Archive | December, 2018

My books of 2018…and only one on Brexit.

28 Dec

I seemed to read far too much about how our politicians were perverting things, one way or t’other,  this year. I took my eye off the greater pleasure of the solace that books can give. Anything 3 or over might be worth a squint.

Books 2018

 

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6. We found the only bar in Edirne!

21 Dec

My friend, Clive, desperate for grey-haired or, in his case, bald, adventure has invited me to join him Istanbul in mid January. This will be the last of my posts relating the story of our autumn jaunt. There will be more to come as we research the route from Istanbul to Edirne in the chill of next month.

Gatwick is flying again and so Christmas can be kick-started, we hope, for the poor blighters affected by Dronegate. Well done to Laurence (MasterChef winner) and Neil (Popmaster champion) for fabulous displays of skill, knowledge and humility in two vital areas of life: food and music. Add the appointment of Ole Gunner and things have been looking up since I started looking away from Parliament.

Back to where I left off – in Edirne in northern Turkey. Our lovely taxi driver dropped us a couple of hundred yards from the majestic Selimiye Mosque. English was spoken by our charming host at the Selimiye Hotel. He had a Celtic look about him, light-skinned and fair-to-ginger hair. I’m not sure what I expected of a Turkish hotelier but he was certainly unlike his more swarthy compatriots wandering around this lovely city.

We wandered to the mosque and the vibrant bazaar in its curtilage. Spices, sweets and clothing and colour. The displays were stunning in their sensual appeal and extraordinary neatness. On we went into the pedestrianized centre. Late afternoon and dusk was imminent. We waited for the call to prayer, expecting the happy throng of Turks to set a course for the mosque. The call came, loud and clear. Not a flicker of response. The cafes and shops remained buzzing as the prayer call echoed from the minarets and the city speakers.

We wandered past an inspiring, exciting fish market in the middle of town. We were searching for a much-needed beer after our border experiences. On and on we trotted. Plenty of coffee and hookahs about…but after twenty minutes hard searching, no beer. We were contemplating the strangeness of a soft drink when a small sign which, unlike most, was immediately recognizable: Bar.

We wandered in to this little gem and, as the only customers were greeted with some adulation. Another swarthy guy and his charming (and less swarthy) daughter smiled uncomprehendingly as we chirruped our one-word question, “Beer?” After a worrying pause I spied a large fridge stuffed with a variety of local and international brands of the amber nectar. A rapid and euphoric pointing at the fridge secured the required response. Big smiles all round and two giant bottles of a lovely chilled brew were on their way. We conducted a brilliant conversation with our hosts during which a good deal was said and almost nothing understood. Laughter abounded and the nibbles plate was regularly replenished, as were the beers. We will return.

That evening in Edirne confirmed that it would be a fine resting place on our pan European journey, whenever that may be. The following morning our trusty taxi man arrived on cue to whisk us back to the border. Clive’s passport was barely scrutinized as we wandered out of Turkey. Mine, however was taken away for further analysis by a young, unshaven chappie, more guerilla than border-force, I thought. He returned and grudgingly gave me back my identity.

We remained unsure as to whether our car would be waiting for us in the lorry bay on the other side. An additional problem was our concern as to how we could cross the central reservation at the border to make our getaway back through Bulgaria. As we walked through immigration we saw a gap in the border fence which would take us towards where we left the car on the other side. We looked around and all seemed well to nip through. As we marched towards freedom a gruff voice shouted. We assumed the translation would have been close to ‘Oi, where the bloody hell do you think you’re going?’

About turn. A beckoning finger from a large, aggressive man. Cars were being routinely stopped and their contents rifled. It was clear that plenty of trafficking or other illegal stuff goes on at this gateway to Europe. When Mr Big opened our holdalls, the look of disappointment, indeed almost disgust, at our boring underwear, shaving gear and smelly socks, was comical. With a dismissive wave of his arm he indicated that he wasn’t paid to bother with this trivia. He and the dogs went off to fry bigger fish.

And so through the fence and, glory be, our car was there. Not only that but a gateway allowed us to traverse the motorway and leave the border without further ado. Joy – and a fast road back to Sofia.

For the thirty six hours we were in we were relaxed tourists. The city has a great deal to offer with wonderful Roman ruins revealed in the city centre merged imaginatively with a new metro system. The market area is typically vibrant and the horse chestnut trees abound. They are a health and safety wonder as most pavements have risen and ripped as the root systems of the great trees wreak havoc. Wonderful.

A Balkan country shaped by Ottoman, Russian, Greek, Slavic and Persian influences is bound to throw up cultural variety, inconsistency and extremes of fortune over the centuries. Lenin’s statue was replaced in 2000 by Sveta Sofia’s enormous monument, in the city centre. The pedestal alone is 48ft tall.

There’s much to see, of course,  for the culture vultures. It’s always intriguing as to how nations report their own history in their national history museums. We went to a charming national art galley, the stunning Nevsky cathedral, the ancient Church of St. George. Gardens abound and the city is green and lovely. A large crowd was gathered in a corner of the central park as we wandered through. What were they gawping at? A game of chess.

 

Theresa must be thanking the stupid man opposite – and Jose.

20 Dec

Praise the Lord, Jose knocked Theresa off her no. 1 perch at Christmas. Journos had been searching desperately for something big enough to supplant the hapless bunch of self-interested, party-wrangling, heads-in-the-sand idiots at Westminster. And Jose’s sacking was right on cue.

It was a delight to hear Dan Roan, the BBC’s sports correspondent, heading up the first-item coverage of the 11am news on Tuesday. La Kuenssberg relegated to no. 2. Bliss.

Now you might think that the disposal of a Portuguese bighead (albeit for a likely £18million pay-off) would have few parallels with the Brexit farce, currently being played out down under Big Ben. Well, just consider. A lack of connection with his team and an ego the size of Old Trafford prevented him from seeing that the joke was, sadly on him. At least on leaving he has spoken with generosity and humility: Proud to have worn the badge, lifelong friends made etc.

Which cannot be said for the horrorshow being played out before our very eyes at our seat of democracy. Fancy spending taxpayers’ money employing lip readers to equivocate about what was so plain to the rest of us. Just bloody stupid. As if it was important anyway when the country is going to hell in a handcart. If there is a case for unelected experts to take control of our pathetic, squabbling, self-obsessed Commons, we’re close to it. No wonder the EU do better in negotiations. That bloke who runs Wetherspoons would do alright, even though he is a Brexiteer.

If Corbyn lying doesn’t take the biscuit, what about Sajid Javid’s pronouncement that we don’t want anyone who can’t get a £30k plus salary? A mate of mine, a CEO fighting for the life of his business texted: The Home Sec is so off-piste it is shameful. All our decent operations workers are EU nationals. He said a lot more but unprintable.

The three Michelin-starred chef, Dani Garcia has decided to close his Marbella restaurant to specialize in burgers, saying: You only live once and everyone has to follow the path that’s right for them. Our politicians seem hell-bent on taking the road signposted ‘Abyss’.

Meanwhile I’ll be heading for Dani’s burger bar on the Costa del Sol, visa and flights permitting.

5. A Walk on the Wild Side. We’re talking Turkey.

12 Dec

We took route 8 to Khaskovo out of Plovdiv. The road was flat and straight but started to climb as we reached a major fork in the road: left to Burgas and the Black Sea or right to the mountains and the choice of Macedonia or Greece. Route 8 presented the binary choice but we spotted that the E80 took us towards the Turkish border – ie straight on. We hoped that we would find a cosy, quiet border crossing manned by rustic, sleepy border police, who would smile and joke incomprehensibly with us but wave us cheerily across no man’s land.

In the event, after lunching in Svilengrad – again managing to choose a meal and beer via expert charades and friendly guffaws – we headed down a small road which we were certain would take us to the border. The traffic thinned and we passed pile upon pile of butternut squashes and pumpkins, stacked untidily outside forlorn farmhouses. Soon we were lone travellers heading for a sentry box, which we took to be the border.

An unshaven and unsmiling guard stepped out with arm raised. We gabbled our question, ” Can we go across the border here?” Once again our clear English was met with a quizzical gaze. A woman, similarly fatigued, stepped out from what looked to be a garden behind the sentry box. She managed to convey that this was where the road ended. Turn around, please or things could get tricky. Further, she explained that the border with Turkey was being Trumped; a fence of some 30km had nearly been completed. This to contain a surge of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa.The only official crossing point was the Kapikule motorway customs.

We did as we were told. We doubled back, found the road which linked to the motorway and headed past mile after mile of heavy freight traffic queueing to gain entry into Turkey. I should have videoed the tail-backs on both sides of the border to show Brexiteers what a border with a non-EU country looks like.

We parked our car in a coach bay and walked to what looked like a toll booth. The Bulgarian border police clearly weren’t used to ageing Brits strolling past the car queue with holdalls in hands and smiles at the ready. We found a guy in a khaki and green uniform, sporting the sort of captain’s cap that Bing Crosby wore in High Society. He looked at us curiously as we began with a question.

“Can we walk over the border here?” A studied silence, the a slow, deep drawl..

“Yerrss.”

“Can we leave our car over there in the coaching bay?” This was a trickier question, requiring a couple of seconds thought and then a wry smile.

“No…is illegal.”

“We are only going a few miles into Turkey and coming back by tomorrow midday.” We were grasping at straws here.

“Only one day?” he drawled suspiciously. “Well OK, car is OK for one day.”

Progress but we wanted conformation, “So it will be OK to leave the car, it won’t be towed away?”

“I don’t think so. You leave. I check in morning. Is OK.” He seemed satisfied and so were we…just. We picked up our bags and walked into the passport office. They had been alerted, clearly, that two odd pedestrians would need to be processed into Turkey. As we moved across no man’s land and into a similar passport-check-booth on the Turkish side, the scrutiny of our visas was rather more thorough. The Bulgars seemed pleased that we were heading out of their patch but the Turks seemed a little less keen to welcome us.

But enter Turkey we did. As promised a small bunch of taxis waited at the crossing, mostly to ship border workers to and fro. We found a smiling old chappie with whom there was no chance of meaningful communication. We wanted to go to Edirne, a small city just a few miles in from the border. My pronunciation of Edirne (Ay-dear-neigh) didn’t find a flicker of recognition. Enter Google translate. The old taxi-man had done this before. We spoke English into an iPhone, he replied in Turkish. Mr Google then worked his magic.

We were on our way to Edirne and the Selimyie Hotel, just 200metres from the famous mosque of the same name.

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