... is there some preferred flavour of linux that any one of you could suggest?
I second that. Slackware is one of the few Linux distributions that still use the shell (bash or ash) for all scripting. You can completely remove Perl and Slackware will still run (but remember that the Linux 3.x kernel needs perl 5 to compile - duh!), and you can replace the system Perl with any Perl you like.
Today I will gladly share my knowledge and experience, for there are no sweeter words than "I told you so". ;-)