Looky-looky, it's me

NEVER scared of leaving these beautiful British isles I have, dear readers, just flown in from overseas as I sit and write today's column.

James Marston

NEVER scared of leaving these beautiful British isles I have, dear readers, just flown in from overseas as I sit and write today's column.

I say just flown in but my journey, in fact, included a bus journey, two flights, a train, a tube and then a train again so by the time I caught the last train back to Felixstowe I was cursing ever leaving the Suffolk Riviera and my small Felixstowe flat with sea views (distant).

As many of you will agree other people's holiday stories are rarely interesting and only ever asked for as a matter of politeness - nevertheless I shall tell you anyway about my trip to the Mediterranean shores of North Africa

As it says in Virgil's Aeneid book four - “But the queen, injured for a long time now by a terrible passion feeds the wound in her life-blood and is eaten up by the hidden fire.

“The man's great courage and the great distinction of his family keep coming back to her; his face and his words stick fast in her heart, and her anxiety gives no calm rest to her limbs.”

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Virgil, of course, is on about Queen Dido and her young fella Aeneas.

She fell for him you see, things didn't work out, he left her and she threw herself on a burning pyre - at least I think it was something like that.

Anyway, the point is, and I'm sure you're beginning to wonder, that Tunisia, back in ancient times before mobile phones and quantitative easing, was called Carthage.

You see, the great city with sea views (everywhere), that went on to rival Rome itself, was founded by this lady Dido, who, by all accounts, was a little bit foxy - she wasn't averse to the odd bacchanalian feast.

And it was in the ancient ruins of her great city, close to the bustle of modern day Tunis, that I found myself this week enjoying ever such a lot of couscous and a spot of sunshine.

Now have you ever been in a North African souk?

Not my idea of fun at all but I'd never go shopping at all unless I had to.

The souk is perhaps best described as the Tunisian equivalent of Blue Water or Thurrock or whatever it's called - full of things you don't need, full of people, and all under one roof.

For many it is an invigorating experience, drawn in by the chance to haggle. As far as I could work out it was a gauntlet you had to run of pushy Arab salesmen determined to get me to “Looky-Looky” at their ceramics, leather goods and millinery - well, fezzes.

I didn't know the Arabic for “I'm OK plate-wise thank you very much and I have no fancy dress parties coming up either,” so in the end I just walked briskly towards the light and bought my souvenir - 200 Benson and Hedges - on the plane.

In the uplit hinterlands, away from the city, Tunisia does display its full charm.

There are lots of olive groves and the dates - fruit variety - are amazing so it's nice for that.

I saw a camel or two and visited a French Colonial garrison town called Zarzis not too far from the Libyan border - a country we are now ever so friendly with I understand.

“Observe” I said to my fellow travellers who had, strangely to my mind, never even heard of the Felixstowe peninsula, as we journeyed around the island of Djerba.

“Observe, the distinct lack of pubs. Though smoking is permissible everywhere.”

Tunisia - there's fors and againsts.

AS regular readers will know my friends Mark and Liz - who were unable to agree until recently on a honeymoon destination - are currently planning a wedding.

I have been asked to do a short reading - not from my column but from the Bible - it's a church wedding you see which is always nice architecturally.

So today, have any of you got a nice recommendation? Or any thoughts?

Preferably an excerpt with nothing too difficult to pronounce.

Dear Readers,

Not so much of a big mailbag so much as a big letter.

Ron, clearly an avid reader, has told me not to give anything up for Lent.

I've agreed, finding self-denial something that I'd rather deny myself.


Dear James,

In your recent column you asked for people to write to you.

Well, here goes and, really, serves you right!

I was intrigued by your lack of sporting achievements when you were at school. I suffered similarly. I could not catch a ball - still cannot - so cricket, rugby, handball etc were out. I could not hit a ball - still cannot - so cricket, tennis and rounders were out. I could not run - still cannot - so, well, see above.

Well, I tell a lie, sort of. On one occasion the rugby ball came my way. Being the only one in the area at the time and being possessed of a guilt complex, I picked up the ball and, with supreme presence of mind, began to run in the correct direction. I heard astonished cries of 'it's Longland' before everyone descended upon me. I passed the ball to a team-mate and never touched the thing again.

I hated rugby. It always occurred in the winter. I hate the cold. I can remember still being unable to do up my shirt buttons because my fingers were too cold even to bend, let alone to feel the actual buttons themselves.

You passed Latin. Wow! I took Latin at 'O' level, in 1957. That was the only school exam I failed. I left school with 10 O-levels and three A-levels. In my following 36 years of full-time work I used about 10 per cent of chemistry and almost nothing of the remaining 12 exams. School curriculae and exams never prepared students for the real world. As an example, I learned how to calculate the rate of reaction of an explosion. I never put that to any practical use!

Changing the subject, why give anything up for Lent? If you can still afford those little luxuries, keep them. Wait until you retire. Then, with no income from savings and maximum income tax on your pension, you will find that you will be forced to give up quite a lot, including some activities which are reasonably essential to a nice lifestyle. Actually, I suspect that it will be getting on for 30 years before you retire, by which time the state pension will be unaffordable.

Good luck with your column. I read it every time, as I do with that by Lynne Mortimer.

The two of you are pretty close to real life, at least, as I experience it.


Clarence Road,