The Pilgrim

Established 1967




Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me-ee, Happy Birthday to me!

On this very day, back in 1967, I arrived on this earth, an event that coincided with four wise men descending on my birthplace. St. John, St. Paul, St. George and St. Ringo arrived at Bangor and went all transcendental with the Maharishi, which may explain why my spiritual inclination leans slightly to the east.

Fourty years later and here I am facing the moment when life traditionally begins, when you realise you're half way through the average lifespan. I can't believe I'm entering my fifth decade. It seems only yesterday I was a spotty twenty one year old without a hair on my chest.

There's no denying I'm getting older. My tranformation into a silverback gorilla is gathering pace. I'm certainly more grey than I am black (except for one last stronghold) and the hair on my back is looking more ape-like with the every passing full moon. It's as if I'm caught in that intermediate stage when Dr. Jekyll is returning into Mr. Hyde. I wake up and my eyebrows have indiscriminately spurted growth and my hair is wild and random. So are my eyes but that's not age related.

I'm also over the hill when it comes to physical prowess. I've noticed that my recovery rate is much slower. (It's now Saturday and I still ache terribly after playing football on a Thursday) and I've now taken to sitting on the toilet for a piss because it's easier that way.

Despite my dignity fading fast I don't worry about my maturing years; in fact I welcome them. I welcome the confidence they bring me. The accumulation of experiences that make me better understand myself. I don't think I'll ever worry about getting older. Of course that's no guarantee that mid-life will go without a crisis.

Anyway, to celebrate this coming of (a certain) age I wanted to visit somewhere to which I believed I had a close affinity. A place where I could say "If I were a city then I would be this one". The one that immediately came to mind was a city with a reputation, a metropolis famed for its passion for food, music, football, "the family" and amore. Even with a frustrating useless side to its character the Neapolitan trait seem closely aligned with mine. So that was that, I am Naples, personified.

Over and above just thinking that it would be a fascinating place to visit I also had an insatiable urge to go on a pilgrimage to the birthplace of pizza. I adore pizza. I've even built a brick oven in my back yard so I could authentically cook wood-fired pizzas at home.

So our adventure began today with a tedious seven hour journey down to London Stanstead. It was a thoroughly dark and miserable day, made even darker by the fact that I was wearing a pair of (prescription) sunglasses to drive! (I had left my normal pair of glasses at home.)

We stopped for lunch at a motorway services near Stafford where I just couldn't resist starting my pizzathon. We decided that I should rate the pizzas, giving an opinion and a score for each one. My considered opinion on this one was "It was shit".

To expand: the presentation was not bad but that only flattered to deceive. Despite the somewhat attractive toppings it was peculiarly bland and the base had a stale taste. It certainly set a low benchmark with a truly dismal attempt. A pathetic 2/10 score.

However, having completely slated it, I did actually eat it all !

We arrived at London Stanstead and found our hotel quite easily. It was practically attached to the aiport terminal.

It was a Radisson and so we were guaranteed of a certain standard, and they didn't let us down.

The room had a ringside seat of the runway but Julie preferred the view with the curtains shut.

For the birthday boy there was also a bottle of Cava waiting for us as we arrived. I did however anihalate the romantic moment when my brimming champagne flute was sent flying by my clumsy oafness. My pillow was soiled and I snapped the stem of the posh glass. Cava from a tea cup doesn't taste the same!

We returned down to the lobby and had a couple more drinks at the Wine Tower Bar whose centrepiece was an enormous wine rack. It must have been over a 100ft tall with thousands of bottles.

"How do they get the bottles down?" Julie asked.

We didn't remain puzzled for too long as this Billy Lal Circus act flew up, did a few acrobatic turns, selected a bottle, and descended down head first. Incredible! It made us want to order a bottle of wine!

At 9pm we moved on to our table at Fillini, (an poor pun on Fellini) the Radisson's Italian restaurant. They had a gas-fired pizza oven which looked impressive and I was salvating at the thought of eating a proper pizza.

There was only one option for a vegetarian but that was ok, they couldn't go wrong with the toppings of peppers, spinach and roasted garlic. Or could they?

The biggest disappointment were the toppings. They were surprisingly bland.

There was a lot of peppers on it; usually you can't beat the sweetness of a chargrilled red pepper, but these seemed to be slimey ones from a jar. Also the garlic was strangely nondescript and the spinach added nothing to the mix. It usually needs some seasonning to bring out its flavour.

The base was badly burnt on the left hand side, but the rest of it had a nice texture and taste to it. I think they used semolina flour to improve the finish

Another poor attempt. I could only give it a 4/10.

On the plus side Julie couldn't fault her Tuna steak, and the desserts were very good. So we weren't too disappointed in the end.

During a lull in conversation, (I eat so quickly that there is always a period when Julie is still eating and I've long finished) , and still amazed by the wine tower, I counted that it had the potential for 3,840 bottles!

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