While we’re away in sunny Corfu chomping on the mutton, slapping on the sunscreen, gassing the bugs and gagging on the retsina (despite sage advice to go easy on the hard stuff from Annie at Back to Bodrum), here are a few snaps to remind us of home sweet home. It’s not been a bad summer, all things considered. By the way, Liam cheats at Scrabble.
We’re off on our hols to sunny Greece. Seven heavenly days round a cool pool in Corfu. We’re flying out from Norwich’s very own international airstrip – small but perfectly formed, a doddle to get to and a doddle to get through. We’re not expecting the full Durrell-esque experience – no crumbling Venetian mansion overlooking the shimmering Ionian Sea and awash with exotic fauna for us. But we have bagged the next best thing for our bargain-bucket budget – a little place slightly off the beaten track. It might come with challenging plumbing but also boasts a set of five star reviews on Trip Advisor for its unpretentious, no-fuss comfort. We intend to do absolutely nothing but sleep, drink, read, drink, eat, drink, oh, and play Scrabble. We’ve packed a couple of torches and a keg of insect repellent. Happy days.
Make mine a double on ice and shove a brolly in it. Yamas!
The top floor of the old Co-op warehouse provides a bird’s eye view of the low-rise streets beyond. England is famed as a wet-weather country but the east is less damp than the rest and we are blessed with some conversation-stopping God skies. The cloudiness only helps to intensify the divine display. The micro-loft provides the ideal hide to watch birds as they feed and breed, swoop and soar. And this year, we were chuffed to offer a dry roost beneath our eaves for a pair of tits with chicks. Liam shed a little tear when the fledglings flew the nest. Bye-bye, birdies, bye-bye.
Despite the urban jungle around us, we’re often serenaded by early morning birdsong. Mostly it’s tweety and melodic, gently stirring us from our slumber. But not when the gulls muscle their way in. Norwich’s maritime days as a secure inland port where tasty morsels could be scavenged at the quays may be long gone but no one’s told the thuggish gulls that shriek and squawk at 5am. It’s enough to wake the dead.
I’ve always liked a mural, ever since Coronation Street’s former resident charlady Hilda Ogden tarted up her back parlour with a sea view embellished with a trio of flying ducks. She called it her ‘muriel’ and she was very proud of it. I was rather addicted to Corrie growing up – all those ballsy northern women slapping back life’s many misfortunes with humour and wit. These days, soaps tend to be all bed-hopping, murder and teenage angst with slash-yer-wrist plot-lines. Humour and wit is in short supply. Not my cup of char at all.
And talking of muriels, they’re being slapped up all over the place round these parts. Norwich is a quirky kinda town, pretty for the most part but few British cities were spared the Luftwaffe’s bombs or the post-war planners. Slum clearance was all fine and dandy but the bulldozers also swept away much worth preserving. Some clever soul had an inspiring idea of brightening up a few uninspiring corners with eccentric muriels. Hilda would have approved, I’m sure. Sadly, there are no flying ducks.
Generally, I don’t like war films. They tend to be way too violent or jingoistic (or both) for me. I don’t do gore or mindless nationalism. But then we read a five star review of ‘Dunkirk’ which told us to go see it on the biggest screen possible. So we did as we were told and took our seats at the local multiplex. From the opening sequence to the closing credits, we were on the edge of our seats, teeth clenched and knuckles whitened. Utterly mesmerising and amplified by a devastating Hans Zimmer score threaded with Elgar, the film has ‘epic’ stamped all over it. The story of Dunkirk is the stuff of national legend – hundreds of thousands of allied troops trapped on the beach and rescued by a flotilla of hundreds of small civilian boats. But this film isn’t about plucky Brits snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. It isn’t about the gung-ho glorification of war or the sins of the enemy – not a single German is seen. It’s about survival by the skin of the teeth. It’s about a miracle. And it’s brilliant.
Fellow author and blogger Lindsay de Feliz gave up marriage and a successful UK career to follow her dreams as a scuba diving instructor in the Dominican Republic. She met and married her hunky Dominican man and went on an incredible adventure involving political corruption and being shot in her own home. Lindsay’s dramatic account of the events – What About Your Saucepans? – was published in 2013 and flew off the shelves. As the 11th anniversary of the shooting approached, Lindsay was back with the eagerly-awaited sequel. She asked me to review it and this is what I had to say…
As Lindsay de Feliz explains with unflinching honesty in her gutsy follow-up to What About Your Saucepans?, the Dominican Republic takes no prisoners. From the outset, we find the author ensconced in her dusty roadside house with Danilo, her Dominican husband, two stepsons, a dwindling back account, a growing menagerie of cats and dogs and swarms of voracious mozzies. Things start to look up when they move lock, stock and barrel to the superior sounding ‘Pink House’, even if the cooker has to be wheeled round to the new house in a wonky wheelbarrow. But when blocked showers, troublesome septic tanks, a stroppy local ‘witch’ and an unscrupulous vet who moonlights as a taxidermist all take their toll, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary tale about living the dream.
Life After My Saucepans is packed with warmth and infectious humour, even when the clan moves to a pile in the mountains that needs pretty much everything: walls, windows, doors and gates – not to mention an emergency wasp fumigator. We witness in full technicolour the ups and downs of life in Wasp House, the drama and corruption of Dominican politics, the expat women suffering at the hands of their polygamous ‘sankies’, the lush, mountainous landscapes, the pig-roasts, the traditional Noche Buena feasts and a succession of madcap, local eccentrics. In Chivirico, a five-year old barefooted boy who proudly announces he will be the author’s bodyguard, we get a touching and poignant relationship that tugs at the heartstrings from the outset. And in the end, it’s the life-affirming human interest stories that make this book special. Lindsay de Feliz tells it as it is, warts and all, but it’s her affection for her adopted country and the people around her that shines through.
Life After My Saucepans is available to buy on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
They used to say,
‘they shouldn’t be allowed to march.’
Now they say,
‘Why bother to march?’
Certainly there’s more joy than anger on pride marches these days. Yes, attitudes have changed, things are better. But all that glitters is not gold. Recently, Channel Four ran a series of ads made by Pride in London. It was part of the channel’s ‘50 Shades of Gay season’ marking the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The ads featured belated apologies from parents who rejected or ridiculed their own children because of their offspring’s sexuality or gender identity. Still too many parents disown their own for the sake of family, faith and community. Still too many parents worry about how it looks, not how how it is. Still too many young people suffer bullying and rejection – at school, on the streets, at home. Some cope better than others. Some don’t cope at all. We may be living in the age of sexual enlightenment but suicide rates remain depressingly high. Why is this?
‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’
As famously written by poet, Philip Larkin.
Back in the dark ages, my experience with my own family was unusually benign for the times. It helped make me what I am today, for good or ill (no laughing down the back, please). The people in the ads are actors but the message is powerful. That’s why we march. That’s the point of pride.