The Old Blog And The Sea

You might have noticed (oh God, I do hope you noticed), that there was no blog entry last week, and that’s because it was half-term, so we spent the week visiting my in-laws in Norwich.

Then, last Friday (or ‘Blog Day’ as I now like to call it – and feel free to join me), I conquered two of my biggest fears: the ocean, and playing badminton with pensioners.

The ocean is quite a common phobia to have – it’s right up there with spiders, heights, and the Dark Lord of the Sith herself, Theresa May – and even has its own medical term: Thalassophobia (which, strangely, is also a fear of women from Yorkshire).  However, whilst Thalassophobia covers everything from a fear of drowning (entirely rational) to travelling by sea (less rational, but still perfectly understandable – and probably related to the fear of drowning), my ocean-based phobia is completely irrational: I hate ‘paddling’ my feet in the sea.

Admittedly, it’s not so much a fear, more an inherent dislike, and its actually the sand sticking to my feet afterwards that I detest the most, but, whatever the reason, I try to avoid dipping my tootsies into the surf at all costs.  The problem is, unlike drowning and travelling by sea (which are easily avoidable), when you take two young children to the seaside, as we did last week, getting your feet encrusted with wet sand – and, even worse, beach flotsam – is virtually inevitable.

As for my other phobia, the fear of playing badminton with pensioners is unquestionably more obscure, and doesn’t have its own medical terminology. This is partly because there should be very little to fear in the first place, but also because the only people who tend to play badminton with pensioners, are other pensioners, and the elderly are frightened of nothing (except, perhaps, going into a home, or losing their winter fuel payment).

Anyway, last Friday I met both fears (together with an additional fear I never knew I had) head on, and survived to tell the tale. Here is that tale:

I got up early and, despite the fact I was on holiday, went for a run in the large park opposite my in-law’s house. Running is still not a pastime I particularly relish, but since I have spent a sizeable sum on my new trainers, and since there aren’t many other ways I can see to halt (and perhaps shrink) my ever-increasing belly, I must persevere.

The good news, is that I not only managed to successfully complete a distance I haven’t run since my late teens (and by ‘successfully’, my benchmark these days is to finish running without vomiting or requiring medical attention), but I could have continued, if it weren’t for the fact I needed to get to badminton, and because I was distracted by a semi-naked man having a wash in the boating pond. Well, I say ‘semi-naked’, but it was more like 90% naked, as he was only wearing boxer shorts (although he may have had socks on too, as I could only see him from the shins up).

The first time I passed the pond, I spotted him stood there, soaking wet, as if he had just been for a wash or swim. I assumed it was the former, because this particular pond is only about two feet deep, and is primarily used for sailing model yachts and remote-controlled boats:

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Boating Pond, Eaton Park, Norwich

Not most people’s idea of a pleasant morning dip, I’m sure you’ll agree – although I’d still choose this over the ocean. The really confusing part, however, was that he was staring at me, like I was the weird one, and he was thinking: Don’t know what you’re looking at. I’m just washing my bits in this ‘ere pond; you’re the one running around, in bright yellow shoes, in broad daylight.

The second time I passed him (I’d contemplated changing my route to avoid doing so, but didn’t want to get lost), he was surrounded by three police officers, and my opinion of him suddenly changed. I had initially assumed he was some lunatic going for an early morning dip, in what is essentially a large (public) puddle, but now I had to accept that he might be homeless, and in need of help. He had stared at me, like I was the odd one, but maybe this had been his way of silently pleading for assistance, and I had simply run on. What if he was vulnerable, and mute with confusion or fear?

But then I thought: what if I was right the first time? What if, when I initially passed him, I’d assumed he needed my help, but it turned out he was just a semi-naked nutter after all? It might not have ended very well for me, with no one else around. After all, even though he was only wearing boxers, he could still have been concealing a sizeable weapon down there, with an intention to thrust it into me.

Wait, that came out wrong.

Anyway, I ran back to the house, to avoid further involvement with either the nutter or the police, showered, quickly grabbed some breakfast, and jumped in the car to get to badminton.

Until last year, I can safely say that playing badminton against a group of pensioners would not have featured very highly on my list of fears. In fact, it wouldn’t have made the list at all, as it wasn’t an activity I had ever previously contemplated, let alone lost sleep over.

Then, whilst in Norwich last summer, I was invited to join my wife’s parents at their weekly badminton group and, whilst I’m relatively shit at the sport anyway, I was secretly confident that at least I wouldn’t embarrass myself. After all, even if some of the old-timers were former professionals, they couldn’t all be that good, and even with my comparatively poor fitness levels, I felt sure they would tire before me, as I had a good thirty years on most of them.

As it turned out, I was 50% right, since none of them were former professionals – although they were all playing at a relatively high standard – but they were bloody fit for people in their 60’s and 70’s. Well, they were fitter than me, and that’s all I really cared about, because if I couldn’t beat them in terms of skill (and I couldn’t), then my only weapon was youth. Sadly, whilst I often joke that I am a grumpy old man, trapped in the body of a middle-aged one, I always thought that referred to my outlook on life, rather than my physical fitness.

In any event, whether it was my general decrepitude, or the fact these people were in remarkably good shape for their age (honestly, it was like Cocoon), didn’t really matter to me. What mattered, was that after ninety minutes of being distinctly average, at a sport I’ve now been playing for a few years, against a group of people who have bus passes, replaced body parts, and – in some cases – birth certificates predating the demise of Hitler, I was breathing out of my arse.

It came as quite the shock. Maybe I had underestimated the older generation, or maybe I had misjudged just how physically unfit I was, but either way it taught me a lesson. And that lesson was: don’t play badminton with pensioners ever again.

Clearly, I didn’t learn the lesson for long, as last Friday I once again found myself at Wensum Sports Centre in Norwich, greeting people with names like Hilda and Doris (not their actual names, but you get the idea), and praying they wouldn’t once again destroy me, at one of the few sports I still enjoy.

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In truth, I knew what to expect this time, and probably performed better as a result, but they were still all in remarkably good shape for their respective ages, and aside from a few extra wrinkles here and there, no one would have been able to tell us apart.

In fact, the only time I was reminded of the age difference, was when a particularly low shot came towards me just over the net, and I dived to my left to try and reach it. When our normal group of middle-aged men play on a Friday evening, it is quite common for us to dive around to try and execute spectacular shots (my success rate is in the region of 7%), but as I landed on the floor, I suddenly realised that all three courts had stopped playing, and everyone was looking at me.

Apparently, if a player ends up on the floor during their weekly badminton sessions, it usually means someone has suffered ‘a bit of a fall’, and the consequences can be as severe as a dislocated knee or broken hip. They simply couldn’t understand why I might fall to the ground voluntarily.

Despite this minor embarrassment, I survived the session, and wasn’t entirely outplayed by people approximately twice my age, as I had been previously. As a result, I hopefully won’t be so anxious, if I am invited back next time we visit.

Unfortunately, the relative success of my badminton trip made me somewhat over-confident, so that when we went to the seaside later that same day, I decided to conquer another irrational fear, by joining my wife and boys for a paddle in the sea.

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Damn, my legs look good in this picture

However, while my trepidation of once again playing badminton against a group of pensioners had been largely unwarranted, my recollection of paddling in the ocean (something I haven’t done for several years) was pretty much spot on. The water was cold, murky, salty, and provided the perfect adhesive for half of the fucking beach to cling to, from my toes right up to my knees.

At least I was half right.

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A Shaggy Blog Story

‘Shaggy-dog story’: A long, rambling story or joke, typically one that is amusing only because it is absurdly inconsequential or pointless.

Yep, that pretty much sums up my trip to Norwich last week.

Ok, I travel to Norwich a lot, usually two or three times a year to visit my in-laws, but I have never gone on business, and I have certainly never flown there before.

Essentially, I needed to meet with a client on one of my bigger cases, and since the train cost almost as much as the flights (and takes, on average, nearly a week to get there), we – the barrister on the case and I – decided to fly. I know, get me and my glamourous jet-setting career as a lawyer.

In order to get to the airport on time, I had to catch the 6.41am train from Sandbach, so my alarm went off at 5.45am. Even Isaac, who is predominantly nocturnal thanks to the demonic blood coursing through his veins, thought this was ridiculous.

I dragged myself out of bed, walked the dog, showered and dressed, and drove to the train station without incident. In fact, it wasn’t until the train approached Manchester Airport, that things started to get a little weird.

As the announcement came through that we would shortly be arriving, myself and another passenger got up to leave the train. He appeared normal enough, but as soon as we got to the doors, he started frantically pressing the ‘open’ button, despite the fact the train was still moving. I thought it was common knowledge that the doors don’t open until the train has stopped (the operators, it seems, are not too keen on passengers throwing themselves to a certain death), but either he was unaware of this fact, or he thought they might make an exception for him and let him take his chances.

Undeterred, he became more and more irate the nearer we got to the station, to the point he was apoplectic by the time we pulled alongside the platform. Clearly he felt that, by this stage, he should at least be permitted to commando roll from the train, to save a few precious seconds of waiting around for a safe (and wholly uninteresting) disembarkation.

Then came the really weird part.

As the train came to a stop, his purple-faced anger peaked, and he shouted “I give up!”, before storming back to his seat. I’m not sure whether this was intended to make a point, or teach the train a lesson, but I waited for the green light to come on, smugly opened the doors, and turned to await his reaction. Would he realise his foolish error and calmly leave the train in quiet embarrassment, or would his rage continue, as he ran screaming down the platform like an escaped lunatic?

As it happens, he did neither. I watched from the platform in disbelief, as he simply sat there and waited for the doors to close again. He had taken his protest so far, he had chosen not to get off the train at all (“That’ll fuckin’ show ‘em. I’ll stay on until Piccadilly now….”).

Little did I know, this was only the beginning of a very weird (and tiring) day.

Having met up with the barrister, we walked into the terminal building, and a screen immediately informed us that our 9.00am flight was not now expected to take off until 12.05pm, five minutes after the meeting with my client was due to start. Awesome.

To make matters worse, although we had booked the tickets via Flybe, the smug lady at their ‘customer service desk’ informed us that the flight was actually with Scottish airline Loganair, who operate a strict ‘we dornt care hoo late we make yer flight, yoo’re nae havin’ yer money back, ya wee Inglish bastad’ policy. Charming.

Flybe did give us a £5 ‘refreshment voucher’ each as (scant) compensation, which, at airport prices, meant we could at least split a packet of Fruit Pastilles between us, and we settled into a nearby café to discuss the case.

Fortunately, I was able to push the meeting room – and the client – back a couple of hours, so I was just starting to calm down, when I accidentally knocked one of the cups off our table. It smashed into several pieces on the floor, and everyone in the establishment simultaneously looked up from their own tables, to stare at me with the same what a dickhead expression.

For a brief, horrible minute, I thought the member of staff who came over to clean up was going to confiscate my £5 voucher to cover the cost, but he saw my face and evidently thought better of it.

Thankfully, our fortunes did improve slightly an hour or so later, because it transpired that Loganair had managed to find some sellotape with which to patch up our plane, and our departure was being brought forward by just over half an hour. Finally, some good news.

I have to admit, even though I knew the plane had less than 30 seats, I was surprised by how tiny and flimsy it looked when we got to the gate. It resembled something Yvette Fielding might have made on Blue Peter circa 1989. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, so we boarded the Airfix plane (via a stepladder) and took our seats in the first row.

It was immediately clear that, despite the size of the plane, it was still going to be more than half empty, as there were no more than ten of us on board as the door was closed ready for take-off. We therefore decided to spread out a bit, and the barrister moved to the row behind to give me some extra leg room (although, being 6’4” and sat on the front row, I still had to stick my feet into the cockpit and rest them on the pilot’s shoulders, much to his annoyance).

It was at this point, that the lone stewardess approached me and apologetically asked if I could move to the back of the plane, because “we need to balance the weight out a bit”. Jesus, love, I know I put on a bit of timber over Christmas, but that’s just rude. She was lucky she was pretty.

To rub salt into my big fat wound, she waited until I had selected a new seat in row 10, before she walked down the plane and loudly advised me that I would have to go right to the back of the aircraft and sit in row 12. Only two rows farther back, but apparently when you’re as morbidly obese as I am, that extra half a metre could mean the difference between a successful flight, and dropping like a stone somewhere over the Peak District.

So, I hauled my doughy carcass back two seats, and sat there, on my own and humiliated, while she went through the ludicrous safety procedure:

“We’ll be flying at a height of around thirty feet, rising slightly if we encounter any trees. In the event of an emergency, we’ll simply open the door and you can jump out – at worst, you might suffer a sprained ankle. If we are unfortunate enough to land in a large puddle, you’ll find some wellies and a napkin under your seat.”

Once the safety talk had finished, we taxied to the end of the runway, and a kindly airport employee gave us a push to get us started. Shortly afterwards, we were in the air.

The flight itself was actually ok, and the pretty stewardess even came round with some hot drinks and cookies (of which she offered me two, as some kind of apology for making me move seats – twice – but I just took that as another dig at my weight), and we landed in Norwich around forty-five minutes later.

The meeting with the client thankfully went well, and after a quick sandwich and pint in the city centre, we phoned a taxi to take us back to the airport. Following an unusual journey, during which the driver insisted on blasting out Julio Iglesias at full volume (I’ve never seen anyone ‘gangsta lean’ to some Spanish easy listening before, particularly when they clearly weren’t Spanish themselves), we arrived in plenty of time for our return flight.

It was a good job too, as it took me nearly half an hour just to get to the security checkpoint, due to the fact all departing passengers at Norwich apparently have to pay a ludicrous £10 ‘development fee’ to get through the airport, and the machine broke immediately before I reached it.

To make matters (and my increasing sense of panic) worse, there was no one available to ask for help. The customer service area was vacant, as was the expression of the girl at the check-in desk I then went to in desperation. When someone did eventually turn up, I suggested that they should spend some of the ‘development fee’ developing the development fee barriers, but she had clearly undergone the obligatory humour-bypass operation that is required of all airport staff, as she simply grunted at me. I decided I had better move along, before she radioed ahead for the security guards to thoroughly inspect my rectum.

The departure lounge was actually quite nice, if a little small, and I decided to spend my remaining minutes (and money) buying the boys a gift each. Well, I was on a business trip after all. Having found a card game for Ollie, and a Peppa Pig toy for Isaac (naturally), I slumped into a seat and waited for our call to board the plane home.

I can safely say that the flight back to Manchester was one of the worst I have ever experienced. Not only was the turbulence horrendous (which normally doesn’t bother me, but there was something about being in a plane constructed from cardboard that made it seem worse), but the pretty stewardess from the outbound flight had been replaced by a woman so old and leathery she looked like a purse. Still, at least she didn’t call me fat.

Having skilfully landed the plane (which, with only a matter of feet to go, was still sideways in the wind and rain), the pilot brought us back to the terminal ahead of schedule. This gave me a dilemma – I knew my trains to Sandbach were every hour, and the next one was in just over ten minutes, so should I run and probably miss it, or accept my fate and take a leisurely stroll to the station?

Of course, I ran.

Even though I arrived at the station well after the train should have departed, heaving and sweating like I had run a marathon (I half expected pretty stewardess to walk past me at this point, with a disdainful look on her perfectly-formed face), the train was running seven minutes late and was just pulling in. Finally, my luck had changed.

I slumped into the first available seat, and tried to bring my breathing and heart rate back from life-threatening levels. After an exhausting day, I was going to arrive home earlier than I expected, and in time to give Isaac his Peppa Pig toy. Ok, any arrival before midnight would probably have meant he would still be awake, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

Except, when I got home and proudly presented him with my gift, my wife pointed out that we had already bought him exactly the same teddy on our day trip to Blackpool last year.

Bugger. I knew I should have got the Pirate George one.

Must have been the jetlag.

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Blog The Magic Dragon

As you may have gathered from my last entry, we’ve just returned from the Democratic Republic of Norwich, and aside from being bitten by what I can only assume was some sort of vicious tropical insect (judging by the fact my right ankle and foot became so swollen and purple they resembled Alex Ferguson), we had a rather good time.

I ate well, drank nice beer and wine, managed to read most of a book (which, bearing in mind I usually average three books a year, is quite an achievement let me tell you), and indulged – almost daily – in one of my very favourite pastimes: the power nap.

But above all else, I went hunting for dragons.

Yes, you read that right, and no, I haven’t completely lost the plot. Whilst admittedly there is still a fair amount of insect-venom coursing around my lower extremities (a full week after I was savagely attacked), I can assure you that my mind is as stable as it ever was. Baaaah.

I’d better explain myself then.

Every two years, a charity called ‘Break’ (who support families and young people in East Anglia), ask local artists to paint a series of animal-based sculptures, which are then hidden around Norwich for people (mostly, but not exclusively, children) to find.

Two years ago, a vast array of colourful gorillas took over the city for a few weeks of summer, and Ollie – who was three at the time – absolutely loved wandering around trying to find as many as he could.

Not only did the ‘Go Go Gorillas’ raise awareness for the charity and the work that they do, as well as a considerable amount for their coffers when the sculptures were eventually auctioned off (nearly £300,000), but the local economy was boosted by all the extra shoppers flocking to the city to join in the hunt.

Such was the success of the gorillas in 2013, it’s fair to say Break stepped it up a gear with the 2015 ‘Go Go Dragons’. Not only were there more of them to track down (84 dragons compared to 54 gorillas), but budding hunters could also buy the official sticker book to complete, as well as download the app – which showed you where all the dragons could be found, allowed you to ‘unlock’ them via GPS once you’d discovered them, and gave you information about the artist or group responsible for the – often weird – design.

The stickers alone will raise a huge amount for the charity (it’s amazing how addictive sticker books can become, even as an adult helping your dragon-obsessed offspring), and judging by the number of people we encountered taking part in the hunt, the shops and restaurants displaying the dragons will have done very nicely out of the deal too. Everyone wins.

Everyone, that is, except for the tired parents.

We explained to Ollie relatively early on that, whilst Mummy and Daddy were happy to help him look for some of the dragons, we had only managed to discover around 35-40 of the gorillas a couple of years ago, so there was no chance of getting anywhere near 84 dragons this time around. Not only that, but the gorillas had been largely restricted to the city centre, whereas the dragons were now as far afield as Norwich airport. He had to be realistic. We were simply never going to reach all 84. Not even close. No Sir, no way.

How naive of us. You should never underestimate the determination of a five year old with a sticker book to complete. Of course we tracked down all 84.

In fairness, when he managed to find 30 dragons on just his first day of hunting (which, our Fitbits reliably informed us, meant he’d walked more than six miles), followed by a further 29 the next day, even I had to admire his determination to complete the challenge.

My competitive side started to wonder whether all 84 might just be possible, but then I kept reminding myself how remotely – and ludicrously – some of them had been strategically placed. I understand why a department store might want to place a dragon in their toy department, and why the Castle Mall might stick a couple in the food court, but what in the name of all things holy possessed the organisers to place two at the airport, one at the nearby Holiday Inn and one at the Toyota garage around the corner? Who in their right mind is in the middle of what is essentially a glorified Easter egg hunt, and suddenly thinks ‘you know what, I might as well fly somewhere/stay the night/buy a car while I’m here….’?

I can only assume that they ran out of places to cram all the dragons into the actual city centre (bearing in mind they were around six foot high and the same in length), and tried to think of interesting places to dump the overflow.

Anyway, by Day 3 Ollie had amassed over 70 dragons and was loving it. Each of the dragons was numbered, and when you located one there was a corresponding letter or symbol on the plinth that you filled into the boxes on your map in order to spell out a message. You could then enter the competition with that message, for the chance to win a prize (which turned out to be flights somewhere, I believe).

My wife and I had worked out most of the message quite early on, so at least Ollie could still enter the competition if he didn’t quite discover all the dragons, but then they kept changing some of the letters for numbers or symbols, like replacing the occasional ‘E’ with a ‘3’ instead, to make sure you had to find all of them. Swines.

Anyway, he added a few more each day until, by Sunday, he only needed seven dragons to complete the set. We knew of the four at the airport and surrounding area, and two more at a couple of restaurants just outside Norwich, but couldn’t work out how we’d missed the final one – which turned out to be right in the city centre where we had been on Day 1. We must have been really close to it as well. Bugger.

So, since he had been uncharacteristically well-behaved for most of the week thus far, I decided that, as a treat, I would drive him out to the airport on a ‘mystery trip’. It’s fair to say that not many children would be that enthralled by an impromptu visit to an airport, but when it dawned on him where he was, his little face lit up.

Realising the end was in sight, I didn’t need a great deal of persuading on Ollie’s part to drive to the other side of Norwich and secure the two others positioned outside the restaurants (one of which became my favourite of all the ones we’d seen), which just left that elusive one we had missed in the city centre.

Having considered the map, and not being particularly familiar with the part of Norwich in which the last dragon was apparently hidden, I wasn’t overly keen to try and find it without one of my wife’s family to direct me. However, Ollie was determined, so, naively trusting our stupid out of date sat-nav, we set off nonetheless.

It’s fair to say, I (and by that I mean the damn sat-nav), got us hopelessly lost. I knew we were in the right part of the city, but there didn’t seem to be any car parks (or certainly none we could fit in with the top box on the car) and most of the roads appeared to be one-way. In the end, the only thing that saved us, and stopped me from giving up and heading for home (or the nearest cliff), was Ollie’s scarily-photographic memory.

He had spent so long lovingly flicking through his sticker album, he had memorised what all 84 looked like, and as we drove around one particular part of city (for what felt like the fifth time), he suddenly shouted “there it is!”

Unfortunately, the dragon in question was on the other side of a three-lane road to us, which meant I had to cut across traffic in order to loop around the building it was positioned by, park illegally (and at speed) in someone’s private office space, dash out with an excited Ollie to take a quick photograph of his final dragon, and then throw him (literally) back in the car to make our getaway.

I’ve not felt so exhilarated in years. It was like being in the A-Team. Only with slightly fewer guns made from things you might find in a garage.

I’m glad Break don’t do this hunt annually, as I’ll need two years to recover and mentally prepare myself for the 2017 hunt (when Isaac will be old enough to join in too). It was a lot of fun though, and having been back through the photos, I have come up with my favourite 10 dragons, lovingly modelled by my first born. Here they are, in descending order:

#10 – Spidy

#10 Spidy

Nice and colourful. Plus, as you’ll see from what follows, I tended to favour the dragons who had a film-based theme to them.

#9 – Raptorsfire

#9 Raptorsfire

I just like the colours of this one. It would have featured higher in my list, but I’m pretty certain it was around this point that I got bitten by the unspeakable insect of evil, and the memory (not to mention my leg) is still a bit raw.

#8 – Dragonfly

#8 Dragonfly

See, that’s clever. They’ve given the dragon some funny eyes and wings, and made it into a dragonfly. Although, again, it might have been a dragonfly that bit me, so I might retract my affection for this one later on…

#7 – Dragon With The Girl Tattoo

#7 Dragon With The Girl Tattoo

They just keep getting cleverer, don’t they? So help me, I do like a nice play on words. Good job too, because other than that, it’s a bit naff.

#6 – Go Go Horatio

#6 Go Go Horatio

Ah, Nelson. A true Norfolk hero. Like Delia, only with less arms, not-as-good eyesight, and presumably less pissed most of the time.

#5 – McFly

#5 McFly

Yes! I’d had my fears that this one was going to be based on the boy-band of the same name, but, instead, the best film ever gets immortalised in the form of a dragon sculpture. Get in.

#4 – George The Dragon

#4 George The Dragon

Is it my unwavering patriotism that means I like this one so much, or the fact that it also talked? Yep, it’s the talking.

#3 – Draco

#3 Draco

I really liked this one anyway for some reason, but I’ve since found out his stars glow in the dark at night time. Genius.

#2 – Clang

#2 Clang

Not the best looking, and we nearly died several times trying to get to it, but it was our final one, number 84, the finish line. And just look at his face.

#1 – Stormy

#1 Stormy

Words cannot express how much I like this one. It’s based, obviously, on a Stormtrooper from Star Wars, and just out of shot was his helmet to one side (not sure why I didn’t get that in the photo to be honest). Even better, the artist evidently decided that a six-foot dragon isn’t quite intimidating enough to young children, so s/he altered the head and face into something truly terrifying. Kudos my friend.

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So, there you have it. We conquered the 2015 Norwich Go Go Dragons. It’d be nice to now win the competition, but just finding the full set of 84 dragons and, even better, completing Ollie’s sticker book along the way (with, fortuitously, the very last sticker in his very last pack), is reward enough.

I wonder what animals they’ll think of next time, and whether they’ll increase the quantity yet further – perhaps dotting some around Ipswich and Kings Lynn, just to really add to my fuel bill and stress levels?

Oh, and I still don’t know what fucking bit me.

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Snoop Blog

Where would you rather go on holiday given the choice: Majorca, or Norfolk?

No offence to Norfolk, but I’ll wager the majority of people reading this would opt for the Balearic Isle we recently visited, over that silly-looking bulge sticking out of the side of England (no, not Wales, the other side).

However, if you will allow me a few minutes of your time, I will explain why, for me personally, the prospect of going to Norwich next week is currently more appealing.

In fact, I’ll give you five good reasons why Norwich is a better holiday destination (for us at least) than Majorca:

  1. The travel is easier

No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses. I am well aware that you can fly to Majorca from our nearest airport, Manchester, in a little over two hours, whereas it will take us roughly double that to get to Norwich in the car. But aside from the novelty of flying, there are many, many reasons why cars are better than planes.

Firstly, even accounting for the dog taking up the whole of the boot, we can still pack more stuff into the roof box than we could into two weight-restricted suitcases. Plus, I get to carefully lift our baggage up there myself, rather than handing everything over two hours before departure and wondering if we’ll ever see our belongings again. I’m not sure I’ve ever met an airport baggage handler in real life, but judging by the condition some of our cases have turned up in over the years, I can only assume they all resemble Sasquatch and like to jump on luggage for fun.

Then, there is the entertainment. Ollie and my wife get to share a DVD (admittedly of his choosing), whereas I have full control of the stereo. As far as I am aware, no airline currently offers the joyously-eclectic mix of pop, indie and rock housed on my iPod, and I can sing along (or ‘air-drum’ if we’re in traffic) to my heart’s content, without the fear of upsetting my fellow passengers. Well, they might complain, but I usually have the volume so loud that I can’t hear them, and they always have the option of walking the 225 miles if they don’t approve of my rendition of ‘Africa’ by Toto.

The food is better in the car too. I have to admit that the in-flight meals we had when travelling to and from Majorca recently were actually pretty good (thanks in no small part to TV chef James Martin taking over Thomas Cook’s kitchen); but no matter how good airline food gets, it will never beat a giant bag of jelly babies. Ok, the pink ones taste like feet, but they are easily disposed of through an open window (oh calm down, they’re biodegradable), whereas you can’t exactly open a window on a plane if the cuisine isn’t to your liking, can you?

Lastly, whilst the journey to Norwich isn’t especially picturesque (well, not the M6 and A14 route we take, anyway), even the landscape surrounding Birmingham – which, frankly, might as well be twinned with Beirut – is more interesting than the sky. Sure, it’s pretty from the ground (the sky, not Birmingham) as you look up at the stars of an evening, but once you’re actually up there it really is quite dull. You get a few interesting minutes of watching the ground shrink away at the start of the flight, and another few minutes of watching it expand again beneath you as you come into land, but for the vast majority of the flight it’s just a carpet of clouds. You don’t even get the childish entertainment value of being able to discuss what the clouds look like, because you’re hurtling through the fluffy white bastards at 500 miles an hour.

  1. The weather isn’t as hot

Yes, this is a good thing. Whilst it was nice to have a week of Mediterranean sunshine recently, I’m pretty certain that the stifling heat was largely responsible for both boys behaving like rabid baboons for most of the holiday, and for my wife and I having shorter-than-usual fuses with them.

More importantly, since I turned 30 my waist has been expanding at an alarming rate, and so I prefer not to be topless in public if I can help it. This doesn’t really pose too much of a problem living in the UK (well, not since I gave up my waitressing job at Hooters), but when you’re abroad by the pool, or on the beach, you can’t really avoid it.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the guests at our hotel had been predominantly British, since most British men look ridiculous in just swim-shorts, so I wouldn’t have been alone. Plus, we’re quite self-conscious as a nation anyway, so at least we’d have all been in the same boat. But European men are either lithe sporty types with six-packs, or so enormously fat that they gave up caring about their appearance many years ago. None of them are ‘just a bit pudgy’ like me – it’s one extreme or the other.

Also, the fatter European men get, the smaller their trunks seem to shrink. This isn’t just a perspective thing, either (“No, Dougal, those speedos are just far away”) – they actively seek out smaller and smaller swimwear, the fatter they become. There was one German chap on holiday, who was so enormous, and his budgie-smugglers so miniscule and stretched to their very limits, it looked like someone had tried to force a small elastic band around a doughnut.

This vision, together with the guy who was so hairy he looked like Chewbacca (much to Ollie’s amusement when I pointed it out to him), damn near put me off my all-inclusive beer.

Anyway, I digress.

The point is, I don’t have the body to be stripping off in public, and when you add in the fact that I don’t tan well either (bits of me will eventually turn brown-ish, but the majority will remain either pasty-white or ouch-that-looks-sore-pink), after a few days of going shirtless I look like a Neopolitan blancmange.

Fortunately, in Norwich this isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The only thing considered to be more anti-social than strolling around the city centre with your pallid, gelatinous man-boobs on display, is wearing an Ipswich shirt.

  1. There are less foreigners in Norwich

Woah, wait a minute. Let me explain before you start comparing me to Nigel Farage. The simple fact is, most of the Europeans we encountered on holiday did not seem to like us for some reason, and they certainly didn’t like our children. Admittedly, for most of the week we didn’t like our children, but we’re their parents, so that’s our prerogative. What gives some random European stranger the right to glare at my kids, just because one is screaming and the other is spraying food in all directions like he’s some kind of human sprinkler system?

Why can’t they just roll their eyes, or tut quietly, like we Brits do?

Plus, every non-British person we encountered in Majorca seemed to smoke like a chimney, and it really made us appreciate the ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants in England. This might be a sweeping generalisation, but young and old alike were constantly sparking up. Maybe that’s how they stay so lean?

  1. The food and drink is better

Ok, we went all inclusive at our hotel in Majorca, so it’s no surprise that the food was somewhat uninspiring and repetitive, and the alcohol was only passable local brands (although I wasn’t complaining at the time), but there’s no contest when it comes to the food and drink in Norwich.

My father-in-law’s lasagne is the finest in Britain, and my mother-in-law’s Sunday roast is as good as they come (should score me some Brownie-points if they read this), but more importantly Norwich has one the finest collections of pubs in the country, perhaps only bettered by York in my opinion, and there is nothing my father-in-law likes better than a trip to the pub.

  1. We can get rid of the children for a bit

Ah yes, I’ve saved the best reason until last. Due to the fact Norwich is so far away (it’s virtually part of The Netherlands), my in-laws only get to see Ollie and Isaac a handful of times each year, and so they like to spend as much time as possible with them when we visit.

Fortunately, when it comes to her grandchildren, my mother-in-law has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met, so she will often take Ollie out for the day – which is fine by us. I love Ollie to bits, despite what I might say about him in my blog entries, but he can be really exhausting at times. Far better to let him and his Nanny burn off some energy together, leaving us with just the one screaming brat to contend with (just joking, I love Isaac too).

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So, there you have it. Five very good reasons why our forthcoming trip to Norwich will almost certainly be more enjoyable than the recent holiday we took to Majorca. Norwich wins.

Now then, how can I link the title of this blog to Norwich, so it doesn’t look like I just threw it in there at the last minute to use it up? Ah yes.

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See, Snoop Dogg prefers Norwich too.

(phew)

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