America, Countries, Music, UK

Meat Loaf, Vegas and a life in the fast lane

Marvin Lee Aday truly is a sinner before the gates of heaven, but I’d back him to get around St Peter with tales of Meat Loaf, Vegas and a life in the fast lane.

Old rocker Marvin was known as Meat from an early age.

And that is the name he answered to Meat Loaf, Vegas and a life in the fast laneof course through his adult life and fame.

And that is how Northern Irishman and editor Martin was invited to address the rock legend, who passed away this week aged 74, when they met in Vegas.

Now obviously I would have loved to have been a bystander.

The Whip-Its: Rattling out 70s and 80s standards in Harrahs in Vegas

As Meat invited Mart to party the night away in Sin City.

And not least because as large as Meat was Mart is certainly more of the greyhound variety.

As our party in Las Vegas found out when he dangled mid-air on the Slotzilla zipline across Fremont Street in Downtown Vegas.

And had to be rescued… there was not a dry eye in the house!

Meat you in Vegas

All in: Bandanaman in Vegas

Meat was, of course, no stranger to Vegas… in fact they were made for each other.

In fact the larger-than-life rocker from Dallas, Texas played there right up to near the end of his career.

Meat’s stories were the stuff of legend and he cheated death on three occasions.

Which I dare say was more than JR Ewing.

Meat ran off the road, in a car not a bike like the hero of his famous Bat of Hell song, while he also had heart problems on stage.

And then he was hit by a 12lbs shot putt by the Dallas champion.

No taste

Larger than life: Meat Loaf

It was though in Reading, England at the popular music festival that our paths almost met.

Meat was playing there in 1988 across the road from where I was working.

When a punter filled his plastic bottle with his urine and hurled it on stage towards the rocker.

And hit him squarely on the nose and broke it.

Brave (and pretty grotty) fella.

Now Meat sang about the Lord’s place (Heaven Can Wait) and the Devil’s gaff (Bat out of Hell).

But it was here on Earth that he made his biggest splash.

And it’s here we toast Meat Loaf, Vegas and a life in the fast lane.




Countries, Ireland, UK

A tale of two new cities Belfast and Derry

It’s a tale of two new cities Belfast and Derry 50 years on.

The two powerhouses of Northern Ireland are marking 50-year milestones just now, for different reasons.

Belfast’s name is up in lights, on billboards as award-winning luvvie Kenneth Branagh celebrates the city of his birth on film.

Belfast boy: Kenneth Branagh’s film

While Derry too is looking back too, but to the saddest episode in its modern history.

To Bloody Sunday when British soldiers shot dead 23 unarmed civilians.

Love letter to Belfast

Lie back… and think of Belfast


This weekend has been about Belfast and the 50th anniversary of a much-loved institution and survivor, Europa Hotel.

Where the cream of Irish Travel, my old muckers, Big Jim Gallagher and Muriel Bolger among them, were taking in Branagh’s love letter to Belfast.

From the Europa Hotel which was extending its 50th anniversary celebrations of last year by putting on a special showing of the film.

The Europa holds a special significance for Belfastians as the-then most-bombed city in the world.

But which the bombers never did level.

A tale of two hotels

On the town: At the Europa

Today it is a shining gem in the city, alongside the Grand Central Hotel, with its distinctive seahorse symbol.

And visitors can enjoy the charms of both as we did on our Belfast Chilled tour.

When we stayed at the Grand Central and took in Van Morrison at the Europa.

This week past met present as Guinness flowed and they drank in the nostalgia of the crossroads year of 1972 in Northern Ireland.

Van’s the man: Van Morrison at the Europa

Seventy-one miles north-west in Derry the locals set out on a Civil Rights march on a sunny Sunday.

At the end of it 13 lay dead and 15 wounded, the story of which you can follow at the Museums of Free Derry.

The history of those times may be a foreign country to those of us not from the Walled City.

Derry Girls

How abite ye? The Derry Girls mural

But it is being played out in a more uplifting fashion in the glorious Derry Girls, the tale of an English boy thrust into a girls’ school.

With a muriel (sorry mural) of the Fab Five main characters a beacon of what Derry is now post-Troubles.

Near the border too of my Dear Old Mum’s beloved Donegal in the Republic, Derry is a delightful destination for tourists.

And yes Hastings as everywhere in Northern Ireland is where to stay.

Derry good: The Everglades

Yes, it’s tale of two new cities Belfast and Derry

Where, you say to stay in Derry? The Everglades Hotel.

Ducks on parade: And Hastings to the fore

How do I know? Well, a little Hastings duckie told me.


Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, UK

Yappy 150th Anniversary Greyfriars Bobby

Yappy 150th Anniversary Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal dog who slept by his dead master’s grave, and let’s put more animals on pedestals.

There were pipes and prayers to mark the milestone in the Edinburgh kirkyard.

And I dare say a whisky or two in his memory at the local inn, named after the West Skye Terrier who Walt Disney brought to the world.

Bobby’s statue is, of course, the best in the Scottish capital, nay the world.

And, yes, those no-name figures of Empire should be taken off their plinths.

Replaced by popular and cultural figures of our age and recent memory.

Pets on plinths

Pups: An earlier Jimmy, and Bobby

And let’s be radical here… women.

And animals.

So here’s our menagerie of all creatures great and small.

And on the grounds that we’ve got the best wee doggie, here in Scotland.

And that all God’s creatures have a place in my choir let’s sing the praises of…

The Puck stops here

King of Ireland: Puck

King Puck, Killorglin, Ireland, Now we’re not acting the goat here.

And I’m all about the goats, from my time racing them in Tobago.

In Kerry, in the south of Ireland they have been crowning a goat and throwing a festival around it since the 17th century.

When a goat alerted the village of Oliver Cromwell’s coming.

King Puck is in truth a better fit than any of the chinless wonder monarchs England imposed on them.

Before they broke free a hundred years ago.

On the Bosfurus

Turkey treats: For Tombili

Tombili, Istanbul: And no, I’ve not lost my dictionary… and if I had I’d always return to the book section of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.

How Bazaar: Cats in the Grand Bazaar

Cats have a special place in the hearts of Turks, and none more so than diva Tombili.

Tombili became a global hit after she was photographed reclining on a pavement… give her some Kite-Kat turkey treats.

Bear with us here

Bear hug: The Winnipeg statue

Winnipeg the Bear, Canada: The silly willy-nilly all stuffed with fluff is, of course, more prone to napping than scrapping.

This is the real Winnipeg, a Canadian military mascot bear cub, whom AA Milne and Christopher Robin visited at London Zoo.

The Wolf of Rome

Suck it up: The Wolf and the Babes

Capitoline Wolf, Rome: And where’s a she-wolf when you need her?

Rome, that’s where. And lucky that she was for Romulus and Remus.

Because she rescued the babes from the Tiber and they went on to found Rome.

The Romans have never forgotten, and you’ll see fountains adorned with wolf taps around the city.

While they’ll wish each other well with the time-honoured greeting: ‘In bocca al lupi (in the mouth of the wolf).

Those wacky Germans

On the shoulders of giants: Bremen

The Town Musicians of Bremen, Germany: And why celebrate one when you can have four?

The story goes that four old domesticated animals, a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster, escape their mistreatment.

To go in search of their fortune in Bremen as musicians, obvs.

They get distracted by a house robbery, take over the gaff and live there happily ever after.

And so as we say Yappy 150th Anniversary Greyfriars Bobby and all your furry and feathered friends.

All of whom are deserving of being pets on plinths.


America, Asia, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

Happy Euro Year

It was the perfect start to 2002, we were being given money… so where are we now as we mark Happy Euro Year 20 years on?

And what has it meant for those of us whose every instinct is to travel?

The truth is that for millions of millennials in Europe they won’t have travelled with anything else.

While for everyone who travels under a British passport we’ve always been told to look at it as board game money.

I say that, though ex-pats, of which I was one for 13 years living abroad have had to adjust quickly.

It usually starts when you’re buying booze in the supermarket.

And it’s only when you stop baulking and having to make mental adjustments at the price of a bottle of wine.

It’s more than a tenner… that you’ve truly assimilated.

Europhile, Eurosceptic

I’m in the money: Euro millions


So as this day is designated Happy Euro Day, was the Euro a good idea and is it right that Britain stayed with the pound?

Like everything there is the economical argument and then the emotional one.

And whenever that arises the emotional always prevails.

In countries too that have come over to the Euro there is still a sentimental attachment to the old currency.

Now if you’re a Fortysomething, Fiftysomething or later then you’ll probably remember well the frank, Deutschmark, peseta, escudo, lira or drachma.

And if you’re like my Dear Old Dad then you’ve probably got a box somewhere with all that old coinage.

A careful man, I imagine that he thought he might have use for them again if the Euro experiment failed.

Dinar time

Anyone want an old note: Foreign currency

So what do we miss about our old foreign money?

Well, it was the only time in our lives that we could really feel like a millionaire…

When we got our hands on lira.

The trouble was working out that it cost thousands to buy groceries.

And if you did try the lingo a queue would quickly form as you’re asking the teller how much you’d get for your few pounds.

Of course more of the world is outside of the Eurozone than in it.

Now I’m not about to go all numismatic on you but I do have a Jordanian dinar stuck on the side of my bookcase. And old Turkey notes too.

A souvenir of my Istanbul adventures with Turkish Airways, and with G Adventures trip to the Middle East.

But in truth just some money of such little value that I couldn’t get rid of it.

Any old money

Saddam it: What are you doing here?

Airports do take your old money in those glass boxes in the terminal.

And the descendants of the Nabataeans too in Petra where a trader tried to flog us notes from Iran with Saddam Hussein’s face on them.

Now doubtless there would have been many who would exchange dinar for Hussein.

But they had more than the look of a Monopoly note with Saddam’s face drawn on.

Working for the Yankee dollar

By George: Issy, Jimmy and the First Prez

There are some notes which are gladly accepted wherever you go and they’ll grab your hand off in the Caribbean for the Yankee dollar.

And there are 39 currencies around the world pegged to the dollar.

As a guide your yellow reggae bus in Barbados cost half of the Bajan dollar, $1, when I rocked it there a few years ago.

In the States itself you can buy Confederacy money at fairs in the Deep South on your road trip.

But the real money is in the Union dollar.

Money to burn: And the US here I come

And the more Benjamins (Franklin), or $100s, you have in your pocket the luckier you are.

Conversely, the $1 note is named for the Greatest American of them all, George Washington.

So be careful when you’re tipping.

Me? I always make sure I keep a fistful of dollars with me!

Happy Euro Day everyone or whatever currency you deal in… just, maybe avoid Saddam notes though.




America, Countries, UK

Potter gold for 2022

There’s a Potter gold for 2022 with a New Year’s Day reunion on TV to mark 20 years of the Boy Wizard films, and a road trip in my inbox.

And our friends at Family Money have outlined a route and what I’ll call a Muggles Budget.

And now with a flick of a Harry Potter wand I’ll now share.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the two cities that inspired JK Rowling the most are the most represented.

London and Edinburgh, of course, feature most heavily in the author’s life.

With the Scottish capital where JK has set up her demesne.

The two major capitals in the UK are also, because of their history and their architecture, among the most used sets.

The journey starts, obvs at King’s Cross Station at Platform 9 and three-quarters.

Your Potter planner

The magic train: And Harry’s off

And this is how Family Money lay out your Potter planner for you, the cost, and how much time you will need. 


King’s Cross Station

20 minutes to the next destination

3.6 miles to the next destination


30 minutes

Leadenhall Market

10 minutes to the next destination

1.7 miles to the next destination


5 minutes

Millennium Bridge

10 minutes to the next destination

1.8 miles to the next destination


5 minutes

Tower Bridge

30 minutes to the next destination

2.8 miles to the next destination


5 minutes

Platform for success

Party spirit: And even Voldemort gets into the festive fun

Your journey will take you more than 70 hours to enjoy if you are driving (not including sleep or food time) and could cost you up to £2714 if you are taking part in the full trip.

Explore the different bridges that were used as filming locations in The Big Smoke and enjoy walking the corridors at Gloucester Cathedral.

And relax with a drink in one of the many Harry Potter themed bars or stay in the J.K.Rowling suite for just £2370 a night!

As well as London and Edinburgh, you will also be traveling to Watford where you can look at the Great Hall and go behind the scenes of the filming.

Other essentially English sets include Oxford, Chippenham, Gloucester, Northwich, and Alnwick. 

Buckle up

Magic Murty: Showing off his wizarding skills in Watford

And to reiterate your journey (and I always need telling once, twice, thrice).

You’ll start in King’s Cross Station, venture to Leadenhall Market, Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, The Harry Potter Photo Exhibition, The Potion Room Tea at Cutter & Squidge, House of Mina Lima and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

That Warner Brother Studio Tour in Watford, north of London, is a must for families.

So next one will be Warner Brother Studio Tour before going all academic in Oxford at The Dining Hall at Oxford’s Christ Church College, Duke Humfrey’s Library at Bodleian Library, New Colleges Cloisters & Courtyard and The Divinity School at Bodleian Library.

Now I confess the next bit of geography and Potterology gets sketchy for me but you’ll know where to go.

So it’s Bodley Tower Staircase and Cloisters, Lacock Abbey, Harry Potter’s Parents’ House and Horace Slughorn’s Hideaway.

I know that Gloucester Cathedral is in the West, then there’s Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience before you hit the north and Alnwick Castle.

Welcome to Edinburgh

Gothic: Edinburgh

And seeing that I’m in the second chapter of my Scottish capital life let me take you around.

The Balmoreal Hotel  where the clock is always set three minutes late to allow rail passengers at Waverley some extra time to catch their train.

But that trip up to the Highlands can wait.

First we have to take in The Elephant House where JK wrote the early Potter.

Greyfriars Kirkyard where she took the names for characters such as McGonnigal.

The Victoria Street shops, J.K. Rowling Handprints, the Department of Magic Escape Rooms, the dramatic George Heriot School, The Dog House and The Cauldron (Harry Potter Cocktails).

Bridge of highs

And you can play quidditch too: In Orlando

Now some of these I confess have stumped me but I’m seduced by those cocktails, particularly as I wouldn’t be a fan of Butterbeer.

We’ll finish it off, of course, by driving past the bridge we all know, Glenfinnan Viaduct.

And if you have young people in the back make sure that the broadband is good and they can crank up the films on their laptops.

Of course as Harry is the gift that keeps on giving your clan will want you to take them to Universal Orlando for the full Harry Potter World experience

And Orlando is on the radar again for me too in ’22.

Trouble is you won’t want to return to Muggleworld.

So make your New Year’s Resolution to unleash the magic… and find your Potter gold for 2022.


Countries, UK

The Travel Show Must Go On

It’s the busiest day of the year for Travel but with our governments looking to shut down agents’ business we say The Travel Show Must Go On.

In pre-pandemic times, we flocked to book our summer holidays in the period between Christmas and New Year.

We’d all be seduced by the adverts released on Boxing Day.

And by we I mean us Scots, my old pals in Ireland (and I’m Scots-Irish after all) and the British body (and there are no, or shoudn’t be borders here). 

But today, with high street travel agencies opening again to the public, enquiries and bookings are at a virtual standstill.

The Good Old Days

The future’s bright: Maybe!

Back in the good old days, the number of daily travel bookings increased by between 9% and 62% in the days after Christmas.

And some surged by 69% in the post-Christmas week.

With similar rises also seen in the first week of the new year.

Holiday habits

Agents of good: Your travel agent

A quarter of British book their main holiday four to six months in advance of departure.

And 28% book between seven and 12 months before.

An expert speaks

Go Jo: Joanne of the SPAA

My old fiend Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association says; ‘There’s no Christmas bonus for the travel sector this December.

‘There is no post-holiday spike for Scottish travel agents, as holidaymakers’ confidence in travel has been shattered over the last 20 months.

“This will push travel agents who have fought tirelessly for almost two years to save their businesses to the edge.’

And aren’t travel agents more important than ever to help us through the morass that is travelling in a pandemic.

Our dream makers

Now where next? If they reopen borders

Back to Joanne: ‘In 2021, travel agencies were operating at just 22% of their previous annual revenue compared to pre Covid yet their fixed costs remained the same.

‘Many of our members tell us they were operating at 10% or less of previous years.’

Now our agents are our first point of contact when something goes wrong.

And wouldn’t it be good if for a change to tell our dream makers how much we appreciate them.?

The whole nine yards

Special agent: They’ll fly you there

Joanne reminds us: ‘Travel agents have become administrators; rebooking and issuing refunds while receiving no revenue and no grant support to help.

“We support those in all industries which have been told there is grant support there for them.’

Because as Joni Mitchell would say ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.’

Joanne again: ‘Travel agencies are being pushed out of business by stealth.

‘Restrictions around travel have been oppressively stringent, meaning people have no confidence in travelling.’

Plan of attack

Pack your bags: We’re going anyway

And at least she’s got a plan.

Go Joanne: ‘We need a structured plan to be drawn up by the Scottish Government in full consultation with all aspects of the travel industry which supports the future of Scottish travel rather than allowing it to wither and die.

“A viable plan would include winter resilience grants to keep travel businesses open and their staff in jobs.

‘The return of some form of furlough scheme to give income support to the sector is also vital.

‘Travel agents cannot simply close down as they need to remain open to continue to help their customers.

‘Rates relief to all high street travel agencies ought to be extended.

‘Agencies also require help with loan payments as they now face the repayments on the bank loans they took out at the outset of the pandemic after 20 months of negative income.

Think, think, think

Think about it. ‘They have spent all of their savings, dipped into their pensions and borrowed from friends and family.

‘One of the key support measures we need is the lifting of restrictions and testing to allow people to get travelling again and to give them the confidence to do so.’

And so The Travel Show Must Go On.

America, Countries, Europe, Music, UK

Rainy Days and Songdays Carols

Woah, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, in excelsis deo (wherever that is), it’s Rainy Days and Songdays Carols.

And particularly with the choir of carol singers from the high street in our town now having dissipated.

Sing-a-long: And we love a carol

But church services go on unabated and the original spirit of Christmas sometimes sneaks past Mariah Carey and Michael Buble.

And so a celebration of carols, their origins and the destinations with which they’re associated.

Stille Nacht

The Other Salzburg: With the Scary One

Or Silent Night which originates in Oberndorf bei Salzburg.

No, not that Salzburg of Mozart and The Sound of Music in Austria but the small city north of Salzburg.

It does though have it’s own blessed place in music as the birthplace of one of our favourite carols.

Mohr and Grober may not be as recognisable as Gilbert & Sullivan, Rodgers & Hammerstein, King & Goffin, Lennon & McCartney or John and Taupin.

But the assistant priest, and the schoolmaster and organist certainly hit on one with this classic on the Christmas Eve of 1818.

It travelled around the world and got the ultimate seal of approval when Bing Crosby sold 10 million copies in 1935.

Feliz Natal

In her working clothes: With the Scary One again

Feliz Natal as they say in Portugal.

Or O Come all ye Faithful (except they say it in Portuguese) and not this southern US draw… though Carrie on Ms Underwood.

We have King John IV to thank for it becoming Anglicised (the Portuguese are England’s most enduring ally).

The clue to King Johin IV’s musicality is in the moniker he was given King John The Musician.

His works (he is also said to have written a setting for a Good Friday standard Crux Fidelis) alas were destroyed in the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.

Of course Portugal is full of secrets just waiting to be discovered.

Crowning Bethlehem

Philly Christmas: They love a carol

Talking of secrets, I’ve just been watching the original Jesus.

Well the blockbuster televisual one, anyway, Robert Powell retracing Our Lord’s steps on the Smithsonian channel

And spoiler here.. he may not have been born there but rather his childhood home Nazareth.

The song would be very different, or would it be? Nazareth scans too.

The carol we so love, is actually an American construct.

With it written by Phillips Brook, an Episcopalian minister, then a rector in Philadelphia, and later of Boston, in the 19th century.

And sung beautifully here by The King himself.

Ding Dong Merrily On High

Roger Bravo: Roger Whittaker

Sounds very English village hall, but mais non, Ding Dong Merrily On High is a French Joyeux Noel, ditty.

The tune was originally recorded in the 16th century by Dijon‘s finest Jehan Tabourot in his study of French Renaissance social dance called Orchésographie.

Ca va, English composer and campanologist George Ratcliffe Woodward updated it with the old ding dong that we all enjoy.  

Now randomly we can’t think of anyone better to sing or rather trill it than Roger ‘The Whistler’ Whittaker.

Deep pan crisp and even

On the King Charles Bridge in Prague

OK, we’ll get the old Christmas Cracker joker out first.

What pizza does Good King Wenceslas like?

Deep pan crisp and even.

Whether the Good King first looked out on the Feast of Stephen and the snow laid round about deep and crisp and even we don’t know.

But Wenceslas Square in Prague is usually packed at this time of year, and on most days.

It might be different this year with Covid which is all the more reason to toast our Czech friends with an Urquell. Na Zdravi.

Take it away Bing… 

Merry Christmas and sing along to yourself with your Rainy Days and Songdays Carols.




America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

A kick in the baubles

A kick in the baubles… I’ve lost my battle with The Scary One and her apprentice.

It’s five years since our MLK50 group was serenaded with Merry Christmas Everyone by a Southern singer at an antebellum guesthouse.

The Southern Ball

Southern baubles and belles: Mississippi

And every year when I see the Fairview Inn bauble from Jackson, Mississippi, I think of that Deep South Family…

Her, her husband and their eight kids.

This year though I have to crane my head around the back of the tree to see the Mississippian bauble.

Because The Scary One and her mini-me have decided to hide it there behind glittery shop decorations.

It is a daily ding-dong to get my baubles on the tree…

My belle and her baubles

Masked ball: In Venice

We both love Venice so the Grand Canal bauble makes it.

Greening up: A touch of Irish

While my Irish harp (an extra greening this year didn’t go down well).

Countered, of course, by the red phone box, a symbol of Englishness.

Hat’s a decoration: The Sorting Hat

And a sorting hat and Harry Potter’s Gryffindor scarf.

He’s got bounce: Tigger

Tigger doesn’t deserve to sit below Potter but I expect him to get up the tree.

He has the bounce after all.

A Christmas laaf

Game for a laaf: A touch of Dutch

Up there and deservedly so are my favourite urchins, the Laafs I fell in love with in Ireland.

But who hail from the Netherlands.

Baubles were born in Germany as was the Christmas tree.

So if you were able to get to one of their Christmas markets then you know how tinseltastic they are.

Birthplace of baubles

Birthplace: Lauscha

Lauscha is the birthplace of the bauble and celebrates it every November with its kugelmarket.

Yes, you guessed it, it translates as bauble market.

And it all started in the glassworks of this German mountain town near the Czech border.

With craftsman Hans Greiner moulding the ornaments into the shape of fruit and nuts in 1847 and exporting them to Britain.

Neither of which would work with Santa’s little helper in Chez Murty who clears the tree of hanging chocolate every year.

Before moving my keepsake… it’s a real kick in the baubles.





Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

Where is Ireland on this jigsaw?

And they’ve been a revival stories of Covid… but where is Ireland on this jigsaw?

You see it’s something that gets us out of ourselves and travel.

All when our leaders have us all shut down.

Only some manufacturers (let’s call them Gibsons) still seem to have a British empirical view of the world.

Despite Ireland having broken from the British yoke 100 years next year.

Although the new state of Northern Ireland remained (and still remains) loyal.


A different world: Gibsons jigsaw

I was stopped in my tracks this week when browsing the shelves in the retail park.

And I discovered that we we were back in 1921.

With the two words United Kingdom spanning these two islands.

For some, unfortunately too many, it’ll be pedantry on my part.

But it’s lazy, dismissive, erroneous and outdated.

And to project a hypothetical would it be as easily brushed over were there to be a jigsaw on sale with the UK still in Europe?

To be fair I’d probably buy that!

Where in the world?

Rule Britannia: The British map

Loose geography has long been a bone of contention.

Probably since my primary school days.

When we would be given a borderless map and tested on where countries and capitals should be.

Growing up in the UK’s northern country, Scotland, was a challenge too.

And not just because of the weather, religious regression and our misfiring football team.

No, because Britain, that’s Scotland,England and Wales, being abbreviated in conversation on TV to England.

The UK you ask? Well, that’s when Northern Ireland gets included.

Also while we’re here, can somebody look at scrapping the British Isles topographical misnomer?

A new world

Get the Braai on: Port Elizabeth township, South Africa

Because we have caught up with post-colonial name changes around the world.

Although we do appreciate that it is a constant updating exercise.

With my old favourite Port Elizabeth in South Africa now needing to be changed to Gqberha.

It wasn’t all bad on my shopping expedition though for a helium canister for balloons (party at ours!).

The great erections

Barcelona prayers: At La Sagrada Familia

Next to the world and a jigsaw of Britain was a collection of great 3-D erections (steady!) from Revell.

There was Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria.

And those of a certain age will remember it from the credits of Wonderful World of Disney.

Me, it was running up its hill to clear my boozy Oktoberfest head.

La Sagrada Familia I visited during the height of a European heatwave a couple of years ago.

And the joke would be that you would never be able to finish it!

The Tower of London sits alongside it on the shelf.

Although I can’t confirm whether they had intended to give us London Bridge but it kept falling down.

Last but not least is the Colosseum.

And yes, you’ll want to check that there are no missing pieces.

When Ireland was my world

Final piece of the jigsaw: With Laurie in Malahide

And so after collecting the photographic evidence and brazening it out as the stern-eyed shop assistant restocked…

In time-honoured fashion I made my excuses and left.

And on my return home I rummaged through the garage for an old jigsaw with a fond memory.

Where is Ireland on this jigsaw?

It was in fact our whole world then.




Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, UK

Storm Barra and island it’s named after

After a first year and summer away at University I was told in no uncertain terms to get back for Christmas with my family instead of going off with friends… all of which comes to mind with Storm Barra and island it’s named after.

Its Ireland’s turn to take over the alphabet of storms that are coming our way in Britain.

Unbeknown to me we’re in a mini-union with the Netherlands and Ireland (nobody tell the Brexiteers?).

And we’re flagging up storms with user-friendly and cuddly names.

Why Ireland have chosen Barra I’ve not got to the bottom of yet as it’s a Scottish island.

It may, of course, be named after Northern Ireland’s popular TV weather forecaster Barra Best, and be a hands across the border gesture.

Though quite what Irish fashion maven and weather forecaster Evelyn Cusack had to say about that.

And the fact that Eunice (who?) has got the ‘E’ I’d hate to think.

Anyway, back to the Irish storm alphabet, and apologies for not name-checking Arwen at the start of this round.

And again quite what the half-elven daughter of Elrond from Lord of the Rings has to do with Ireland is again a hole in my knowledge.

Life’s a Scottish beach

Sands of time: Barra beaches

Back to Barra and it is only the fifth most scenic airport in the world.

Behind my Dear Old Mum’s beloved Donegal and some others.

Barra though lays claim to being the only regular beach runway.

It is served by Loganair and our browse found a return ticket from Glasgow to Barra from £71.99. The view and landing is free.

While landing on a beach means you can wear your flip-flops, if you’re an eternal optimist.

Having done the old seaplane in the Maldives, I surely must bookend it with the beach landing.

We’re pleased to see the Vikings are still coming with routes from Scandinavia.

Of course, you can also reach the island by the arterial Caledonian MacBrayne ferry, universally known as CalMac by Gaels and Barra lovers.

The Vikings were here

Call goes out: To the Vikings

And while we’re here why Barra?

And some more flesh on the bone of Storm Barra and island it’s named after.

Because the Vikings were here and named it in Old Norse barr and ey, meaning rough island.

And by Vikings I mean Viking, with the ancient Grettis saga telling us ‘Omund the Wooden-Leg’ was the first to pitch up.

Although I imagine he had ‘Scariur The Evil Eye’ there too to keep an eye on him with all those sheep around.

The Vikings ruled Barra as part of its Southern Islands, or Suðreyjar, from the 9th century through to the 13th century, bar a short period when Somerled declared independence.

Barra has only actually been part of Scotland since 1266 as part of the Treaty of Perth and the payment of a large sum of money.

Priceless Barra

Castle on the sea: Kisimul

And if you’ve been to the Western Isles’ most southerly island (stay with me here) then you’ll know it’s been money well spent.

Money, in fact, isn’t the most important currency on the island, if the following story is anything to go by.

Ian MacNeill leased the stunning Kisimul Castle, off the coast of capital Castlebay, in 2000 out of patriotic fervour, to VisitScotland for 1,000 years… for £1 and one bottle of whisky per annum!

Walk this way

Blooming lovely: The Hebridean Way

Like all our remote areas our tourism chiefs have jumped on them to promote walking routes.

And despite being in a chain of islands, Barra is no different, and is part of the Hebridean Way.

Whether you need to take your swimming gear or not but you can check out the island hop from here up to the northernmost isle of Lewis.

Call of Nature

Sunny days ahead: For Barra

Seal Bay is pretty much what it says on the tin.

While Cleat on the east of the 23sqmile island is where you want to go if you’re a surfer.

It’s probably a bit safer to be a historian (guilty) and The Dualchas Heritage Centre has all Barra’s rich history.

Whisky galore

Drams come true: On Barra, where Whisky Galore! was shot.

So we’ll all take shelter this week (I hate the old newspaper phrase ‘batten down the hatches’).

And we’ll reflect on Storm Barra and island it’s named after.

And perhaps if you are going to be homebound (hello?, we’re back in Covid lockdown territory again).

Then you can order an oul’ favourite book, Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore!, to occupy you.

Or watch the Ealing film.

Celtic society: With Barra boy Andy, Iona, South Uist’s Martin

Basically, it pinches the true story of when the SS Politician ran aground off Barra’s neighbouring island Eriskay in the Second World War.

With a cargo including 28,000 cases of malt whisky as well as other trade goods headed for Jamaica and New Orleans

The locals from the two islands, one protestant Great Todday (Eriskay) and one catholic Little Todday (Barra) have different reactions to the whisky and cash shipwrecked off their islands.

Smiler: My old pal Finlay and my gang.

Of course if you know modern-day Hebrideans you’ll know whisky is the religion which unites both catholic and protestant.

And much was drunk by my friends that Christmas which is why I’ll be toasting The Hebridean, my old friend Finlay.

I trust he will be on Cloud Nine up in Heaven now with his dram. Slainte Big Man.