This winter’s brought some lively weather to keep us from our slumber and to wake the dead in the funeral parlour next door. Unsurprisingly, the huffing and puffing of storm Eileen and her gusty sisters trying to blow our house down damaged the roof over our heads. So it was over to our property management company to contact our freeholders to contact their insurers to contact the roofers to contact the scaffolders to repair the flashing loosened by the ladies. It’s a long supply chain and, of course, we didn’t get any warning before a couple of butch men in hard hats and tool belts over woolly jumpers arrived to chuck some poles up the side of the microloft. It’s just as well I wasn’t sitting in my underwear and fluffy mules.
I should be used to chance encounters with scaffolders. Before we bought the microloft, the roof of our rented weaver’s cottage had sprung a leak. The workers turned up unannounced then too. But that was in the summer and at least I had something scanty to ogle – discretely, naturally.
And then there was the time back in the day when I had a proper job with a proper office on Kensington High Street. The building had been caged in scaffolding for repainting and repointing. There I was, busy counting beans at my proper desk, when there was a rat-a-tat-tat at the window. I looked up to see my brother-in-law beaming at me.
“Milk and two sugars, please,”
Yes, he’s a butch scaffolder. And yes, I made him a brew.
There’s been a flurry of historical war films lately and more to come, I’m sure. It’s not surprising, given the various centenaries involving the Great War of 1914-18 and the knock-on remembrance of other major conflicts. As a general rule, I don’t do war movies. I’d much rather watch Maggie Smith in bustle and bodice than endure the blood, sweat and tears of the trenches. One exception was the cinematic tour de force, Dunkirk – a masterpiece. Then came The Darkest Hour, a fictionalised account of the first few weeks of Winston Churchill’s premiership during the Second World War; France is finished, the Brits are trapped, the Americans are hedging their bets and Churchill must decide whether to parley with Hitler. The days don’t get any darker than that. We were drawn in by reports of Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston and his Churchillian prosthetic transformation.
I’ve liked Gary Oldman ever since he played Joe Orton, the controversial and irrepressibly gay sixties playwright, in the deliciously naughty but tragic biopic Prick Up Your Ears. In The Darkest Hour, neither Gary nor the prosthetics disappoint – both are superb. And what of the film in general? It’s a witty script that doesn’t whitewash Churchill’s considerable flaws, ruthless streak or periods of mental paralysis. But it’s the performance that makes it. Expect a few gongs for Oldman and the clever people in the rubber department.
We also recently saw the latest Star Wars blockbuster – The Last Jedi. The critics loved it, the fans less so. I’m with the fans.
With low eastern skies the colour of Milk of Magnesia, I’ve been pining for the hazy days of last summer when we were giants of the steam age, quite a result for a hobbit like me. It was the hottest August bank holiday in years when we rode the Dinky toy Bure Valley Railway to…
…experience a nostalgic trip by steam on Norfolk’s longest narrow gauge railway which runs between the historic market town of Aylsham and bustling town of Wroxham, at the heart of the Norfolk Broads…
… as it says in the blurb. We choo-choo’d past lush, glowing pastures. Our green and pleasant flatland had never seemed quite so green or quite so pleasant. For the spotty trainspotters among you, here are a few snaps to put you in the picture.
And, as per, Liam had to do the silly arty video. It’s enough to make you travel sick. No, really, it is.
Ours was to be a two-centre beano, or so I’d been promised. At the end of the line, Liam had intended to press gang me onto a double-decker pleasure boat to cruise the Norfolk Broads. For the uninitiated, the Broads are a network of flooded medieval peat excavations popular with those who like to mess about in boats. As much as I love a landscape of reed-beds, grazing marshes, rare wildlife and wet woodland, it was the on-board bar which really drew me in. Sadly, the rest of Norfolk had the same idea and we couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money. We settled for a bottle by the Bure instead. Daffy, the nosey duck wasn’t too impressed by the vintage. I don’t blame him.
Recently, I received a solicitous email from an ‘admirer’ who wrote:
You look nice and charming, to be honest, I can’t pass your page without saying HELLO to such a gorgeous person like you. I am really very sorry if my message upsets you, but i just can’t stop looking at your profile on Facebook.
My name is XXXX, I am from Callaghan, Texas, USA, I live in IOWA city, not that far from City center, i am gay and what about you?
Usually this kind of thing comes to me via Facebook. And most contacts are from young ladies who haven’t checked my profile despite it virtually screaming ‘poofter’ at them. Delete and block.
As this was an email, curiosity got the better of me and I Googled Callaghan, Texas. According to Wikipedia, it’s a small ranching community near the Mexican border. Images of strapping cowboys flooded my mind – sweaty chaps in chaps, saddle-sore after a hard ride and in need of a good rub down. It was my Brokeback Mountain moment.
I’m not daft. I know the message was either from a scammer or some Third World likely lad trying to climb out of poverty. And who can blame him? Whoever he is, he brought some brightness to a dull day. Sadly for him, I’m not in the market for a new model nor am I sugar daddy material. I just don’t have the ‘handbag’ for it as they used to say in Polari. My adoring ‘Texan’ was consigned to spam. Sad face.
This is the second article originally published at On the Ege Magazine back in the day. I’ve rescued it from the bin to re-post for posterity. Why? Because I can.
Old Money, No Money
We were summoned by a Turkish neighbour for moonlit drinks. Her name is Sophia, a slightly batty older lady who speaks fluent English with a cut glass accent. Sophia has been threatening us with an invitation for weeks by rapping on our window, poking her hand through the grille and startling our visitors. Our immediate neighbours, Vadim and Beril, were also invited so we all scurried along Sentry Lane together. We approached an ornate set of heavy double-doors and rang the bell. Sophia flung open the doors to reveal a gorgeous candlelit courtyard bursting with a copse of mature fruit trees – avocado, pomegranate and lemon – laid out before a pretty, whitewashed old Bodrum house. Liam was immediately drawn to a candlelit niche in the stone wall, partially hidden by the thicket. The recess contained a small statuette of Our Lady, a replica of the original from Meryemana (the house of the Virgin Mary, near Ephesus). Liam resisted the knee-jerk urge to genuflect.
As a foreign student in the sixties, pedigree’d Sophia had acquired her regal inflection at the Royal Society of Dramatic Art. Her career in the arts was cut short by marriage to a Turkish diplomat whom she loved intensely; she travelled the world as the ambassador’s wife until his premature death a decade ago. She still grieves him, but that doesn’t stop her flirting outrageously with Vadim. His protests that he’s a one-woman man get a sceptical response from Sophia. In her experience, it’s perfectly normal for Turkish men to have a harem of women on the go at any one time, a modern twist on the old Muslim custom of taking more than one wife.
Drinks were plentiful and complemented by bountiful mezes freshly prepared by Sophia’s faithful old head-scarfed retainer she calls ‘my Kurdish woman.’ We were serenaded by Vivaldi and classic crooners – while the hired help fell to her knees and prayed with gusto next to the stereo, disregarding completely the irreverent chatter emanating from the terrace. This bizarre spectacle illustrated, as nothing else could, the polar extremes of Turkish society.
As Dean Martin’s honey tones dribbled from the speakers, Sophia pulled me from my seat for a slow smooch around the terrace.
Although she tended to dominate the conversation (in both English and Turkish), Sophia was a gracious host and the evening was a civilised, bi-lingual diversion. Sophia is old money through and through. She seems taken by us though; we’re completely baffled what ‘old money’ sees in ‘no money’.
On Christmas Eve my thumb began to ache and throb. I drank through the pain. By the Feast of Stephen, it resembled a medieval pox. The image doesn’t really do justice to the horror of it all. Though angry and weepy, it hardly seemed serious enough for a mercy dash to A&E: the busy medics have quite enough to do over the festive period without me pitching up with a silly sore thumb. So what’s a boy with a pussy digit to do? Well, a call to our local surgery the next day provided the answer.
“The nurse can see you later today,”
said the helpful receptionist.
“Nasty infection. A few pills will soon sort that out,”
said the lovely nurse.
“Oh, and it might burst in the meantime,”
And so it did. I took the pills and drank through the pain.
There’s one evergreen Christmas custom in the Scott-Brennan household that gets rolled out every year – thumbing through the Radio Times for festive televisual treats. Liam likes nothing more than ringing his must-sees with a red felt-tip pen. It’s a quaintly old-fashioned ritual in today’s online, on-demand era. The magazine, first published in 1923, has a loyal but ageing following. I wonder how long it will be before both go the way of the dodo. The advertisers know this too, judging by the loose leaflets that drop from the magazine pages – funeral plans, will writing services, equity release schemes and special furniture for special needs. It’s enough to make me think I’ve already got one foot in the grave. On the other hand, those rise and recline chairs do look comfy.