While we’re away lotus-eating on Crete, supping and splashing about, here are a few random snaps of Norwich, ‘a fine city’ according to the civic slogan – to remind us that, as Dorothy said in Oz, there’s no place like home. As dedicated friends of Dorothy, we are in full agreement.
Greece beckons – seven lazy days round a Cretan pool. As with last year, we’re flying from Norwich’s bijou international airport but, unlike last year, we’ve gone up a notch or two, accommodation-wise. We’re so off the beaten track, there’s no track at all, just a collection of stone cottages sprinkled over the side of a hill with its own spring and a couple of travel awards. And the unpretentious comfort has earned it a sparkling set of five-star reviews. Our sanctuary for the week is the Aphrodite Guest House, close to the bar. Expectations are high.
Although it’s a paradise for hikers and bikers, we plan to do little but sleep, float, eat, sup, read, bonk, play snap and cheat at scrabble. The only exception, I think, will be a trip to ancient Knossos. As one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, it’s bound to be nose to nipple with babbling coach parties. But it’s there and it’s not far, so it would be an insult to give it a miss.
Who knows? We may turn into lotus eaters – from Greek mythology, that is, not the seventies TV series set on Crete starring Wanda Ventham, Benedict Cumberbatch’s mother. According to legend, those who ate the fruit of the lotus tree lost the desire to return home. I’ll keep you posted.
Queuing is as quintessentially British as fish and chips, a Sunday roast or chicken tikka masala. I’m all for it. It appeals to my first-come-first-served sense of fair play. And it makes city living just a bit more bearable. Every-man-for-himself is where chaos lies and the Devil thrives. But even I have a limit. Regular readers may recall I recently spent a few days in Sitges, near Barcelona, visiting old friends who’ve just become newbie expats and purveyors of apparel to the queens. Being there was fun, getting there (and back) not so. The entire journey felt like one long, dreary line – through security, through passport control, at the departure gate, up the steps to the plane in the drizzle. All that shuffling just to board a flying bus so stripped back that clinging to the undercarriage of an RAF troop carrier would hold more appeal. This was no frills, no thrills Ryanair, an airline that bombards its punters with emails, changes the rules of the game just for fun, befuddles with an incomprehensible cabin bag policy and pisses off by ‘randomly’ allocating seats that all seem to be in the middle. Statistically, how likely is that? And the flight was an hour late both ways. Oh, the glamour of it all. I drank through it.
Ryanair’s current strapline is ‘Low Fares Made Simple’. Navigating your way through the endless maze of ‘extras’ on their website ain’t simple and, with a monopoly on the London Stansted to Barcelona route, it ain’t cheap either.
Hell won’t be all torture and torment; it’ll be an eternal Ryanair queue going nowhere.
Ironically, real buses here in Norfolk often now come with leather seats, free WiFi and charging sockets for fancy phones. And this is supposed to be a backwater.
This year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival has been in full swing with the usual eclectic mix of the traditional and the avant-garde in words, music, dance, acrobatics and eccentricity. And they don’t come more avant-garde or eccentric than Le Gateau Chocolat, a black, fat bearded drag queen from Nigeria with a rich baritone voice and a thoughtful line in diversity and exclusion. ‘Chocolate Cake’ delivered his jerky, quirky cabaret with pathos and panache, receiving an enthusiastic hand from a full house of well-oiled whiskery types.
Quite by chance, a foe from my pre-Liam Soho days parked his skinny arse in the row in front of us. It was a blast from the past that instantly chilled the air. Thankfully, the cabaret raised the temperature to heart-warming. By the encore, the old foe threw a tantrum (nothing to do with me) and sleeked off into the night with his entourage.
Back to the act…
On the second day of our London jolly, we were planning to take in the view from the Shard, until we realised it was thirty quid a piece. So it was enough to see the tallest building in the European Union (not for much longer, of course) from the window of our hotel room. Instead we opted for a slow stroll through the City to the Museum of London. Well, it was free.
Along the way we crossed the Millennium Bridge, skirted around the magnificent St Paul’s, walked beneath Temple Bar and took a snap of Channel Four’s First Dates restaurant.
The Square Mile may be a throbbing epicentre of money and modernity, but the street plan is distinctly medieval and there was a surprise up every alley.
The Museum of London is one of my favourites – quirky, informative and well worth the free entrance!
After a couple of hours travelling from pre-history to the filthy lucre, the West End beckoned and we jumped on a bus to Soho, our spiritual home.
Late lunch was a bowl of Thai at the Tuk Tuk Noodle Bar on Old Compton Street – delicious and still ridiculously cheap – followed by a happy hour or two with the brethren outside the Duke of Wellington. As the warming sun began to set, we headed back to Bankside for an early evening cuddle.
And so ended a glorious few days in the big metropolis. As writer and clergyman Donald Lupton said of London in 1632,
‘…she swarms with all ages, natures, sexes, callings… she seems to be a glutton, for she desires always to be full.’
Amen to that.
When Liam planned our ‘jolly’ down memory lane, he wasn’t to know it would be the hottest May Day holiday on record. The Sun puts a smile on everyone’s face, doesn’t it? And we smiled our way round Bankside, my favourite district of London. Back when the first Elizabeth was on the throne, old Southwark was a riot of licentiousness – playhouses, brothels and taverns – beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London’s buttoned-up elders who wagged their fingers from the other side of the Thames. This is where Will Shakespeare plied his trade among the players, the prostitutes and the drunks. That’s my kind of town.
Not that there are many ne’er-do-wells milling around these days. The area has cleaned up its act and is now home to over-priced flats, over-priced eateries, over-priced bars, world-class modern art and a working replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It certainly pulls in the crowds.
I went all thespian and began to recite the only lines I could remember from my part in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream circa 1976…
You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear
The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor,
May now perchance both quake and tremble here,
When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.
And roar I did, when Snug the Joiner became the lion in a rabbit costume smelling of mothballs and accessorised with an improvised mane. Times were hard in the seventies.
Liam decided my hammy Shakespeare was putting off the tourists and bundled me onto a riverboat and took me to a different kind of theatrical show – a little fairy dusting of trad drag.
It was an eventful afternoon made all the more eventful by the delightful boys from the Abbey Rugby Club in Reading. They were on a ‘Monopoly board tour’ and had landed on Trafalgar Square for a queer beer. Well fancy that. And I did.
We took our seats at Cinema City for Nothing Like a Dame, a film that captures four great thespian dames – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins – in conversation. We had great expectations and we weren’t disappointed. All the director had to do was point the camera, say ‘action’, sit back and watch them rock. And rock they did with gossipy warmth, wit and insight, humour, naughtiness and modesty – without a hint of the pompous luvviness you might expect from these titans of the stage. It really hit me when I released that Joan Plowright, who could out-act anyone with just a look, is now blind. I had no idea. Despite this, the film was a voyeuristic joy, and it was a privilege to see it.
And so, in the best pansies tradition, here’s the trailer…