America, Asia, South America, UK

Baby, you’re a firework

Baby, you’re a firework, come on let your colours burst… as they might have sung back in 1605 to mark Guy Fawkes Day.

Well because we’re fortunate enough that Katy Perry lives in our age.

Then that’s what we all do when the sparklers, rockets, Catherine Wheels and Roman Candles fizz through the air.

In the UK in those areas where people don’t celebrate the burning of Catholic traitors or have got past 17th century history.

And just like a light show then today, Guy Fawkes Day, is a national fireworks spectacular.

Of course, not everybody, the passing of a queen apart, is obsessed with British history.

So we’re taking a look at where and when the world lets their colours burst.

Fire Eid

Sparkling: Eid

Eid, the Muslim world: And as you would expect in the land of the world’s biggest building, Burj Khalifa, Dubai reachest highest in the Muslim world for Eid.

There are also numerous shows and music concerts and the amusement parks go into overdrive.

Jewel of India

Light up: Diwali

Diwali, India: Now if we in Britain think that our skies are spectacular at this time of year.

Then it is nothing compared to India.

Diwali, the festival of light, has just been dimmed for another year.

But not before India lit up the heavens in style.

And the Indian diaspora around the world did the same as we’ve touched upon.

But we’re advised again that Amritsar and its golden temple shines brightest.

Disney lights

Da Mouse games: Disney

Disney (Orlando and Anaheim and around the world): Now while the cow is sacred in India, its Da Mouse who is the holiest of holy in Disney.

Fireworks are a staple at Disney where you can enjoy their nightly shows Four Seasons of the year…

Or whichever hotel you stay in.

Or when you stroll down Main Street USA you can sit on a grassy bank.

And take in Mickey in Da House or Potter magic.

And Christmas lights

Let there be light: Rio

South America: Now the party-loving Latin Americans aren’t the types prepared to wait for the new year to set off their fireworks.

It’s probably down to the weather which allows them to set off ‘little volcanoes’ firecrackers or sparklers known as ‘little stars’.

Fountains of light are also created in villages made of large collections of these ‘little stars’.

With Roman candles favourites over turkey sandwiches and pineapple juice in the evening.

Be a part of it

Let the ball drop: Times Square

New York’s New Year: And while we all have our traditions and claim ours is best.

And the Scots have their own name for New Year’s Eve.

Times Square, New York is the place to be for their famous Times Square Ball Drop.

We all have Adolph Ochs, owner of the New York Times, to thank.

And designer Artkraft Strauss (no, really).

Held annually on December 31 since 1907, and across a bunch of feelgood seasonal movies.

So, I think we can all agree, baby you’re a firework… all year around.



Abba Days are here again in London

Abba Days are here again in London and memories come flooding back of school days and having a Sun newspaper with an article on my then favourite band confiscated.

They were the days of bare-breasted Page 3 girls.

And any girl was considered a temptress by the Jesuit priests employed to keep Catholic boys’ minds on God, education and sport.

Try telling that though to an adolescent boy.

Transfixed by the blonde curls and blue, blue eyes of Dancing Queen Agnetha Faltskogg.

Of course concerts were sniffed at too by priests and parents in the Seventies.

And so the chance to see Agnetha and the others of the Fun Four up close passed me by and will forever be out of my reach.

Avatar Abba

Quids in: Agnetha


But Avatar Abba is possible which you might have got a teaser for at their museum in Stockholm.

ABBA Voyage is the long-awaited concert from one of the biggest pop acts of all time featuring a setlist of the bands biggest, most popular hits.

Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid have created the kind of concert they always wanted.

Performing for their fans at their best, as digital versions of themselves backed by today’s finest musicians.

Blurring the lines between the physical and digital, we’re advised not to miss!

Now, of course, it’s not just the digital world which can be deceptive as I found out to my cost when I was lured in by another Agnetha.

Another Agnetha

Czech us out: With Another Agnetha

Sitting in my Greystones home poring over the names in my party.

For a coming trip to the Czech Republic I fell upon Agnetha.

And let The Scary One know which of course she duly ignored.

Of course, Agnetha was nothing like Agnetha Falstskogg.

Not her fault though as she was a woman of a vintage.

And boy she was good craic as I was to find out when she threw her shapes on the dance floor in the Spa Triangle.

And again at the American Travel fairs I attended in Washington, Denver and Anaheim.

Cassidy classy days

Dancing queen: The original Agnetha

Who’s to say that I won’t bump into her again in the Big Smoke.

When it truly would be a case of Abba Days are here again in London.

Irish travel agents Cassidy Travel offer a one-night package in London on March 18.

A hotel & concert ticket, it is priced at from €240pps.




Top trumps democracy

A premier picked by 180 politicians… in top trumps democracy Britain is beaten out of hand by China where 2980 vote in their leader.

Britain’s democracy, so hailed around the eh, United Kingdom, seems to be dwindling before our eyes.

Never mind that less than half of the public (43.6%) voted in the Conservatives… that’s just the British system.

And that’s not the last time you’ll hear that disclaimer in this State of the Nation address.

The British system

No laughing matter: Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer

Back in June 357 Tory MPs prompted their own leader to eventually quit after 148 of them had refused to give him a vote of confidence.

Which triggered the MPs’ second favourite candidate Liz Truss to get the doors of No.10 Downing Street.

After, of course, she beat MPs darling (those not in the cult of Boris ‘Cincinnatus’ Johnson) Rishi Sunak 81,326-60,399.

You keeping up… it’s just the British system.

And then when Truss fell on her sword after 44 days the ruling party just changed the rules.

We won’t bore you but they facilitated a position where their next leader might bot even have to be endorsed by Tory members.

Handy when those members had voted against him in the run-off with Truss.

Mother of all Parliaments

Make him PM: The Speaker

All of which you can learn more about with a visit yourself to the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’.

Where you can watch the Conservatives and Labour tear strips out of each other at the House of Commons.

Or have a guided tour, a house tour like no other.

Whisper it maybe around the Commons though but it’s not actually the Mother of all Parliaments at all.

Isle of Man to Iceland to Iraq

Old geysers: And parliamentary geezers

There are other older assemblies… one even in the United Kingdom, in the Isle of Man, the High Court of Tynwald.

Sounds very Game of Thrones.

Although that is disputed by the Icelanders who date their Althing back to 930.

And whose Vikings you should imagine were a lot better behaved than the MPs in the House of Commons.

Our Western-obsessed perspective assumes of course that we are the cradle of democracy.

When there is evidence to suggest that the earliest known legislative assembly or ukkim was in Erech, Iraq c.2800BC.

Well, it has a claim to be the cradle of civilisation so it figures.

Cradle of democracy

Spoiled and ruined at the Acropolis in Athens

If you want to cling to the comfort that democracy is a European construct then you can retrace its origins in Athens.

And we all know that Boris Johnson is a Classicist.

And so all democratic roads led to Rome where prior to Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon they were very proud of their republic.

You can learn more about Boris’s hero Cincinnatus who was dragged from his plough to return to save the state.

It wasn’t just Boris who was inspired by the old Roman.

The founding fathers of America looked to Ancient Rome for inspiration when setting up their institutions.

American experiment

Hail to the Chief: Issy, George and Jimmy

With George Washington himself having resigned his position as Commander in Chief only to be asked away to lead his country.

So where do we all sit then with top trumps democracy, no not him, The Donald?

But the card game where we compete on a list of strengths against each others.

The thing is though that you probably wouldn’t want the British card at the moment.


Countries, Europe, UK

Dear Green Places

When St Mungo witnessed what would become my home city he hailed it Glasgow, but what of the other Dear Green Places?

It’s not recorded why Mungo didn’t venture eastwards to Edinburgh, perhaps Glaswegians were more in need of saving.

But he’d have found an even greener place.

And it had a name already, Edwin’s Fort, after King Edwin of Northumberland.

Some would say it’s still populated by Geordies… on the stag do’s.

Green Paree

Tree bien: Jardin des Tuileries

Green as they are, alas, our cities aren’t as verdant as our friends around Europe.

And some researchers even believe England’s green and pleasant land is merde compared to France’s vert.

Paris for Fiftysomethings and above was oft-called Gay Paree before its meaning changed and maybe now it should be called Green Paree .

A study by Drinking Straw analysed the number of parks, gardens, wildlife areas, forests, playgrounds and bodies of water compared to the size of the population.

To see which areas have the most green spaces per 100,000 people.

Paris is the greenest of any capital, with 325 total green spaces made up of 171 parks, 127 gardens, one wildlife area, 16 playgrounds and ten bodies of water.

Their Lux in

Aspire to spires: Luxembourg City

When accounting for population, it has 7.62 parks and 5.66 gardens per 100,000 people.

Little Luxembourg City comes in second with 13 green spaces despite its smaller population, comprised of eight parks, one garden and four playgrounds.

There were 8.51 parks per 100,000 people, the highest of any city in the study.

Rare oul’ limes

Feast of Stephen: St Stephen’s Green

And our own fave capital, Dublin takes third on the list.

With 66 green spaces comprised of 34 parks, 15 gardens, seven nature and wildlife areas, three playgrounds, one forest and six bodies of water.

The study found it to have 6.47 parks and 2.86 gardens per 100,000 people when population was accounted for.

London’s falling

Princes among princes: Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

My own nearest city, Edinburgh, comes in 17th with a total of 31 green spaces when adjusting for population.

The Big Smoke London comes in 24th place with 356 in total, but when taking into account the city’s population it falls out of the top ten.

The final straw

Suck it and see: Straws

So who are Drinking Straw?

Well, they are a distributor, wholesaler, and supplier of drinking straws in Europe, offering flexible, eco-friendly and plastic-free wholesale stock.

And they are right to keep on at us.

And they are ably supported by our airlines, cruises and hotels and the Mother Turtles, my old friend Ingrid out in the Maldives.

It’s the final straw what’s been happening all around us.

Let’s hang onto our Dear Green Places before we lose them altogether.



Countries, UK

The best mister at Westminster

So never mind that they got the date wrong and Charles will be crowned King Charles III on May 6, he won’t be the best mister at Westminster.

There goes my knighthood or MBE, CBE or OBE although I’ll live with that as I don’t want to be part of any empire anyway.

Westminster which pedants will remind you, but not me, is actually separate from London.

And it is familiar territory for kings and queens ever since Norman Willie.

Or William the Conqueror as he has come to be known, was the first English king to be crowned there.

Since then there have been 39.

And while the late Queen is buried next to her husband Philip in Windsor Castle 30 of her predecessors including Elizabeth I have Westminster as their final resting place.

Written in the tombs

Fawn over the poets: CS Lewis’s Narnia

So in terms of social oneupman or womanship and social mobility then get buried at Westminster.

And lie for eternity with all those royals would probably rank as the ultimate for monarchists.

Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, David Livingstone and Stephen Hawking are among the 3,000 dead people in the Abbey.

Now for all its royalty, the Abbey does reserve a special place for us scribblers.

And its Poets Corner is much revered and visited.

And boasts 100 of Britain’s greatest writers…

They’ve probably got a special place reserved for yours truly (sorry to disappoint).

Geoffrey Chaucer, him of Canterbury Tales fame was first to be laid to rest here.

And Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, CS Lewis, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin.

Among others have all muscled their way in there too.

What the Dickens!

Whip around for Dickens’ funeral: Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens too though they’ll tell you down in his adopted Rochester in Kent that he wanted to rest for eternity there.

But that the media pushed for Westminster, and won.

It’s not all doom and gloom though with the Abbey witnessing 16 royal weddings.

Including the Queen and Prince Philip and Prince William and Princess Kate.

Although the least said about Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson the better.

Among all the pomp and grandeur and there are some serious attention-seeking tombs in the Abbey one stands out for me.

And he too didn’t really want the fuss either.

Wilberforce of nature

On a pedestal: Wilberforce

William Wilberforce who did more than any man to bring about the abolition of slavery from Britain and its colonial lands is buried in the Abbey.

But he had chosen a vault in Stoke Newington for his burial.

Before parliament interfered and ensured his body was laid to rest there in 1833.

Of course the once-republican Liz Truss and her appalling Dickensian cast of ministers will be doing their best to be seen at King Charles III’s coronation.

And of course he will be the man, though not my man…

That’s Wilberforce, the best mister at Westminster and one who deserves to be put on a pedestal.



America, Caribbean, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

Flower of England

The anticipation was at fever pitch ahead of The One Show announcement… no, not Eurovision but on Britain’s blooming with my Flower of England.

And in this one we have skin in the game with My Green-Fingered One and her North Berwick in Bloom team in the Britain in Bloom contest.

It is NB’s good fortune that they have someone on their team who brings the English country garden with her.

My love grows where my Sadie goes

Dig her: Sadie tills the ground

My English Rose has got her hands dirty wherever I’ve taken her, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Co. Wicklow.

Where I treated her to a busman’s holiday at one of her favourite places, Powerscourt Hotel.

Tulips from Amsterdam

Flowers everywhere: At the Dylan in Amsterdam

And when we’re away too with tulips from Amsterdam from the Tulip Museum planted for the autumn and ready to spring next year.

We all have our own indulgences on our travels and you’ll know well I like to go where the locals ‘play and pray’.

Italia’s green and pleasant land

A-mazeballs: Near Padova

While My Green-Fingered One loves to dig out a gardens which meant the Villa Borghese in Rome and Villa d’Este, Tivoli.

Now I’ve oft been somewhere and thought my wee petal might enjoy the charms of a maze.

Such as the one Napoleon used to play in the Villa Pisani near Padova

Flower of Ireland: My mum in our old garden in Greystones, Co. Wicklow

The Parco Fauna Orobica in Bergamo, the lungs for the northern Italian city at the time of Covid.

And Padova is of course itself famed for its grounds, the world’s oldest academical botanical gardens, dating back to 1545.

Where the thing to do is to live it up with a sit down tux meal with full orchestra.

Bloomin’ Barbados

On the right tracks: In Barbados

Or more recently in the St Nicholas Abbey grounds in Barbados.

Where another of her passions can be indulged… there’s a steam train line there too.

And on the sea

Of course it’s not just on land that you’ll see great gardens… there’s the Eden project on Celebrity Edge too off Florida.

And Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas in Barcelona.

Although it’s sometimes best not to show her everything.

For fear that she’ll not let me away on my own again.

Now the judges only agreed with me, and North Berwick won Best Coastal award.

But I could have told them all about my Flower of England.

She’s Britain’s blooming marvel.





Countries, Europe, Music, UK

Liverpull of Euro music

It is little surprise Merseyside has won the race to host Eurovision for Ukraine because it’s always been a Liverpull of Euro music.

It may have been a surprise surprise (well that’s our big-up to Liverpool’s favourite daughter Cilla Black done).

Yes, Glasgow put together a good bid but who can realistically compete with The Beatles as host ambassadors?

And lifelong supporter of Liverpool Paul McCartney will doubtless be front and centre when Eurovision kicks off next year.

Love me do

Strawberry Fields: Forever

It’s apt too that Liverpool should get the nod 60 years on from the release of The Beatles’ first single Love Me Do.

The tens of thousands of Eurovision fans descending on Liverpool next year will flock to The Beatles story on Albert Dock.

They’ll get a picture taken with the statues of The Fab Four at Albert Dock and the Eleanor Rigby monument on Matthew Street.

And channel our inner Beatles at their old stomping ground The Cavern Club.

Tour de four

Want a support act? At the Cavern

Take one of the tours around the city and tick off Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane and The Beatles birthplaces.

And you may be lucky too to have a driver with a pop link (everyone in Liverpool is a musician).

Ours was Holly Johnson’s brother on the Magical Mystery Tour.

The invasion of European music fans to Liverpool then is nothing new.

And its place in the continent’s thinking existed too back in the late 50s.

Hamburger thrill

Hitting the right cord: Stef

When talent spotters headed to the north of England to find bands to feed American servicemen’s appetite in Hamburg for the new rock’n’roll music.

The thinking was that they would be cheaper than the London bands.

The Beatles were a late pick but they honed their skills on the Reeperbahn with exhausting sets.

While days of seeing and enjoying Beatles music in the German port city are long behind us.

The Stef of dreams

Star status: The Beatles in Hamburg

The best Beatles experience you can have there is signing up for Stefanie Hempell’s Beatles tour.

Where she will take you around Hamburg’s Beatles’ landmarks.

And strum her way around their hits on George Harrison’s favourite instrument, the ukulele.

That’s the Liverpull of Euro music for you and why we’re endorsing Merseyside as the best choice for Eurovision 2023.

And that’s coming from a proud citizen of Glasgow.

Africa, America, Countries, UK

Get Black History Month

He’s a bit of a forgotten Commander in Chief but he is the US President who did get Black History Month… he brought it to the masses

Gerald Ford officially recognised the programme in 1976, the bicentenary of the USA.

When he called on the public to: ‘seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history.’

Of course theirs is February to mark the birthday months of the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Frederick the Great: Douglass

Ours in Britain is October and dates back to 1987 to mark 150 years of emancipation in the Caribbean.

Of course black history isn’t and shouldn’t be restricted to either February or October.

And while I’ve had to seek out black history myself around the world thankfully it is taught now in schools.

And, of course, it isn’t a black and white issue, these black icons should be everyone’s icons.

We share your dream

March on: Selma

Dr Martin Luther King: A leader for the ages and how we could do with his like today.

You can follow in Dr King’s footsteps throughout the Deep South from his birthplace of Atlanta, Georgia.

Through the bridge protest in Selma, Alabama to his final days in Memphis, Tennessee.

And his memorial in the unfinished statue in Washington DC, unfinished because it can’t be completed until the struggle is.

Sweet Harriet

I’ll be back: Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman: And even before the film of her life Harriet was immortalised in song in Swing Low, Sweet Harriet.

And you thought it was an England rugby song…

No, she was coming for to carry me home (the black slaves of the Civil War era, that is).

And you can see how she did it at the Slave Haven in Memphis.

Rightly now she stands proud on pedestals in the modern-day Oo Es of Eh, and most poignantly in her home state of Maryland.

The long march

Song in our heart: Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela: Mandela’s status and reach marks him out as the only statesman icon of our age.

With nearly 300 locations named after the first post-Apartheid President of South Africa.

Of course there were those, take a bow Glasgow who would rename the street on which the SA embassy was after Mandela.

So correspondence would be delivered to Nelson Mandela Place.

Mandela rests for eternity in his native Eastern Cape in inland in Qunu where they still speak his gullet-clicking Xhosa language.

Redemption Song

One love: Bob Marley

Bob Marley: And while there are other deserving black legends of music none pioneered black political empowerment quite like the King of Reggae.

Marley emboldened black people through his musical message at a time when racism was institutionalised throughout the UK and the world.

Of course pilgrims pay homage to Bob in his native Caribbean at mases (concerts) like the One Love gog I attended at Barbados Crop Over.

But most especially in his native and much-referenced Kingston in Jamaica.

Sweet Mary

Angel: Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole: Much though still needs to be done to level up with those we put on a pedestal.

And it is instructive that when the British government set up their emergency hospitals during Covid they called them Nightingales.

After Florence, whose harsh matronly rule of the hospitals out in Crimea are now being revisited by historians.

While Jamaican-born Mary is only recently being studied in schools.

Flo, we should remember, also turned Mary away, probably on account of her race, but she went on to set up her own hospital.

But Flo gets her own museum and gentle Mary must make do with a reference in the London Museum.

All something then to explore as we get Black History Month.


America, Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

I spy Bond over 60 years

We’ve all got our fave 007 moments but here’s how I spy Bond over 60 years through his exotic travel.

I was there where it started in Casino Royale. Not when (steady), but there at the casino where James first cashed in his chips.

Pupp love

Grand Man: At the Pupp

At the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Spa Triangle.

The world’s most famous spy has only stayed in the swankiest hotels since.

And all you need is a tux/cocktail dress and a bundle of cash to live like Bond.

Bite-size Hamburg

Knot bothered: Pierce Brosnan

Or know your way around Marriott Autograph Collection… and Hotel Atlantic Hamburg from Tomorrow Never Dies.

Where 25 years ago James seduces Paris, girlfriend of his nemesis Elliot Carver.

Not for James the Reeperbahn which of course is the heart of Saint Pauli.

Good manners: Roger Moore

And what Hamburg is best known for although Germany’s Port City has high culture too with the Elbphi.

And spy culture too with the Alter Elbtunnel which would be ideal for a Bond chase.

Anyone for Venice?

Leave the car James: Sean Connery

This James has also crossed swords with 007 in the shadow of The Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

Where like myself I went back for a second helping.

The action switches in From Russia With Love at the end to Venice where Sean Connery’s Bond checks into the Hotel Danieli.

Roger Moore outdouble entendres Big Sean in Moonraker ten years later delivers the line “Bollinger? If it is a ’69 you were expecting me” to Dr. Holly Goodhead in the lavish Suite del Doge.

London calling

Get dressed: Daniel Craig

Now we all know that James is a man for all seasons so it’s probably little surprise that like us he is a fan of the Four Seasons.

For Londonwatchers they’ll spot the location trickery with the Four Seasons Hotel Canary Wharf doubling for Shanghai.

When Daniel Craig swims in the turquoise rooftop pool with water views.

Before showering and sizzling (if you like that sort of thing).

Miami advice

Golden vision: Jill Masterson

Of course perhaps the most memorable hotel scene was in Goldfinger though not perhaps for Goldie’s girl Jill Masterson.

Who James found dead on the bed covered in gold paint.

This being Miami Beach and the Fontainebleu Hotel nobody’s asking what you want to do in the privacy of your own room. Just enjoy.

No doubt we’ll find the next Bond whoever that is living it up in fancy rooms around the world in the next six decades.

It’s just these are the ones where I spy Bond over 60 years.



America, Canada, Countries, Europe, Food & Wine, South America, UK

Drink up Oktoberfest is over

Drink up Oktoberfest is over… and only three days into the 10th month of the year.

So you’re thinking it should be Septemberfest.

Well, nein… the first Oktoberfest was held to celebrate the wedding of Kronprinz Ludwig Ludwig to Princess Therese on October 10, 1810.

It’s just that it’s been slowly been moved back to accommodate the lighter nights.

And the 16/18 day festival now runs from mid or late September to the first Sunday in October.

Or all year round if you’re two Aussies on the run.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

Toast of Munich; The Top Deck crew

It’s a well-told story but my Top Deck double deck bus 10-day trip to the Munich Beer Festival and Austria stretched a little longer.

One year longer to be precise as Brownie and Smutley dropped in on me, if a casual visit describes a 543 mile trip north.

From London to Aberdeen.

Being Aussies, of course, they asked to stay for a weekend and left a year later.

But only after returning to the scenes of my crimes at the Lowenbrau and Hofbrau huises and Kirchberg in Austria.

The original, and still best Oktoberfest may have poured its last stein for 12 months.

But the party still goes on around the world.

Oktoberfest around the world

Embrafest: Oktoberfest in Princes Street

In Edinburgh this October 6, 7, 8 and 9, here where I initiated the neighbour in all things Helga and Hofbrau last year.

And in the greater German diaspora with Kitchener (formerly Berlin) in Ontario, Canada where 700,000 clink steins annually.

The Americans, naturally, would never want their neighbour to outdo them and Cincinatti and Denver run them close.

You might be surprised to know though that Blumenau in Brazil is only surpassed by Munich and Kitchener for visitors.

Lager Down Under

Kick up your heels: Oktoberfest in Munich

Of course Brownie and Smutley could have stayed where they were and enjoyed Oktoberfests in Perth in the Supreme Court Gardens.

Or any of the great Aussie cities.

Mind you as anyone who has been to Munich for Oktoberfest will tell you for those two weeks it is a little corner of Oz.

So the Munich celebrations have wound up when the last lederhosen-dressed Bavarian has called ‘Drink up Oktoberfest is over.‘

But that just means finding your next Oktoberfest bash wherever it is in the world.