F better than a G?’

Following their SATs, Year 9’s in England sometimes assemble a course work folder for internal moderation. On the accompanying coversheet, each writes a paragraph in which they reflect on their year’s achievements and a sweet, amenable girl concluded, ‘I have learnt not to use words that are unnecessary- and not needed.’

Recently, a boisterous lad was growing restless and distracted during his classmates’ oral presentations. I asked him, as you do, to concentrate and focus. Instead of replying that he’d promise to be more productive; he looked me in the eye, nodded and with total sincerity said that, in future, in class, he’d, ‘try to be more reproductive.’

At the school farm a healthy chicken became, unfortunately, a deceased chicken when a student unintentionally jumped on it. Days later, the boy lingered after English, glum-faced with notoriety and asked, ‘Did you hear about what I did the other day?’ Saying that I was sorry for his troubles, I added supportively, ‘So, how are you going?’ With a philosophical giggle, he said, ‘Well, much better than the chicken.’

Once I heard a Triple J announcer enthuse that educators, ‘create lives’ and I’ve tried to make this the chorus in my teaching. Spoken and written voices are the mesmerizing soundtrack of our schools and to create lives, our shared spaces must resonate with the music of golden laughter.

Thanks to Larry Sellers of The Big Lebowski for this (rather poor) homework.

 

larry

 

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Posh: Bye, bye Becks, Hello Ringo!

sausage

Hello. Is it me you’re looking for?

A month on and we’re still recovering from the rush. A gargantuan week as the UK whizzed along in a mad passionate whirl. Of course I refer to October 25 to 31 which, if you’ve forgotten, was British Sausage Week.

Up in the Peak District we bought and fried six sausages from Tideswell’s butcher but these gastronomic impostors were stunningly devoid of texture, aroma and flavour. The week was saved only when we strayed past a York pub window and read its British Sausage Week (BSW) testimonials. Mr W of Leeds wrote, and I beg you to contemplate this during Christmas, ‘My wife still talks of the sausage the chef here gave her two years ago.’

York is staggeringly handsome and we liked spending our anniversary there ambling among its abbey, across the River Ouse (why it belongs to all of us!) and atop the Roman Wall which smartly entraps the city. The Minster is a towering, honeyed church and humbling to behold.

However we didn’t venture in as the six pound fifty ‘compulsory donation’ appeared a little, well, un-Christian. Gladly, St Albans Abbey demands no fixed fee but visitors may part with their pounds through a credit card swiping machine, positioned conveniently in the bookstall at the cathedra’s entrance.

Dining in York’s improbably haunted Golden Fleece pub was tremendous, despite the ghosts! Continuing my uncertain flirting with Real English Ale I purchased a Yorkshire Terrier and straining it through clenched teeth, the taste and temperature made me wonder if every pint of this distinctively Northern brew came directly from a yapping dog’s kidneys.

Sitting hidden by undulating green hills is Tideswell whose market square is hugged by stone shops. Tindalls is stuffed with exquisite home-cooked breads, cakes and pasties and apron billowing, stood Mother beaming behind her wooden counter. Father’s glass cabinet parades black-pudding, scotch eggs and streaky bacon and in their olden store, eternally 1952, the doorbell chimes welcomingly and foodstuffs are dispatched eagerly in thick brown paper.

Also noteworthy are the chippy (chip shop) advertising not opening hours but frying times and that, courtesy of the summer sun’s disappearance at 11pm, the Tideswell Cricket Club competes in Wednesday evening fixtures. How fantastic is that? Time was wretchedly against us so we couldn’t visit Castleton’s most delightful emporium, World of Icing but, hopefully, another day…

Exploring European cities aside, our preferred pastime is rambling, with Roxy, about the countryside and Derbyshire presented abundant opportunity. The hamlet of Litton sleeps in an autumnal hollow. It is hushed apart from a sporadic dog bark. Their branches blazing burgundy; trees watch its placid streets, leaves like a Hawaiian lava flow. We swim through the footpaths, our shoes drowning in swirling colour. The village green is pocket-sized and wooden stocks speak of an unruly past… A boisterous tractor roars past unexpectedly and lurches to a halt. Bounding down from his cabin, a green-capped farmer nods at us and ambles into his lunchtime pub.

Friday evening in Litton’s Red Lion was the finest pub experience we’ve had in either hemisphere. Tilly the Airedale transversed the antique entrance, a jovial fire bellowed and homely chairs creaked with rustic tales and belly laughter. We’d been in the bedroom-sized bar but a minute when Harold pumped my paw, thrust a Black Sheep at me and opened a yarn about his 1992 Australian holiday; notably punctuated by wearing his pristine Crows tie during a roasting Christmas at Christies Beach.

The grimacing Terry doles out the falling-down water in this family-run pub whilst matriarch Joyce steers her kitchen and insists on autographing her little home-made booklets of home-spun poetry. The titles are flawlessly kitsch: Re-Joyce, Jump for Joyce and the forthcoming Orange Joyce. We bought copies for Kerry’s grandma in Gympie.

Retreating bar-side after some tremendous lamb shanks I’m button-holed by Joyce’s husband, thirty years my senior but insisting, Yorkshirian style, on calling me Sir. He asks of Adelaide and cricket and St Albans as if these are the most vital things in his world. Meanwhile Kerry chats merrily with the rugby-loving couple from Portsmouth who is also commemorating their second anniversary. Afterwards we retreat to our cottage and its popping, cracking fire. Perfect.

Steering the Fiat Punto at the appealingly tranquil Eyam proved fascinating for we learnt that in 1665 it lost much of its population. Shortly after unwrapping a package of cloth from London a local complained of feeling poorly. He was soon dead and the Plague again lowered its cold noose. Panicking, the minister urged his brethren to quarantine themselves in their houses and only collect provisions from designated places and mercifully this self-sacrifice partly confined the disease.

Strolling the 4WD-ed boulevards we read solemn plaques describing the demise of families of eight in as many days. 350 were ultimately claimed but it is tricky to picture Eyam suffering any modern disaster beyond the Agricultural Society cancelling, due to heartless disinterest, the 1964 Strawberry and Fig Conserve Competition (Open Section).

Easyjet flew us from Gatwick to Cologne one weekend so we could explore the renowned Christmas markets. The city is largely unremarkable save for the utterly compelling cathedral; the Dom. With twin spires ascending to 515 feet, it was the world’s tallest building until the Washington Monument. Similarly astonishing is that in 1162 Emperor Barbarossa secured the authenticated remains of the Three Magi for the Dom. We drifted about its vast, almighty interior and leaving, willingly presented some Euros to a courteous priest.

Papa Joe’s En Streckstrump is Cologne’s chief jazz venue so we find our seats early for Sun Lane Ltd, a trad ensemble from nearby Aachen. Slender, smiling waitresses disperse wine and beer. Bespectacled, elderly and ample musicians timorously squash onto the picnic-rug stage. The pianist looks like a superfluous sheet has been stretched about a lumpy, wobbling refrigerator. We can scarcely see through the stinging blue smoke. Like sailors to a knock-shop, the punters still surge in.

Standing abnormally close; a gentleman suddenly clambers up and straddles me and a nearby stair as if imagining that he and I are posing for a gay fire-fighters’ calendar. I am startled. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I declare, overlooking that Europeans are bi-lingual.

As the gentleman dismounts the step and my horrified groin I mutter, ‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome!’ my intimate twitters.

‘Say what you really want!’ adds his friend. We don’t see them again. The jazz is brisk and zestful and spilling out onto the Rhine’s bank, Nina’s “99 Red Balloons” bursts from a heaving club. Lingering at the chilly Alter Markt, Kerry sips a final Gluhwein; the hot, spiced, red wine and we confirm that Cologne is hip.

Our staff room corner houses year 7 pupil information and photos. Posted earnestly, but these summaries are memorable for their crude and po-faced honesty. This one, of course, is accompanied by a hilariously glaring youngster’s face.

Lazy girl. Hates maths. Mum hairdresser.

Such psychometric insight and sophistication! Now, dear friends, I leave with a question; with which six words would you summarise yourself?

Enjoy a splendid Christmas, especially if you missed British Sausage Week.

cologne-cathedral

This story is from the collection I call The Ringo Tales which chronicles our travels during 2003- 2006 when we lived just north of London, and spent time in Europe and North America. It can be found on this blog at https://mickeytales.com/2014/02/22/the-ringo-tales/