John Noakes - or 'Noakesy', as he is invariably known - is the most celebrated children's TV presenter of all time, who ducked out from the BBC at a Peter Pan-ish fortysomething. We are heading for Sunday lunch with friends in this picturesque bay half an hour's effortless sailing from his summer mooring in Puerto Andratx, Majorca's exclusive yachting marina on the west end of the island. The children's hero from Halifax settled here a dozen years ago after an attempt to sail to the Caribbean ended with his first yacht at the bottom of the sea off Casablanca. Luckily, he and his wife were rescued by a passing Japanese tanker. But from then on, 'Noakesy' disappeared from public view.
And now John Noakes, having more or less skipped a mid-life career, is poised, aged 60, to do for Senior Citizens what he did for Blue Peter's viewers and this autumn he comes out of mothballs to present a TV series called Third Age, involving activities for the recently retired.
'You're not finished when you're 65. It's ridiculous. You don't keel over and die. Why shouldn't you take up white-water rapid riding, windsurfing, scuba diving? Although, it doesn't have to be death-defying.'
He's done it all, of course. As Blue Peter's stuntman he abseiled down Nelson's Column, leapt free-fall from a plane 25,000ft up (he held the world civilian record). Apart from sailing (various minor promontories are known to the local yachting fraternity as Noakes Rock and Noakes Reef) he does nothing more dangerous now than eating his wife's versions of Majorcan dishes and drawing in ink with a razor blade. You're joking, of course, Noakesy.
Oh, no. He produces a sketch book with inky scenes of mountains and ancient, twisted olive trees. He explains how you use the sharp corner of the blade like the nib of a pen, flattening it to get thinner or thicker shading. 'I've never cut myself,' he says. 'Well, this was the first time.' He waves a plaster-wrapped thumb.
It's something of a surprise to discover that the person behind the daft, daredevil children's hero, Noakesy, really considers himself a serious comic actor. 'Noakesy was an idiot I invented, a stupid fool, my doppelganger who comes alive in the TV studio,' he says.
John trained as a jet engine fitter (in the RAF he was proud to be told he was a natural leader of men. 'The trouble is Noakes, you're leading them the wrong way.') He went to drama school and emerged as straight man to the nasally challenged comic Cyril (Odd Odes) Fletcher. 'He had tremendous range, he could have been a fine Shakespearian actor.'
During a spell in rep in Birmingham, John was spotted by Biddy Baxter, the legendary Blue Peter editor. Soon he was parading elephants on to the studio set and, sheepdog at his side, polishing his immortal catchphrase, 'Down, Shep'.
He has been married to his wife Vicky for more than 30 years, having met her, too, when he was in rep (she had the dress shop opposite the
theatre in Farnham). Far from being the forbearing wife putting up with a husband's sailing obsession, Vicky claims that she enjoys the life even more than he does.
They live aboard the boat all summer, returning to their house in the hills in the winter. From here she leads walking tours. 'I can proudly say I took Lord Hunt (of Everest fame) to the top of a mountain. Lady Hunt, who is 81, led all the way.'
Their friends for Sunday lunch are other sailing devotees. First aboard were Howard and Valerie Janes, both in their forties, who retired early, selling off the engineering business they had built together. 'After 12 years of being serious, it's nice to be a little boy again with John,' confesses Howard.
As John makes for his mooring buoy in San Elm bay, two heads are bobbing in the swell. He takes up his loud-hailer. 'Will those two stupid idiots please get out of the way or I will crash into you.' Consternation - and then laughter, as Susie and Malcolm recognise John, swim for the boat and clamber aboard.
Vicky has arranged a feast, although John insists it's no Sunday ritual. 'There's no such thing as Sunday lunch. Monday's been cancelled. I don't know what day it is unless I see a paper. I don't wear a watch.'
Delicious appetisers are offered: olives, hot little chorizos (spicy sausages), and a sardine and chilli paste served on the island's famous thick little dry biscuits, qualis (like a wholemeal rusk). Vic serves an ice- cold glass of La Ina Fino Muy Seco, dry sherry. The women talk women's talk. And the men talk boys' talk, scanning the playa for topless objects of desire. Howard discloses that he has bought himself powerful binoculars for better scrutiny.
Vicky has decided to serve judias verdes con jamon (green beans and ham), John's favourite dish, and tumbet, which is not, being a Majorcan dish similar to ratatouille. 'I'll have none of that Majorcan food,' groans John. He goes down below and returns with a piece of bread spread generously with Mr Todd's Potted Meat from his home town of Halifax. Ee by gum, but it's good. He's frankly a roast beef and Yorkshire pud man, he says. 'At school, I held the record for eating slices of bread dipped in gravy - 17.'
Howard says they did try to get an almond rat for lunch, huge beasts which live in the almond orchards. 'But they are furiously difficult to catch,' he says, having encountered them on his newly bought property. 'They don't tell you this before you buy.' But then he discovered that large rat is considered a delicacy in the island town of Inca. Recipes for rat are found in old Majorcan cookbooks. 'The almond rat should be roasted over smouldering almond stones,' Howard tells us.
John and Vicky serve new generation Majorcan wines, chilled, slightly sparkling whites and roses (like Californian blush). These are favoured by the Majorcan cognoscenti rather than sangria (the murderously alcoholic brew which passes itself off as an orange juice). 'The wine is only 10 per cent alcohol,' says Vicky. 'You have to be careful in the sun.'
Then Vicky produces another Majorcan delicacy, a chilled pudim (bought from the supermarket), a delicious caramel custard, with a cherry conserve. To finish, dried dates, apricots and fig cake stuffed with almonds, a reminder of the island's Arab patrimony. And a glass of Majorca's famous liqueur, Hierbas Secas, a slightly aniseedy concoction.
We swim. We drink some more. Susan and Malcolm say cheerio and swim back to their own boat. John pulls up anchor, and his 'crew', ie Valerie, runs up the genny (genoa sail). A light breeze gently tugs us back to the puerto. 'Another boring day in paradise,' grunts John.
Olives and Chorizo
Sardine spread on ruskS
Judias Verdes con Jamon
Pudim with Cherry Sauce
Apricots and Dates
A tin of sardines mashed with a little cayenne or chilli pepper, and served with rusks. You can add a little Philadelphia cheese to make a smoother texture.
JUDIAS VERDES CON JAMON
2lb/1kg green beans (eg French beans)
4-6oz/120-200g serrano or parma ham
(or smoky bacon) chopped small
2 onions finely chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
Top and tail beans and, without slicing, cook till al dente in boiling salted water. Drain.
Meanwhile, gently fry the onions with ham or bacon in olive oil. After 10 minutes add the garlic and tomato and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Add the beans to the mixture and heat through, seasoning them generously with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Serves 6 to 8
1lb/500g aubergines, sliced into thin rounds
1lb/500g sweet red peppers, cored,
deseeded and chopped
1lb/500g new potatoes, thinly sliced
1lb/500g ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
8fl oz/250ml of olive oil
salt and pepper
Put the aubergine slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to drain for half an hour. Rinse under the tap and pat dry.
Fry the peppers in the oil on a medium heat, remove and set aside, and then fry the aubergine slices in the same oil. Fry the potatoes gently till tender. Place the vegetables in layers in an oven dish or casserole.
Using oil left in the pan, fry the onion and garlic without browning, then stir in the tomatoes and slowly cook down to a puree. Season to taste. Pour over the vegetables in the oven dish. Bake in medium hot oven, 375F/190C/Gas 5 for 20 minutes to half an hour. Serve warm or cold.
Tumbet is often served with fried slices of loin of pork. Or to make a more substantial dish, the cooked pork slices are layered between the vegetables before baking.