Gloucester

Date published: 22 Mar 17

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There’s something weird about Gloucester. 

On three successive Boxing Days we have driven into that fair city to enjoy its diverse delights which, on 26 December, include Mummers and Morris Dancers, performing outside the Cathedral.

And on three successive Boxing Days, we have found it almost impossible to find our way back to the hotel in which we spend our Christmas break.   

Gloucester CathedralThe hotel – the delightful Hatton Court – is located in the village of Upton St. Leonards which is, literally, on the city boundary. However, one year we got back by way of Cheltenham and on the other two occasions scoured the suburbs of Gloucester for ages, seeking an exit.

Carole drives and I navigate (with the help of the satnav who is called Giles, for reasons which need not detain us). My navigational skills are first class, even though I say so myself. But Gloucester has me beaten. Giles, too.

On 26 December last, we pulled over to ask directions from a couple exercising a pair of huskies. Huskies are noble animals. According to Inuit legend they have ‘eyes which can see the wind’ and a faultless sense of direction. With hindsight we should, perhaps, have harnessed them to the car.  

The couple and their dogs were the only signs of life in a streetscape void of people and traffic. That was lucky. The fact that we had encroached a few yards into a zone restricted to pedestrians and buses was not.

A week later Carole received a plain brown envelope. It contained a photograph of her offending car and a demand for a £30 fine. It also told her she could appeal, but the fine would double if not paid within a specified time. As the appeal process would certainly last longer than the specified time, it was a catch-22 situation.

Gloucester QuaysSo the fine has been paid and we have decided that it is best we never go to Gloucester again. Which is a shame, because it is a fine city with a lot of jolly inhabitants (especially among the Mumming and Morris dancing crowd). It also has nice restaurants and pubs and lots of swanky shops in which we have spent much time and money. I particularly cherish the overcoat bought on Boxing Day 2015, from M&S at Gloucester Quays.

Getting lost again was the low point of our Christmas break. But there were lots of high points – a welcome which involved hot grog and mince pies, first class service, food and wine, familiar faces, good companions. Midnight Mass in the village church, the Queen’s speech, scrabble, log fires and a stocking containing traditional gifts outside the bedroom door on Christmas morning. Including a small net bag full of chocolate coins. Who could ask for more? 

On my return to London I attended a reception at the House of Commons to celebrate Australia Day and New Zealand’s Waitangi Day.

During the course of a lively party I was teasingly invited by an elderly Peeress to help her locate a broom cupboard in the crypt. At the time I had no idea why she (and others) found this prospect so hilarious, but have subsequently watched ‘Apple Tree Yard’ on tv catch-up.

I also gave a talk at the ‘Destinations’ exhibition at Olympia this month. Its purpose was to entertain an audience and promote my book ‘Gullible’s Travels’.

According to the publishers it is doing reasonably well, but as an impoverished pensioner I need all the royalties I can get. I think the presentation went well. At any rate, the audience remained until the end and applauded politely.

There were some really top class speakers at the event – a ‘literary festival’ sponsored by Stanford’s, the iconic Covent Garden store which specialises in maps and guide books and other travel-related merchandise. I missed Michael Palin, but saw Colin Thubron and Simon Reeve. I also met the wonderful John Julius (Lord) Norwich who, at 87, is still producing fine books.

We exchanged a few pleasantries, recalling the days, now decades ago, when we appeared as opposing team captains in a television quiz called ‘Where in the World?’ This required us to share a dressing room (the budget was tight) so we got to know each other pretty well.

Lord Norwich is an inspiration to any man (or woman for that matter) who uses age as an excuse to retreat into a cocoon of lassitude and indifference. “I can’t be expected to do that at my age”, is their constant bleat.  

I have every sympathy for those for whom advancing years have brought physical problems, but none at all for those who are still capable, but use their age to justify their negativity.

Some years ago, in the course of making a television series about old age, I was present when we filmed a lady of 85 fulfilling her ambition to abseil down a cliff face. She was in a wheelchair.

A bunch of burly blokes helped her, with unexpected tenderness, to her goal and shared the celebratory champagne.

I know that’s got nothing at all to do with Silver Travelling. But, then, neither has our misadventure in Gloucester, my run in with a tipsy Peeress, or my reunion with a superlative Lord.

Neither has my new friendship with Christopher. But that will have to wait for another time.


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