God’s Own Country

God’s Own Country

On a complete whim, we decided on a mini tour of Yorkshire. As England’s largest traditional county by far, it was a very teeny weeny tour encompassing just Leeds, Knaresborough and Harrogate. We travelled across the flatlands to Grantham, the birthplace of Maggie Thatcher. I’ll leave you to decide whether that should be celebrated. From there, the Virgin Express sped us north to Leeds, the throbbing heart of West Yorkshire. Where once there were dark satanic mills, now there are trendy loft conversions, glass towers and a branch of Harvey Nicks.

Leeds Panorama

The handsome city has seen something of a renaissance of late and now boasts one of the most diversified economies in Britain. I’d like to tell you we were there to see the sights and take in the culture but I can’t. As soon as we’d dropped off our bags, we were off down the rough end beneath the rainbow bridge. Leeds has a small but beautifully-formed gay scene, each venue staggering distance from the next. Happy hour dribbled on all afternoon and we did indeed get to see some sights but nothing you’ll find in the tourist blurb. We eventually made it back to the hotel though I have no memory of how we got there.

Next day, button-bright, we jumped on the slow train to Knaresborough. The Guardian Newspaper describes the town as tatty and batty and the cap really fits. Perched high on the cliffs above the River Nidd and wrapped in a blanket of iridescent green, Knaresborough is famous for the railway viaduct that crosses the water. The views from the tumbledown castle are simply stunning.

The little town is also famous for its independent spirit and independent shops – the butcher, the baker, the cappuccino-maker. This is the place where madcap mattress-wheeling teams sprint around the town for no apparent reason in the annual bed race. It’s completely batty. And we do batty.

Liam and I always have an eye on the future and we wandered around the quirky streets making mental notes of the good points (many) and the bad points (few). We retired to a coffee house to debrief. The verdict? Right now, it’s top of the leader board.

The final destination on our whistle-stop tour was elegant Harrogate, which the Guardian calls hoity-toity. And so it is with its cream teas and posh nosh. I was last there for a wedding in 2004. The bride was a lovely gal from work with a well-deserved reputation for being an all round good egg. As I looked around the church at the time, I could tell who was in and who was out.

The next day it was back to good ol’ Norwich but not before I was interviewed on camera in the pouring rain by someone from the local telly asking me about local ishoos. I did explain that as I didn’t actually live in Yorkshire, my opinion counted for nowt (see, I’m already starting to speak Yorkist). He didn’t seem to mind. Hallelujah to God’s own country.

P.S. I had totally forgotten that the Harrogate bride now actually lives in Knaresborough. We could have met up for a long-overdue natter, how thick am I?

Sticky Fingers and Sticky Knickers

Sticky Fingers and Sticky Knickers

When Mother Nature flicks the switch, Norfolk broads dance in the park. So it’s no surprise the summer festival season is in full swing, with tasty titbits to suit all palates.

Put the words ‘food’ and ‘drink’ together and you’ve got me hooked. So what better way to reel me in than the Norwich Food and Drink Festival? A scorcher ensured a bumper turnout, with plenty of meaty treats to whet the carnivore’s appetite. Prime Norfolk pig took top billing on the menu – pulled, sliced, rashered, minced and stuffed into sausage skins. The air was thick with a sizzling porky perfume; dedicated veggies could only drown their sorrows at the gin, vodka and wine stalls.

And then there was the eating competition between hungry locals with their I’m-the-biggest-pig-round-here demeanour. It was way too sticky to stick around so we don’t know who won, but my money was on the butch Angle at the head of the table.

As sweat dribbled down our backs and headed south into the steamy abyss, it was time to cool down with a tutti-frutti and a drop of the amber nectar. While all things East Anglian were being celebrated across the city centre, there was something of a foreign invasion in a city field.

Lads in lederhosen and wenches in dirndls were whipping up the crowds with buckets of beer and barbecued Bratwurst at the Bavarian Beerfest in Chapelfield Gardens. Brexit may well mean Brexit but nobody’s going to stop me nibbling on a German sausage. We found a shady bench, gulped the hoppy ale and tapped our feet to the thump, thump, thump of the oom-pah tunes. We hadn’t quite appreciated the strength of the heady brew. The next day it was thump, thump, thump inside our fuzzy heads.

 

Prost!

London Pride 2017

London Pride 2017

In Istanbul, tear gas and rubber bullets broke up small groups of brave souls attempting to defy the ban of this year’s pride march. In London, the rainbow flag flies proudly over Tower Bridge, one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Just sayin’.

Happy London Pride today. For those, like us, who won’t be parading down Whitehall, what better way to mark the event than to watch the cast of the Lion King featuring the London Gay Men’s Chorus singing the Circle of Life composed by England’s second biggest queen?

 

Heaven is a Place on Earth

Recently, the wonderful Stephen Fry presented an equally wonderful programme on Channel Four celebrating five iconic buildings inextricably linked with the pink community and the struggle for LGBT rights. As a London boy with my London ways, two of the building resonated with me in particular. The first was the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in south London, the scene of many a young man’s undoing – mine included, I’m pleased to say. In 2015, the venue received listed (i.e. protected) status by Historic England because…

…the building has historic and cultural significance as one of the best known and longstanding LGB&T venues…

It’s the only building to be listed on this basis.

The second venue on the list was Heaven. Not the fairy tale beyond the Pearly Gates, no, the paradise on Earth that is the nightclub in the arches under Charing Cross Station in what used to be the wine cellar for the station’s grand hotel. The club opened in 1979 and is still throbbing to the beat today.

I stepped through the now famous doors soon after it opened and the stage was set for my regular Saturday night Bacchanalia. One fateful evening in 1982, someone with arctic-blue eyes and Tom Sellick tash emerged from the mob of vests and chests. I stalked him for what seemed like hours. Little good it did me. I didn’t get so much as a side glance for my trouble. Clearly, my magic wand had run out of juice that night. In the end I thought ‘sod you’, cut my losses and headed for the exit.

As I retrieved my jacket from the coat check, there was a tap on my shoulder.

You owe me a cigarette.

I gave the man with the arctic-blue eyes and Tom Selleck tash my last fag and he smoked it. We were together for 11 years. Funny thing was, he wasn’t a smoker.

Michael and Me

Angels, Monks and the Devil’s Brew

Angels, Monks and the Devil’s Brew

Learning to speak English must be difficult enough, but learning to spell it must bring even the most dedicated student out in hives. It’s just the little game we English like to play on Johnny Foreigner. Place names can be particularly bothersome. So for the uninitiated…

Leicester is Lester, Gloucester is Gloster, Chiswick is Chizik, Warwick is Warik (unless you’re Dionne) Harwich is Haridge and Norwich is Noridge (or Naaridge if you’re from round these parts).

But there is a certain consistency to the cesters, the wicks and the wiches. Not so in Norfolk – or I should say Naarfuk. Asking a Naaridge bus driver for a ticket to Costessey or Wymondham will provoke a puzzled response. You see, it’s Caassy and Windum. Confused? You will be.

We’d learned our lesson in correct enunciation by the time we caught our bus to Wymondham, a pretty parish of 15,000 souls southwest of Norwich. June was bustin’ out all over the place along the 10 mile route. We arrived to find the place bathed in sunshine but spookily empty for a hot Saturday afternoon. Perhaps everyone was at Pilates.

The main event was the famous abbey, founded in 1107. Well, it was famous until Henry VIII got his grubby hands on it. Once a thriving Benedictine priory, it only survived complete demolition by becoming the parish church – the monks were pensioned off and the last abbot became the local vicar. Nevertheless, and despite being half the length it once was, the twin-towered abbey church remains an imposing pile, rising majestically above the pine trees. Inside, the largely Norman-period nave has a fine wooden roof studded with carved angels. We sat in the pews awhile watching the roadies setting up for an evening concert. A plot for Midsomer Murders gathered momentarily in my mind in which an angel is pushed from the roof to squash a portly mezzo-soprano as she sings something seductive from Carmen. But whodunnit? If I ever get the commission, you’ll be the first to know but suffice it to say it involves a darts match and a ladies-only night in Cromer. I decided to call the episode ‘Revenge of the Fallen Angels’. As you can tell, I got rather carried away.

Wandering round, we’d never met a friendlier or more passionate bunch of volunteers. They positively gushed with enthusiasm. Without them we wouldn’t have known about the abbey’s more eclectic secrets. I cradled the hand of an angel to pray for world peace – and a lottery win. Liam stuck his finger in the monk’s hole and made a wish. Amen to that.

We were also told about the secret tunnel that allegedly led to the nearby fourteenth century Green Dragon tavern and the ancient exit still to be found in the pub. Apparently, the naughty monks were rather fond of the Devil’s brew. It might explain all that hole filling. Naturally, we had to investigate and partake of the Devil’s brew ourselves –  purely for research purposes.

 

On the Lash

On the Lash

It’s sod’s law. The warmest day of the year so far and I’m home alone. Our large south-facing windows can make the micro-loft a tad sweaty during the afternoon, so I popped out for a paper and a pint. Norwich was abuzz with shoppers in shorts, brats in caps and over-inked scallies in baggy sweatpants. A mixed bill of buskers competed for loose change but none captured the crowd more than King No-One, a young indie rock band from York on a national street tour. They were surprisingly good and received a warm hand. Judge for yourself…

I parked myself on the only free bench outside a local hostelry next to a squad of half-naked lads out on the lash – their tats and tits out for the girls. Rutting Brits are renowned for stripping off at the first hint of a sunbeam, and it isn’t always pretty.  Sadly, the hot totty next to me was more tepid than steaming. As regular readers will know, I’m a dedicated earwigger and I tuned in to the conversation while pretending to pore over the latest batch of dishonest general election promises.

How much does aircon cost to run?

Why do you care? You’re an electrician.

So? I don’t a get a special rate, you know.

You’re out on the lash every night – and you worry about the bills?

Yeah. That’s why I can’t afford the bloody aircon.

The young can be so dull. At least they didn’t bore me silly with inane chatter about the ‘beautiful game’.

After a second jar, I meandered back home for a TV dinner and an evening in front of the box. Sad, I know, but I rather enjoy my ‘me’ moments. As long as they’re not too often, you understand. The old warehouse accommodating our micro-loft is generally kept shipshape, but the foyer is a bit like a chimney and tends to suck in debris from the street – spring blossom, summer petals, autumn leaves, winter sludge and the occasional fag butt. As I waited for the lift, I looked down to see this:

At first I thought a bug had cadged a lift in a Tesco’s home delivery crate. It wasn’t wriggling so I poked it with a key. Turned out to be a false eyelash. Dropped by a one-eyed drag queen, perhaps? All quite normal for Norfolk.

 

Chateau Norfolk

Chateau Norfolk

I heard through the grapevine that a bottle of vino from Norfolk had been recognised as one of the best in the world. It won a platinum best in show medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017, one of the industry’s most prestigious competitions. Fancy that! The winning white, the Bacchus 2015, comes from the family-run Winbirri Vineyard on the edge of the Broads National Park. Apparently, the name Winbirri comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘win’ for wine and ‘birri’ for grape – though I suspect rough beer was the tipple of choice back in the day for those merry Angles of old swigging from their drinking horns, Beowulf-like. And so it is again, judging by the spectacular revival of indie brewers across East Anglia. These days, it’s artisan ale and hipster whiskers at every tavern. Drinking horns have yet to come back into fashion. Give it time.

English wines have been winning gongs galore for a while now. The weather’s brighter these days, it’s a global warming thing. With rising sea levels, we might as well make merry before the North Sea laps about our knees. At 14 quid a bottle, the Winbirri winner is a bit pricier than the plonk we normally guzzle but we thought we’d give it a go to see what all the fuss was about. All sold out. Sad face.

Images are courtesy of Winbirri.