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Heaven and Hell - Sir John Mortimer

Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Category: Daily Telegraph
Great Holidays …

Which was your best holiday?
Every year we rent a house near Sienna in Italy and they’re all marvelous holidays. I’ve been going for years and I still really enjoy it. The best thing we’ve done is go on a trail of artist Della Francesco- we visited where he was born and all the different spots where he worked. That was a wonderful experience. I enjoy combining relaxing and looking at paintings and Italy is wonderful for that.

What’s the best hotel you’ve stayed in?
La Gazelle d’or in Morroco is a wonderful hotel . We go every year in January or February and it’s marvelous. We sit in the sunshine during the day and have lunch by the pool and then in the evening there’s the most marvelous log fire in the suite. It’s luxurious and the food is excellent. I’m quite disabled and a lovely waiter there called Rashid takes me to a table at the pool and gets me drinks and pencils and leaves me to sit and write. Once on holiday there I met John Profumo and I was praising the staff and he told me that the same waiter every day used to take him to a table beside the pool and say to him ‘This is where you sit and write until lunchtime.’ Of course Mr Profumo had no such desire.

What do you need for a perfect holiday.
I love to sit and write in the sun so sunshine above all. Pencils, pads of paper and peace and quiet are basic needs too but other than that I’m easily pleased.

What do you always take with you?
Books, pencils, pads of paper and too many clothes.

What’s your best piece of travel advice?
If you possibly can get a wheelchair even if you don’t need one. It’s wonderful: you’re always pushed in front of everyone else and then lifted onto the plane, you avoid queues and get lots of attention . I thoroughly recommend it.

…and disasters

What was your worst holiday
At the beginning of the seventies I went to Tunisia. The pilot told us the temperature as we landed and it was colder than London. When we arrived at the hotel it was still being built and there were builders and machinery everywhere. It was really terrible. It rained every day. I hated it. I’ve avoided Tunisia ever since.

What was your worst experience on holiday?
On that same Tunisian holiday it was my birthday and as a birthday treat , my wife with great difficulty managed to track down an English newspaper and presented it to me to read. I was delighted but then came across a devastatingly bad review of my play. You can imagine what that did for my spirits.

What’s the biggest packing mistake you’ve made?
I always pack too much. You hardly need anything on holiday and we never learn. In Italy there’s a wonderful lady there who washes everything and so there’s never any need for all the clothes I’ve crammed into a suitcase. I pack about 39 books too and even as I’m packing them I know I can’t possibly read them all.

Which is the worst hotel you’ve stayed in?
It has to be that one in Tunisia. Sorry to go on about it but it really was dreadful; all these builders milling around and all there machinery making the most dreadful racket. The staff were sullen too but who could blame them?

What do you avoid on holiday?
Boring British people – and there are plenty of those around . Actually I try to avoid them everywhere I go not just on holiday. I do like meeting people but not if they’re boring. I quite like being recognized and always feel a bit put out if I’m not, but I don’t want to get trapped. I avoid sun cream too and I’ve always been wary of newspapers on holiday ever since that bad review. ..

What do you hate about holidays?
I hate airports and aeroplanes. I hate flying. I once was coming back from Italy and the pilot approached me and said, ’How’s Mr Rumpole?’ I said, ‘Forget Mr Rumpole and get back and steer this thing.’ He took me up to the cockpit and tapped one of the instruments and said, ‘This thing hasn’t worked for years.’ Actually that experience did me a lot of good and I was never quite as frightened again but I don’t enjoy it.

Where to next?
I’ve been all over the world on book tours and am pretty well travelled
But I’ve never been anywhere in South America and would quite like to go there some time.

'Mortimer's Miscellany' will be at the Kings Head Theatre, Islington from 6th - 25th Feb. www.kingsheadtheatre.org.

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