There was some solid, descriptive writing, too, squeezed into the 500 words allowed. It was the language of description, however, that failed some entrants as they struggled to make lively a grimy wasteland. There were, let it be said, too many bustling markets, busy streets and quaint alleys; far too many fascinating cities with rich cultural histories.
History itself defeated some entrants: the judges were dismayed to learn that Coventry had been "devastated by the Industrial Revolution", though this made more impact than the description of one university town (to remain nameless) where "the abundance of parking and major routes through the town centre tempts arrival by car".
Entries were anything but bland: Bristol is "a thriving, dynamic and progressive city", Hull "the gateway to Europe" or, more debatably, "rectum of the Universe"; Leicester is simply "a city at the centre of everything".
There were five finalists, all of them women. Fifth prize, for a Eurostar trip to Paris and pounds 750, goes to Esther Wolff for her sharply written guide to Cambridge. Fourth prize, for a trip to Bologna and pounds 750, goes to Anna Sandig, for her unremittingly grim account of Salford - full marks for blunt feelings. Third prize, a trip to Harvard and pounds 1,000, goes to Elizabeth Blagburn, whose quirky appraisal of Birmingham gave the city some appeal without exaggerating its charms. Second prize, a trip to San Francisco and pounds 1,000, goes to Catherine Snell for her ideal day out in Newcastle with her dad - a masterpiece of precis. But in the end, it was the writing that settled it. Sheridan Humphreys' dramatically expressed, coffee-stained description of student life in London wins a trip to Australia and pounds 1,500. Here is an extract ...
My favourite coffee ritual is Golborne Road on a Saturday morning. Oporto and Lisboa bask in the sun on winter Saturdays, their pavements crammed with coffee lovers, and lovers. "Coffee in a glass," shrieks the Portuguese waitress in Oporto; it's the loudest voice I have ever heard outside the opera, and it's always a miracle that there's not a pile of shattered glass in a puddle of coffee. But to me, on hungover Saturdays it's the sweetest song of all. Even nicer when it's followed by "cheese croissant toasted". And if your croissant arrives blackened by the grill, well, that's the way it always is.
It's surprising that I get hangovers in London, because the pubs close at 11pm. Even on a Saturday night. That gives you enough time to have a coffee at Bar Italia in Soho before you catch the last Tube home from Leicester Square, where you can also get the first edition of your favourite Sunday paper. When you get home, you fall into a deep sleep to the soothing sounds of the shipping forecast. If you miss the last Tube, don't bother going home until 3am. You've got Trafalgar Square by moonlight and the night bus to look forward to. I'd rather have a hangover. A typical dilemma on Saturday morning at my house after a night out in London: How did this Patrick Cox man's shoe get into my handbag?Reuse content