A Stolen Idea: An Interview With Myself (Sort Of)

I don't normally buy newspapers but I did today and in the Traveller section of the Independent, there's a QA session with John Cooper Clark which was a great read - presumably this section called My Life In Travel is in the mag every week. I would say that I will pick it up again next week but I'll have forgotten about it by then so instead, just for some fun, I thought I'd steal all the questions from the piece and answer them myself. Let's do this thing:

First holiday memory?

Blackpool with my grandparents. I guess we would have gone by train because nobody had a car back then. It sounds idyllic to me now but it was probably done on a budget of hardly any money at all because there simply wasn't any. This would have been my first introduction to Punch and Judy, saucy postcards and being the proud owner of a bag of pennies to distribute wantonly in amusement arcades, but the highlight would have been getting to see the brilliant clown Charlie Cairoli in Blackpool Tower. A few years ago, I found out that in 1939 he performed for Hitler who presented him with a watch for his trouble. When war broke out, Charlie walked to the end of Blackpool Pier and threw it in the sea. They don't make them like they used to that's for sure - and there's something really sad about that.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

That's a tough one. I have a huge soft spot for Braunton in Devon, but then I also love Llangollen in North Wales - when I think of 'home', that's where I always gravitate to. We didn't live there for very long but when we did, it was in the shadow of Dinas Brân which suited me just fine. Considering how it dominates the town and its age, there's not that many legends that spring from it, but this is a good one which I can't be bothered to type out so I'll cut and paste it as it stands:

The castles first literary appearance is in a 12th century historical document entitled "Fouke le Fitz Waryn," or "The Romance of Fulk Fitzwarine." In this tale the castle, named "Chastiel Bran," is referred to as a ruin during the early years of the Norman Conquest. The tale continues to tell of an arrogant Norman knight, Payn Peveril, who hears that no one has had courage enough to stay overnight inside the castle ruins, for fear of evil spirits. Payn and 15 'knightly followers' determine to stay the night. A storm blows up and an evil, mace-wielding giant called Gogmagog, appears. Payn defends his men against the attacks of the giant with his shield and cross, then stabs Gogmagog with his sword. As the giant is dying he tells of the earlier bravery of King Bran who had built the castle to try to defeat the giant. Despite King Bran's attempts against Gogmagog the King had been forced to flee and since then the giant had terrorised all the land around for many years. The giant also tells of a great treasury of idols buried at Dinas Bran which includes swans, peacocks, horses and a huge golden ox but dies without revealing its location.

As far as legends go, that's not a bad one. Many a rainy afternoon in the school holidays was spent looking for treasure. For those struggling with the language, Castell Dinas Brân translates into English as Castle of the City of Crows - or more casually, Crow Castle. So I guess for those that know me well, two plus two might begin to look something like four now.

There's also the weirdest book shop in the world in Llangollen - it must hold over 10,000 books but none of them seem to date any later than about 1975. If you want a knitting pattern for how to make a jumper with a tiger on the front that makes you look foolish, that's the very place to go. They have dozens of them. Mind you, if you ever wore it outside, people would probably stone you.

Anyway, here's a picture of Dinas Brân so y'all can get jealous:


Holiday reading?

I haven't had a proper 'tools down' holiday for a long time. I convince myself that when you really love what you do, why would you need a holiday, but I don't think that's absolutely true. I used to stock up on books for holidays like there would be a holocaust. But, to get to the point, the last few times I've been on something I've called a holiday, I've committed 100% to audiobooks. They sit on my phone and you can 'read' them while you're walking through airports, drive... all kinds of things. That's not to say I don't buy books that I find along the way but audiobooks are vastly under-rated. If anybody is looking for a good place to start with them, try absolutely anything by Michael Robotham. Not only are they fantastic crime fiction but they're read astoundingly well by Sean Barrett. Mind you, get a bad storyteller and I don't care how good the book is...

Where has seduced you?

Keystone in Colorado. I didn't know what to expect the first time I went but the first morning that I woke up there, I went outside and smoked a cigarette on the porch of where I was staying. There's a picture of it on my biography page. Right at that moment, everything slammed into a perfect clarity for me and the world made sense for once. I felt like that every morning I sat out there too. I probably shouldn't go back in case I break the spell but in about eleven days time, I'll let you know.

Worst travel experience?

That's an easy one. Anything that is floating on the sea. I must have the worst sea legs in the world. I get sick before anchors are dragged up. Having said that, the more money you pay for being at sea, the better the experience seems to be. So to answer the question properly, being a passenger on the ferry between Dover and Calais is awful. I've done it a few times and it never fails to make me miserable.

Worst hotel?

Hmm. Can you call a Travel Lodge a hotel? You can hardly call most of them even habitable these days. However, the worst hotel I've ever been in was in New York - although I found something quite rock n roll about it, so I didn't consider it to be that bad at the time. Looking back, any hotel with a giant mural of Satan painted on the bathroom wall with the words "I am the slave of he who created me" daubed on the wall around him is not a good place to be. The bad was pushed in front of the door that night.

Best hotel?

Lots, but two of the nicest experiences I've ever had have been in the Marriott in both Portsmouth and Cardiff. They have knockout facilities in those places and seem to really care about what people say about them when they leave. In my world, that's called 'production values'. I like hotels a lot and am easily pleased for the most part. I lived in one for a whole month once in Gloucester Road in London until my money ran out and then I lived on Euston Station instead. True story - best told over a coffee somewhere.

Favourite drive?

Anywhere in North Wales is good but I drove from Inverness to Skye once and that was breathtaking. It was like being in The 39 Steps which appealed to me just as much as what was going on outside the window. You can stumble across some weird stuff on a drive like that but if I had to pin a single drive down, it would be the road that goes through Foyers on the shore of Loch Ness that leads to Boleskine House. Try it sometime - you will see.

Best meal abroad?

Without doubt, last year at Spinnekopke in Brussels. How can you describe a meal in which you would be happy if you never ate again knowing food didn't get any better than that?

Favourite city?

Copenhagen. It used to be Paris but now I've been to Copenhagen, that takes all the prizes. It ain't cheap but the minute I walked out of the hotel and hit the streets, I knew I could live there from that day forwards until I died. I still feel like that now. Beautiful people, fantastic culture, great food, great walks - the list of things I love about Copenhagen is endless.

Where next?

Well, like I said, Colorado - but come November, I have an appointment with Florence which I'm really looking forward to. I haven't been to Italy since I was a kid and was totally blown away by Pompeii. I don't know what to expect from it in the slightest. I try very hard not to expect anything from anywhere I go - expectations are a very lucrative way of being let down when you get there.