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Another Jaunt to Jersey..(1)

17 Jun

The mountain has to go to Mohammed. My son and his wife live in the Crown Dependency of Jersey. The pilgrimage is easy. It’s a 40minute flip across the water from Gatwick and the frantic hubbub of  Greater London is replaced by the calm civility of island life.

I hope Jamie doesn’t close his Italian kitchen in the North Terminal. The breakfast croissants are top of my list after the post-security reassembling of body and baggage. We sneaked a small table after a predatory hover-wait for a couple of flight attendants to drain their cappuccinos. The ham and cheese is my standard order, my lovely partner characteristically going for the vegan hummus wrap. As I tucked in my attention was grabbed by a kerfuffle at the table adjacent.

A well-spoken chap was complaining that the couple seated should get a shift on to allow him to settle in and scoff his breakfast. The young American couple would not be moved. They told him, politely, that they hadn’t finished their coffee. The pompous English git huffed and puffed and stormed off. I smiled apologetically at the young Yanks. Have a nice day, I said. They appreciated my support for what it was worth. I turned to my lovely partner, to engage her in a meaningful deconstruction of the squabble I have just witnessed. I had thoughts on how we have become hair-triggered, intolerant of others, too quick to judgement, to dismiss, to feel aggrieved, to feel entitled to feel riled. Naturally Brexit would have been a stop on my conversational journey.

She was dancing. Yes, literally. Earphones in, she was rehearsing a tap-dance routine for her debut performance as part of a Silver Swans group who have turned to ballet and tap for fun and fitness and to keep the Zimmer away for a decade or two. She was concentrating hard and jigging away, oblivious to all but her teacher on YouTube firing instructions to her inner ear.

Had our Easyjet flight not been delayed, her impromptu rehearsal would have been postponed. Without explanation we boarded the Airbus and settled in. I noticed that low-cost airlines don’t miss a trick to make a little extra. The seats have adverts on the cheap antimacassars. JD Sports, Fever Tree (since when was a small bottle of fizzy water worth £2.50?) and 3 Mobile were in your face. As is often the case, I couldn’t understand any of the announcements and I had to focus on something to distract me from the possibility of imminent disaster. Nervous flyer you see.

I count slowly after lift off and, usually, the seat belt sign is switched off before I reach 200. I reckon that if the captain feels relaxed enough, then I should too. On this occasion, not only had the captain not welcomed us aboard, he was clearly troubled by something. My palms became sweaty. Not unusual. 296..297..298..300. What on earth was going on? The cabin crew seemed to have received a signal that it was OK to serve drinks. At 363 the captain finally seemed satisfied that we were safe. I was able to wipe my hands, open my book and read.

The Susan Effect by Peter Hoeg. He of Miss Smillia’s Feeling for Snow. This new one is a political Scandi-noir thriller set, mostly, in Copenhagen. The translation from the Danish by Martin Aitken is brilliant. I say this having a little knowledge of the Danish language. Translations can read awkwardly and feel more detached from character and action than the writer intended. Aitken manages to create an authentic intimacy with deft and clever interpretation of small details. The chilling detached atmosphere is, by contrast, superbly realized. I’m at the bit where a monk has been beaten up, his bones crushed and he is being fed into a washing machine when the captain finally breaks his silence. We are 10 minutes from landing.

This is more like it. The man sounds like John Mills or David Niven. Calm, authoritative, all RP accent and pipe and slippers. Quite a contrast from the gruesome tale which had beguiled me for much of the trip (after the first 363 seconds). I now imagine the captain as a serial killer. Easily done.

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Grandparents’ Day. 2.

13 May

I mopped up the coke somewhat self-consciously, having alerted my co-benchers to my spillage with my favourite expletive, ‘Bollocks’. I thought I had muttered this under my breath but the smirking, if sympathetic, smile on my neighbour’s face suggested otherwise. I settled back to watch the world go by amid the peaceful hum of the Embankment Garden’s lunchtime throng and the soporific warmth of the May sunshine.

My reverie was interrupted savagely. A dishevelled, back-packed grubby man was shouting something as he walked along. Shouting at everybody and nobody. He was 50 yards off coming from the Temple area towards Charing Cross. As he neared my bench vision and sound became clearer. A white, mid-twenties or so, shabby and aggressive looking chap in combat fatigues and reversed baseball cap. Glasses. Long matted hair.

He was shouting ‘…Fucking Brexit. You’ve all fucked it up. Farage wouldn’t have fucked it up. Fucking vote for the Brexit Party. Get the fucking scum out of Parliament. Fucking democracy…’ and so on, a continuing stream delivered with venom and eyes flashing, looking for reaction. Naturally the multicultural masses enjoying their picnics in the sun turned their cheeks. Being ignored was not on his agenda. ‘No one fucking cares in this country. Look at you lot. Farage’ll sort you out. Wankers.’ He was just a few yards away. I concentrated heavily on my coke can. Amazing what can grab my attention when I need to get really focused. Those around me seemed equally expert, looking down, up or burying heads in books and papers. I looked up when the loudmouth had passed; he was alternating his shouts with mutters I couldn’t catch. One man, hefty and sweatily suited was emerging from Gordon’s Wine Bar patio. Whether he had heard the kerfuffle I doubt but he was approaching and looked directly at shouty man, who repeated ‘Fucking Brexit.’ Hefty man stopped. ‘I agree with you mate,’ he said, ‘But you’re frightening the children.’ That was all. Hefty man moved on leaving shouty man looking somewhat lost. He looked around then quietly took the path to Gordon’s Wine Bar and we heard no more.

I too looked around. I could see no children. An image of Alf Garnett came to mind. He was the loudmouth bigot of Till Death Us Do Part, the 60s comedy hit crafted by Johnny Speight. If you don’t know it go to YouTube. You won’t believe what was allowed on our screens then.

Time was moving on and Grandparents’ tea was now my priority. Tube, tube and bus took me to the slick streets of Notting Hill. I fantasized about bumping into Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts and scanned the faces in Portobello road for any signs of celebrity but no joy. A friend of mine knows Ed Sheeran’s fiancée from university days and I know they live somewhere close by. Mind you given all the shapes, sizes and colours of the crowded streets it would be easy to miss a short ginger guy. I padded on for my granddad duty.

As I neared the school, a large and imposing Victorian town house, I clocked the queue of pensioners lined up on the steps. I couldn’t be in that club surely? As my lovely partner once said to me, look in the mirror darling. And so I joined the happy group. What a mixture of colour and creed and accent. And then we were in, ushered by an unctuous headmaster and a delightful form mistress with an Irish lilt. And there was little Seb. The Armageddon of the morning’s meltdown was replaced by his pride in grabbing my hand to show me around. I sat on a little chair to scrutinize his various books. My God the poor teachers have to work overtime to ensure that evidence of meaningful work is plentiful. The digital age has made education expand to screw the poor sods who deliver it. No mangy recycled textbooks, no copying from a creaking blackboard, no abacuses, no times tables. The Maths book was full of things I didn’t understand. Hey ho. He is happy and that happiness reverberated around the cramped little classroom. Grannies and Granddads suspended all chatter of ...well in my day we did it like this.. and concentrated solely on praising the little ones. I did catch a glimpse of a lady with a strident voice cornering the head. A Russian accent? Or is that my prejudice coming through?

As for Seb and me, we headed off after tea and scones, for the most important part of the day. A full games lesson in the back garden. With kit. Depending on which sport Seb was David de Gea, Harry Kane, Joe Root, Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell. After two hours the call came for supper. I sighed with relief. My daughter handed me something chilled and alcoholic.

Grandparents’ Day…or what I did on the way. 1.

11 May

My little and lovely grandson Seb had invited me to his school, yesterday, for a special Grandparents’ Day. Despite the obvious and sugary PR intention of the exercise, I was all too eager to attend! The prospect of inspecting the work of a darling 5 year old, putative Einstein was delicious, as was the promise of tea with scones and jam.

Before embarking on the somewhat complicated route of car, train, tube, tube, bus, walk, a call came in from my daughter. I braced myself for cancellation but worse news was in store. She revealed that games afternoon had been cancelled to fit the old gits tea party into the schedule. Seb was distraught that his games kit had to stay in the wardrobe so Granddad could come and sip tea and scrutinize his scribblings. Meltdown.

With a slightly heavy heart I boarded the 11.50 from Staplehurst to Charing Cross. Only 4 coaches and rather packed with the grey-hair and blue-rinse brigade on the senior railcard jaunt to Fortnum’s. The tables in my carriage were taken and foiled packages were opened. Half-eaten sandwiches and, indeed, a couple of thermoses caught my eye as I made my way to a vacant two-seater. I settled in. I was looking forward to the last few chapters of A Station on the Path to Somewhere by Ben Wood, a startling account of a dark journey taken by a 12 year old boy, Daniel. In adulthood he attends a therapy group. The avuncular therapist advised the group to …stop viewing the present as a continuation of our past and see it instead as the beginning of our future. As I was mulling on the importance of this soundbite – slogan or profound? relevance to bloody Brexit, Manchester United, me?…a ringtone shattered the silence. Don’t Stop Me Now. Freddie Mercury boomed down the arthritic aisles as we chugged into Paddock Wood station. A woman under 60 behind me, fumbled in her bag. It took her until I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball before she found the thing. Then Yeah I can talk, I’m on the train. As usual we then had the benefit of a loud and self-important conversation about delivery schedules and office gossip. I sighed audibly. This was a time for my 65p i newspaper, not a weighty novel.

As the linguistic space around me continued to be dominated by the thick-skinned Yak behind, I skimmed the rag. Breakthrough in treatment of heart attack victims; Danny Baker; Farage; the queue of chancers lining up for Mother Theresa’s job when she finally falls on her sword; University funding set to slide after Brexit; Beckham banned from driving for using his phone while driving his Bentley. And so on. Only the heart story raised my spirits.

Already regretting that I hadn’t turned to the back page first, I turned over to page 19. David Schneider’s article: How to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. Schneider is an actor and comedian. He explains himself clearly and has the advantage of being Jewish which enables an authentic perspective in these tricky days of finger pointing in and at the Labour Party. Schneider basically says be careful and clear about what you say and mean when you talk about stuff. Example: Avoid saying Zionist or Zionism when discussing contemporary Israel/Palestine. The terms are too loaded and broad in their application, often used by anti-Semites to mean simply Jews. Benjamin Netanyahu is a Zionist but so are Israeli lawyers and peace activists fighting to achieve justice for Palestinians.

And so he went on in a clear and measured way. I felt better-informed. I don’t know enough about the middle east and I would be very wary of offering opinions without getting a better grasp of identities, what has gone on and what is going on.

In part what drew me to the piece was my recent readings from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. What an amazing grasp of tribe and culture and identity T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) developed in the time of the Arab revolt during the First World War. Are our politicians and their advisors at all equipped to make life and death decisions for those whose lives and culture they can hardly fathom?

The walking sticks were on the move. Charing Cross. I stuffed my paper into my backpack and head, with the creaking army, for the toilets. Such a joy that they are free, so no fumblings for change required. The many urinals were in heavy demand and there, in the middle of the throng was a spikey-haired woman, mopping the floor. She stepped aside as I shimmied to my bowl. I wondered, idly, if there was a man in the ladies doing the same thing. Doubtful. Looking around I saw no one batting an eyelid. Modern times.

I came out into the sun and, with time to kill, went for a stroll on the Victoria Embankment Gardens. The office workers were bathed in sunshine as they ate their tubs of tuna and sweetcorn salad or delved into goody bags for whatever had taken their fancy in EAT or Pret. I noticed that the park benches had been sectioned into three or four, so that you don’t have to sit next to anyone; you can be perfectly isolated with an armrest to left and right. I settled in one such, spurted diet coke over my trousers and watched the world go by.

Oh Danny Boy…

9 May

I suppose everyone has heard. Danny Baker the wit, the wag of Radio 5 Live has been sacked by the BBC for tweeting a picture of the happy royal couple holding hands with a chimpanzee. Well you can imagine the twitterstorm.

What first occurs to me is why on earth Danny Boy should be bothered enough about Meg, Harry and Archie to tweet in the first place. Putting that aside, Dan the man must be twitter-savvy by now, although he is cast in the role of cheeky chappie  so a little bit of inappropriateness seems to be in his DNA. He tweeted his defence.

Sorry my gag pic of the little fella in the posh outfit has whipped some up. Never occurred to me because, well, my mind not diseased.

I go along with this. When I think of chimps, I think tea adverts,  PG Tips and the years of chimp-exploitative adverts which gave us a giggle. I’m guessing there is a society for the prevention of chimpism these days. I can understand the opprobrium shooting across the ‘platforms’.

Mate, I love your show but you just can’t do that.

The BBC does not need racists like you.

You’re a disgrace.

…and so on.

However, I liked Chris Nicholls’s tweet.

If admitting a mistake and apologizing isn’t the sort of thing we should be acknowledging/encouraging, it is clear to see why we’re a society of victims too scared to own up to a mistake.

Danny Boy isn’t really a victim. He’s a silly boy who might have known better. But to lose his job? Like Jonathan Ross, he is a phoenix who will rise from these ashes but the wider issues of freedom and the cult of PC and victimhood are becoming stifling. We can’t say it like we see it for fear of the right-on police.

Jokes will be taken the wrong way on occasion but to elevate mistakes and misjudgements to sacking offences is to go nuclear far too quickly. And the BBC should, as all reasonable parents or aunties, sleep on it.

I move on. Suspension from the workplace had become increasingly common in my career as a teacher. The act of suspension was supposedly ‘without prejudice’. Yeah right. Differentiating between cases will always be tricky. The quick fix? Suspend anyone about whom a complaint has been made. Of course there are always extreme cases of misconduct where action should be swift and the innocent protected. Sometimes the accused are the innocent. A dear friend was once the subject of spiteful and false accusations. It took three years to clear his name. The stress took a terrible toll.

Perspective is a tricky thing and in so many ways we are losing it. My eastern European buddies who did work on my house (please don’t go home – we need you!) are far more clear about the state of the world. They offer opinions about race, colour, creed, national identity, men women, LGBTQ, politics, knife crime, Manchester United, Theresa May and everyone and everything under the sun. When I say, naively, You can’t say that! they will argue that they speak from their experience, not from prejudice. I don’t go all the way with them on that one but their honest chatter over a cup of coffee (only a five minute break as there is work to be done) is refreshing, energizing even. They wouldn’t understand the fuss about Danny Boy. I’m afraid, I do.

ps. Two glory nights in a row. Bring it on in Madrid. Spurs v Liverpool!

 

Que sera sera…

7 Feb

Doris Day was singing Que Sera Sera in my local on Tuesday night. Well the tape or CD or Spotify selection seemed geared to the older clientele. Whatever will be, will be sang Doris. The future’s not ours to see, she continued, as if she had heard Donald Tusk berating the likes of Boris the Spider for their support of the biggest divorce in our history, without a plan.

The vitriol poured upon Mr Tusk for his ‘special place in Hell’ jibe seemed linked to the recent condemnation of Liam Neeson for telling the truth of his feelings and actions, some 40 years ago, following the rape of a dear friend. Both Donald and Liam knew what they were doing, I suspect – one calling out the conniving idiocy of politicians who should be serving a nation’s interests rather than their own; the other promoting a film, which may not be a context best chosen to expose the raw personal memory of the vicious feelings he harboured a lifetime ago. Whatever the case, the PC police were onto them.

Liam Neeson won the support of those supping beer at the bar. All were white, a combination of Brits and Rumanians; the former supping ale, the latter serving it. John Barnes was mentioned as the black bloke who had got things in proportion. Brexit has gone off the local agenda to be replaced by the more general and chuckleworthy gossip of national interest, along with the vital local issues: traffic, potholes and all the bloody housing which is going up despite virulent and unanimous protesting.

The truth is that money talks. Boris, the aforementioned Spider was born into money, educated with it and throughout his glittering academic career barely rubbed shoulders with the prolerariat. In January he was paid £51,000 for a speech by an Irish company, Pendulum Events, in Dublin. I wonder if he was paid in Euros? Whatever shit he has stirred up, and whatever chaos and economic decline is about to ensue, he is protected by money and the irony that large organisations will pay him handsomely to talk about the chaos that he and the rest have caused.

As for Donald Tusk, I rather like him. He grew up modestly in post war communist Poland and was a student member of Solidarity. He co-founded the Liberal Democratic Congress and became Prime Minister. His politics seem to have shifted to the centre-right but he famously said that ‘It is best to be immune to every kind of orthodoxy, of ideology and, most importantly, nationalism.’ He has admitted that his early life under communism was boring and monotonous with no hope of change. ‘I was a typical young hooligan who would get into fights. We’d roam the streets, you know, cruising for a bruising.’ Shades of Liam Neeson, but not of Boris Johnson.

As Doris’s voice faded, Nantes F.C. cropped up in the conversation. The general consensus was that they have been rather quick off the mark demanding their cash from Cardiff before bodies and wreckage have been recovered. Money dominated the next few minutes. We agreed that money is more important than justice, honesty, integrity, kindness etc Root of all evil and all that. Someone mentioned poor Theresa but he was shouted down. Someone else asked if anyone had seen Kirsty and Phil on Love It or List It. This seemed to be the cue for the smokers to trudge outside with their pints of San Miguel.

I remained with the virtuous and sipped my Harvey’s. Reno, behind the bar, asked what que sera meant.

The Vanarama National League. Blessed relief.

6 Jan

When Sam Purkiss, a distinctly dodgy referee, blew the final whistle at 5.54pm yesterday, Sutton United had edged a gritty Vanarama encounter with Harrogate, 2-1. There was the gruff, happy sarcasm of celebration on the terraces at Gander Green Lane – born of many years of ups and downs. Triumph and disaster are put in their place in lower league soccer. Tomorrow is another day. And so the gritty band of Yorkshire supporters cheered their vanquished team before the long journey back up the A1.

Manchester United’s superstars, Pogba and Sanchez, who have, until recently been warming the team bench at a cost of £650,000 per week, could not have constructed or executed better goals than the three which punctuated the Sutton/Harrogate match. Mind you, punctuation apart, there was very little to raise the pulse during a delightfully dour and rather tetchy encounter. But this is the National league, several flights of fancy below Old Trafford – and so much easier to enjoy.

For a start, admission is £8 to the likes of me – over 60. Secondly, parking is unrestricted along the suburban roads that ribbon out from the ground. West Sutton Station is next door. A supporters dream. If you add the Gander pub at the end of the road and the burgers, hot dogs, chips and coffees on sale at the gate, you have a recipe for simple ecstasy. The sights and sounds and smells of the lower leagues have an authenticity – and a budget price – to trump anything that the big boys can muster in their corporate entertainment world.

The quality of the soccer varies. Conversation on the terraces – yes standing for a game is another retro-joy – is hardly interrupted by stimulating action on the pitch although there are sublime moments which delight all the more as they come as surprises. One such was Jonah Ayunga’s brilliant header in the 19th minute to put the hosts 1-up. Another George Thompson’s stunning left footed equalizer after 60 minutes – a rifled shot from 25yards. Apart from the skill, I enjoyed the normality of a name that I could pronounce.

The game was a niggly affair with a chap called Falkingham from Harrogate being the chippy little sod who seemed keen to be at the centre of most arguments. He was a talented little midget with a number 4 on his back. His number could be seen racing to complain to the rather wet Mr Purkiss at each decision, or as in this ref’s case, non-decision, that occurred. The little runt should have seen yellow early on. Instead, as he had a modicum of talent, he led the Harrogate revival and would have turned the game had Sutton not woken from their lethargy and sent on three smaller, quicker, raiding players to seal the game 8 minutes from time. Harry Beautyman finished a sweeping move to complete his own fine display and send the chocolate and gold fans home with a spring in their steps.

Total expenditure with beers and burger came in at under £20. At the top table of soccer we would be over the ton. More to the point, there were many boys and girls (£3 entry) gambolling about in their scarves and bobble hats. The club is a community facility with a 3G pitch. Finances are in the black and both the manager and chairman has ben in place for years. Sutton have had a number of famous FA Cup excursions but their bread and butter is local fun and support. Thy are threatening the promotion places. Elevation to the Football League would change things, perhaps not for the better. The expenditure on ground and facilities could be crippling. What’s wrong with staying in the Vanarama and keeping the burgers affordable?

Over Christmas and New Year I have enjoyed the blessed relief of politicians on holiday, being with those whom I like and love and only watching TV when lethargy overwhelmed me or when Love Actually was on. I have yet to make any New Year resolutions but that is normal for me; I don’t make promises I can’t keep. And so we’re back to bloody politics.

Then comes my fit again…

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.

 

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