Armed Forces, Bigots, Books, Equalities, LGBT, Politics, Religion

Closet Queens

Coldstream GuardsWhen, one winter’s night in 1958, Ian Harvey (a minor apparatchik in Her Maj’s Government of the day) was caught pleasuring a Coldstream Guard in the bushes of London’s St James’s Park, Winston Churchill is said to have remarked,

On the coldest night of the year? It makes you proud to be British.

Closet QueensI laughed when I read this but it does reveal the barefaced hypocrisy of the ruling class at the time with their do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude to sexual shenanigans. Boy-on-boy activity was on the menu at every British public (i.e. private) school and fagging* was the dish of the day, whereas us plebs could be banged up for even the briefest of fumbles behind the bike sheds. Many were. Now there’s a fascinating new book that prises open the Establishment’s closet door and shines a torch into the dank recesses. Closet Queens by Michael Bloch is a survey of alleged gay or bisexual male politicians of the Twentieth Century. From tittle-tattle to open secrets, it’s an amusing read. But what about the plaster saints of the cassock class? There are a quite a few bones rattling away in the rectory, or so I’ve heard.

As for Mr Harvey, he got off lightly with a small fine and a slap on the wrist but he was forced to resign his ministerial position. For a Tory, he sounds quite a decent sort of chap. He paid the errant soldier’s fine and returned to his wife and kids with his tail between his legs. From 1972 onwards, he was the Vice-President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. And that’s not all. In 1980 he became Chairman of the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. Blimey. I didn’t know there was a Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. In fact, until fairly recently, I’d never seen the words ‘Conservative’ and ‘homosexual equality’ in the same sentence. To be fair, equality wasn’t exactly high on Old Labour’s agenda either. Your average salt of the earth, red blooded working class bloke wasn’t really into poofters; unless it was behind the bike sheds, of course.

*A fag was a young pupil who provided a personal service to one or more older boys. Well, you can just imagine what that involved.

BBC, Films, London

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van PosterI’ve always admired Alan Bennett’s writing – witty, insightful, dead pan and very British. He has a remarkable knack of making magic from the ordinary and finding humour in the humdrum. If only I had a fraction of his talent. So when the adaptation of his play ‘The Lady in the Van’ was released, we bought our tickets and nudged politely past the grey herd at Cinema City, fruity red in hand. ‘The Lady in the Van’ is the far from ordinary tale of a crabby old woman living in a battered Bedford van squatting in the driveway of Alan Bennett’s North London home. He offered a parking space for three months. She stayed for fifteen years. Alex Jennings’ portrayal of the unsentimental and stoic author is uncanny and Maggie Smith as the aromatic old eccentric with a van-load of dark secrets is splendid. Top notch film acting is all in the eyes and the delivery. Maggie Smith lit up the screen with both. I feel a BAFTA coming on.

The clever script, littered with crisp one-liners, gradually unveils the old girl’s back story and, in doing so, reveals quite a lot about the author himself. To write any more would only spoil the plot. The supporting cast playing the hand-wringing Camden Town socialistas, desperate to see the back of the old bag, is rock-solid. There are some nice cameos from a few of the former pupils from Alan Bennett’s ‘History Boys’ too.

Here’s the trailer…

Family & Friends, Property, Social Media

Mr Grumpy

It was my birthday recently. I reached the grand old age of 55. I now qualify for Gestapo-controlled sheltered housing, all wipe-down high-back chairs and swirly carpets that stick to the soles of your shoes. En-suite facilities are now essential for those caught short at 3am moments (so much better than a bucket by the side of the bed). Just how did this happen? I remember the days of my deliciously misspent youth when summers of love seemed endless. Now an entire year passes by in a flash and I barely notice. Welcome to the epoch of Mr Grumpy.

I received a birthday card from my sister in law. Maybe she’s trying to tell me something?Twatter

Arts & Theatre, Norwich

Art of the Underground

The human compulsion to draw on walls is as old as humanity itself; think of all those masterly cave paintings in the Dordogne. And I gather the Greeks and Romans were rather fond of doodling all over the place too. These days, you can hardly turn a corner without seeing someone’s tag scrawled over some surface or other. So, is graffiti a vibrant urban art form or senseless vandalism? The jury’s out on that one. Personally, I dislike much of it because, like any other form of advertising, most of it is rubbish. Back in the day, I didn’t find the ugly scribbles defacing much of the Alto Bairro district of Lisbon or Damm Square in Amsterdam particularly colourful, cutting edge or inspirational. And I wasn’t such an old fart then.

What of Norwich? Well, we have our fair share of street artists/delinquents (delete according to taste) thinking they’re the next Banksy. The grim Sixties’ underpass close to the micro-loft provides a blank canvas for anyone wanting to express themselves in spray paint. But this year, Life in a Fine City had the bright idea of inviting local artists young and old to cover the walls in original work. I must say, it makes a damp, smelly and soulless space a little more bearable to pass through and, out of respect, the taggers have left the art (mostly) untouched. There is honour among artists, methinks.

A few that caught my eye…

BBC, Norwich, TV & Radio


TattooAccording to a recent article in the Independent newspaper, Norwich is the second most tattooed city in the land, with 41% of people saying they sport more than six images. Coincidentally there are six tattoo parlours in the city centre, all doing a roaring trade. There was a time when tattoos were the preserve of randy roughs and frisky seamen. These days, the streets are teeming with cocks of the county wearing their body art with pride. Everybody’s at it. Some are so well adorned, they could be skinned and hung in the Tate. And yes, the image above is a tattoo of Norwich’s ancient cathedral. Is nothing sacred? Norwich tattoos even get a brief mention in Turkey Street.

‘F-f-fwend,’ said Sean, holding out his hand to an ageing skinhead with a trio of studs in one ear and a spider tattoo crawling up the side of his neck.

Turkey Street,  Chapter Thirteen, Blesséd are the Meek

I’m not against tattoos per se. In fact, I’ve got one myself. It’s a sad little thing resting on my shoulder, long faded with age and disfigured by a mole. I had it done many moons ago and have never repeated the experience. It was like having glass dragged across my skin. No, a little body engraving is fine by me, it’s just, like most things, less is more. When the lovely Iwan Thomas was the first to be ejected from this year’s Strictly Come Dancing on the Beeb, maybe it had more to do with the sudden exposure of his breast plate embellishment than his stompy cha-cha-cha. And I do wonder, when the ravages of time take their inevitable toll and taut young bodies are distorted by bingo wings, double-barrelled bellies and thunder thighs, how many men (and women, of course) will regret the artful decisions of their youth.

Iwan Thomas

Image courtesy of BBC/Guy Levy

Book Stores, Books

Amazon Versus Waterstone’s

Waterstone's book shop signWaterstone’s is the UK’s second biggest bricks and mortar bookseller (after the ubiquitous WH Smith’s) and its stores are great places to shelter from the rain and thumb through a title or two. I would hate to see them disappear from the high street just because of the relentless march of the on-line retailer. ‘If you can’t beat them, join them,’ may be a well-worn adage but it made perfect commercial sense for Waterstone’s to launch its own on-line offer a few years ago.

Much has been said about the phenomenal growth of Amazon and its sharp practices, not to mention its questionable (but quite legal) tax avoidance shenanigans. But you can’t fault their business acumen. If you view an out of stock item, you get this message:

Temporarily out of stock, order now and we’ll deliver when available

Contrast this with the message from Waterstone’s:

 Not in our warehouse. We can order it, but could take up to 3 weeks

It’s like they can’t arsed. Hopeless really.

East Anglia, Films, Historic Sites, Norwich

45 Years

45 YearsLast year, while dining with an old friend at the Assembly House, Norwich’s delicious Georgian gem, we stumbled upon the making of ’45 Years’ starring Sixties starlets, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney. I caught the ravishing Ms Rampling rushing past in a dressing gown as I emerged from the little boy’s room. It was quite a shock, I can tell you. So when the film recently came to town, we went to see what we had inadvertently gatecrashed. I’m so glad we did. Filmed entirely in Norfolk and around Norwich,  45 Years tells the story of long-buried secrets disinterred with devastating consequences just days before a 45th wedding anniversary. Atmospheric and suffocating, comforting certainties are chipped away to reveal a marriage un-fulfilled. Norfolk’s low wintry skies, normally big and uplifting, only add to the bleak claustrophobia. Both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney are superb.

45 Years is a very British film. There are no Hollywood moments, no overwrought emotions, no final redemption, just the stoicism of a seemingly rock solid relationship in silent crisis. Classy and brilliant.

Food & Drink, Norwich

On the House

Haymarket 7Pret a Manger, a national chain of coffee houses, has one solitary outlet in Norwich. It’s distinguished by the fact that it is one of the few venues in the city with a place in the sun during the afternoons. Bright days are too few to waste so I take full advantage of their £1 filter coffee and sunny aspect whenever I’m able. Pret is also distinguished by the fact that they don’t have a formal loyalty scheme. You know the kind of thing – swipe this, stamp that, tells us  everything and we’ll give you a free crappafrappachino with every grand spent and we promise not to sell on your personal data to the Russians (yer, right). Instead, staff are encouraged to give away a free beverage to patrons whenever the mood takes them. It’s company policy. Back in the day, I was a regular beneficiary of a Pret freebie when I ordered my morning fix every weekday and 8:45. I like to think it’s because I looked quite the cock of the queue in my sharp business suit. Nowadays, my bargain bucket look goes unnoticed in Pret. At least that was I thinking last time I offered my pound coin to the nice young man with the hairy chest and pony tail. But then he said,

On the house.