Afghanistan's secret weapon...
In this blogposting…
* Durham City
* The World:  A Truckshunter Geography
You have been warned…

When I was growing up I spent as much time as possible in my beloved Durham.  I can still feel the thrill I got when the bus from Peterlee reached the bottom of Gilesgate Bank and the ‘back view’ of the Cathedral and Castle opened up in front of me.  I still get goosepimples now, just thinking about it.

Sometimes I would sit on the steps of the grotesque Marquess of Londonderry’s oversized statue in the Market Place and wonder why the city wasn’t teeming with visitors, guide-books open, enthusiastically making their way up Saddler Street towards Palace Green and the twin jewels of Northumbria’s crown.

Durham City had its visitors, of course, but not in any great numbers.  It wasn’t on any tourist trails in those days.  London (of course), Bath, Chester, York, the unashamedly exploitative and naff Stratford-on-Avon - they all gobbled up the tourists while Durham (or so it seemed to me) languished, neglected and even ignored.  In those days, north-east England was perceived as a forlorn region of pit-heaps, industry and ugliness.

Fast-forward 40 years or so.

Each year, The Guardian and The Observer run their ‘Travel Awards’; readers vote for whichever candidate they care to choose in several categories - like Best Tour Operator, Favourite European Country (Switzerland), Favourite Longhaul Country (Japan), Best UK Hotel, and so on.

Amongst the 19 categories is Favourite UK City.  And guess what?  Durham came second, after Edinburgh.  It beat the above-mentioned tourist traps into a cocked hat.  Perhaps at last, its beauties and gobsmacking magnificence are being recognised for what they are - sites of truly international importance, culturally, architecturally and scenically.

Let’s hope that a few of its ‘visiting fans’ get to explore the city’s hinterland, too.  County Durham is not what it was when I was young.  It’s coal-blackened coastline has been cleaned up by the National Trust, its pit-heaps have all but disappeared and even many of its colliery villages are presenting a much less drab face to the waiting world.

The Travel Awards provide further proof that the north-east has turned itself around and now presents a proud and stately face to the world.  In the same Favourite UK City
category, Newcastle came fourth.

Aren’t we lucky to live in a part of the world with two such magnetically attractive - and contrasting - cities?

Well done to both!

Notwithstanding Vivienne’s assertively-stated disinterest in the project, I’m glad to say that there are increasing numbers of blogsters who seem to have got the general idea and wish to support it by sending me more and more surprising trivia about the countries we visit along the way.

The latest such blogster is Mark, about whom I know nothing except that he lives in Australia and that he is new to shunting trucks.  His email to me (which opened with G’day) begins…

Spot on, mate.  The more people who realise what a weird place the world is and also that every country has a story to tell, is fine by me.  Forget the Little Englanders - THERE’S A WORLD OUT THERE! - explore it.  Who knows what you might find?

Please can I be your Chief Antipodean Researcher on the project?

Yes Mark, you most certainly can.  Consider yourself appointed.

As a matter of fact - and as proof of his ‘honourable intentions’, as he calls them - Mark has sent me some fascinating information we missed about the two countries we’ve visited already…

AFGHANISTAN (blogposting 298) was, incredibly, the birthplace of the carrot. 

I’ll say that again.  Afghanistan was the birthplace of the carrot.

It still grows wild all over the place there.  Oddly, in ancient times, it was only the leaves that were eaten, though.  People didn’t start eating the root until the Middle Ages.

Mark also issues a warning:  excessive carrot overindulgence can result in carotenoderma, a condition in which the nose turns orange.  Which wouldn’t do at all.

Helpfully, Mark has also sent me a list of ‘unclean’ items banned by the old Taliban Ministry of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, namely….

Pork, pig, pig oil, anything made from human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography and any equipment that produces the joy of music, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, VCRs, television, anything that propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish, fireworks, statues, sewing catalogues, pictures, Christmas cards.’

Which doesn’t really leave much.

Moving rapidly on....

Mark has also sent me more information about my new hero - the wonderful King Zog I of ALBANIA (blogposting 305) - thus providing me with an excuse to re-publish his irresistible picture.

Apparently, Zog was a lot more than merely flamboyant.  He survived 55 assassination attempts, during one of which he became the only national leader in such circumstances to actually fire back, wounding his assailant.

His son (Crown Prince Leka I) once bought Ronald Reagan an elephant from Harrods.

His grandson (Prince Leka II) was born in a Johannesburg hospital room which, for one hour only, was declared to be Albanian territory.

Mark - you’re a star!!!!  Anything on Algeria?

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com

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