Real meals: Sonic drive-in

De gustibus non est disputandum, so I don’t want any wise-ass backchat from you lot when I tell you that the meal I had at the Sonic drive-in on the Murfreesboro Pike on the outskirts of Nashville was probably the best one I’ve ever eaten. I don’t, by this, mean that the food was the best I have ever eaten – far from it – nor that the ambience was particularly good (I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my rented Chevy SUV), but the sky overhead was beautiful, the company highly amusing and most importantly: I was on holiday … sort of.

On location: Florence

Arriving at the Stazione di Santa Maria Novella I feel like a bit of a Rodin’s Messenger of the Gods: after all, I’m in Florence merely to make money, while all around me people are purely intent on having a good time. I walk towards the centre of town; the throng of tourists swirling about the flanks of the basilica church parts for a moment, and beside one of those hat stalls that have sprung up the world over (selling panamas, trilbies and caps of many colours, none of which you ever notice anyone wearing), I see a man with no feet lying on the pavement and begging, the ends of his stumps apparently smeared with mercurochrome, or something else that stains them an obscene reddish-orange.

Mapplethorpe beach, Holderness coast

The beach at Mapplethorpe.

The beach at Mapplethorpe.

“This is the extraordinary beach at Mapplethorpe on the Holderness coast of east Yorkshire. I walked the length of the coast from Flamborough Head to Spurn Head in the summer of 2007 as part of the research for my misery memoir Walking to Hollywood. The Holderness coast is the fastest eroding coastline in Europe, losing six feet of its friable loess cliffs every year to the chomping of the waves. My idea was to walk the entire 35-odd miles within six feet of the cliff edge or bottom, thereby taking a route that could never be replicated. All went oddly from the start: I left my maps at Flamborough Head; my boots turned into flesh-eating monsters; and the weather was a weird compounding of bright sun and ghostly sea fret blowing in off the sea.”

The madness of crowds: Empty airports, empty streets

Arriving at London City Airport a month ago, I was the first off the plane – and there’s always some satisfaction to be gained from that. For a start, you avoid the awkward game of Twister that ensues as cramped people lever themselves from their seats, un-gum underwear from clefts and pits, scrape carry-on bags they’re unable to carry from the overhead lockers and then hover leadenly in the aisle. If you’re at the very front you get to hear the gangway being cranked into position, then witness the strange moment as the cabin door is opened and the steward greets the ground crew with a bog-ordinary salutation that wipes away any remaining wonderment you may have felt contemplating the marvel of international jet travel.