That Sinking Feeling

That Sinking Feeling

Norwich is riddled with old tunnels. Chalk and flint was mined for centuries, and many of the oldest mines run close to the centre of the city. Chalk was used for liming and mortar, and flint was used as a building material. You see flint everywhere – in what’s left of the old city walls, in the medieval Guildhall and in the 17th century weaver’s cottage we rented when we first paddled up the Wensum five years back.

Weaver's Cottage

Who knows what snakes beneath our feet? Many of the older shafts are uncharted, and sink holes appear without warning. Such was the case recently when a hole opened up close to the entrance to the Plantation Garden, Norwich’s sunken Eden, itself created from an old chalk pit. Babes in buggies and picnicking pensioners dropping into the abyss wouldn’t be good for business so the gardens were closed to the public while council surveyors did what council surveyors do. The hi-vis boys poked about a bit with their equipment and declared the area safe(ish). The gardens have now reopened and, once again, we can all look forward to a balmy summer of cream buns and string quartets.

A more famous example of that sinking feeling happened in 1988 when the ground collapsed beneath a bus along the Earlham Road, close to the gardens. Shaken but not stirred, neither the bus driver nor his startled charges were hurt. Pictures of the scene were beamed around the world; sleepy Norfolk gained international notoriety not seen since 61AD when Boudicca gave the Romans a bloody nose and razed Londinium to the ground in the first great fire of London. The whole area around the gardens is a death trap. The papal faithful at the nearby Catholic cathedral best get down on their knees to prevent the congregation going down like the Titanic.

Not to miss a trick, confectioner Cadbury, used the incident to promote one of their products with the line…

Nothing fills a hole like a double-decker.

I couldn’t agree more.

East Angrier

Norfolk has its very own community television station called Mustard TV. Why Mustard? It’s a nod to Coleman’s mustard, the city’s famous hot and spicy condiment. The station is run on a wing and a prayer, and presented by those at the very start of their broadcasting careers and others at the very end. With Liam on family duties in London and me with thumbs a-twiddling, I channel-hopped onto Mustard and stumbled on ‘East Angrier’, a vox pop show for local yokels to vent their spleens. Here we go, I thought, another rant by the ignorati spitting out their fake views. But, no, I was pleasantly amused. No bigoted salvos about Johnny foreigners, Islam or Brexit. A few fine citizens had a go at Trump (that works for me) and annoying self-service tills in supermarkets (that works for me too). One Norfolk broad whinged about the number of spam emails she gets (tell me about it) and a grumpy old git reflected on the appearance of his fellow Angles…

Blokes over 30 wearing skinny jeans with the knees cut out look like bleep, bleep.

And…

Bald blokes with ponytails. What the bleep is that all about?

Clearly a man after my own heart.

And then there was the scruffy student fretting he hadn’t finished his essay on David Hockney. He was standing astride the line of blue and green glass tiles which flows down Westlegate marking the course of one of Norwich’s lost rivers – the Great Cockey. This is not to be confused with the Little Cockey which isn’t worth parting your legs for.

I Beg Your Pardon

alan-turing

All men convicted of homosexual offences no longer illegal have now received a royal pardon. The general pardon (so-called Turing’s Law) is modelled on the 2013 pardon granted to Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who broke the German Enigma codes during World War Two and shortened the war, saving thousands. In return, he was convicted by an ungrateful nation of gross indecency, chose chemical castration over incarceration and killed himself in 1954 at the age of 41. It’s a story full of shame, none of which was his. For the dead, the pardon is posthumous. Those still alive and mincing (reckoned to be around 15,000) can apply to have their convictions expunged from the record. I could have been one of them. I just didn’t get caught.

The Time of Their Lives

The Time of Their Lives

Billed as the road movie for the silver generation, ‘The Time of Their Lives’ stars Collins’ Joan and Pauline supported by ex-Italian stallion, Franco Nero. Clapped-out former screen goddess, Helen (played by Joan – no typecasting there then), hearing about the death of an old squeeze from her glory days, escapes the knacker’s yard, determined to ham it up at the funeral in France. Along the way, she picks up dowdy and downtrodden housewife Priscilla (Pauline) and the grey fugitives race côte à côte in a stolen Renault Captur. Franco Nero is the old stud in a battered 2CV with the hots for Pauline. There’s a full-frontal scene where he jumps naked into a pool. Now I know what perked up Vanessa Redgrave all those years ago when she played Guinevere to his considerable Lancelot in Camelot.

‘The Time of Their Lives’ has shades of ‘Thelma and Louise’ and ‘Shirley Valentine’ about it but, sadly, it’s not a patch on either. A tighter script and better lines would have helped. For us, the funniest moment came when the Norfolk broad in the row behind us dropped her gin – over her lap, over her seat and over her giggly companion. And with the best will in the world, Trump-loving ‘national treasure’, Joan, can’t match her fellow theatrical dames for pathos (or politics). Nevertheless, it was a charming excursion and diverting way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

Lion

Lion

Lion

I’ve always been a sentimental old fool. I only have to hear Vanessa Redgrave’s voice-over at the start of Call the Midwife and I start to well up, knowing the everyday trials and triumphs of East End childbearing during the fifties and sixties will leave me drained and limp. So I should have known better when we decided on a distracting afternoon at the flicks to watch Lion. Based on a true story, it’s a heart-churning tale of a five-year-old Indian boy who, by tragic happenstance, finds himself lost and alone on the mean streets of Kolkata, far, far away from the dusty plains of home. Following near misses with the truly unthinkable and a stint in a teeming orphanage, he’s plucked from the crowd by a well-meaning Australian couple and re-homed in comfortable Tasmania. Job done, lucky boy, you might say. But 25 years later, haunted by vivid flashbacks of his childhood, he sets out to find his long lost family in an attempt to calm his troubled mind. Lion speaks volumes, not just about the casual horror of life on the streets but also the cultural dislocation and guilt felt by those airlifted to affluence. Dev Patel is excellent as the man on a mission to rediscover his past. But the undisputed star of the show is the extraordinary Sunny Pawar as the lost child. Take a box of Kleenex. You’ll need it.

John Hurt, RIP

john-hurt

John Hurt, the first Chancellor of the Norwich University of the Arts, was a talented, versatile and prolific character actor. His superb portrayals of John Merrick, the Elephant Man, Max in Midnight Express and Caligula in the BBC’s I, Claudius immediately spring to mind. There are many, many others in a career spanning six decades. But for me, it was his role as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant which resonated the most. It was 1975 and I was 15 and fretful. The film was a revelation. Not because I wanted to do a Crisp by slapping on, dragging up and renting myself out for a few shillings. No, because I suddenly realised that if Quentin could live an unabashed life during the most hostile of times, then my own coming out might not be so traumatic. Apparently, John Hurt was strongly advised against taking the part. It would be career suicide, he was told. Hurt ignored the doomsayers and I’m so glad he did. And despite a few initial wobbles, my step from the closet turned out just fine.

Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadıköy Walk

Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadıköy Walk

Lisa Morrow, writer of several books about Turkey, has branched out into audio with a talking tour of the Kadıköy district of Istanbul. Using a smarty-pants smartphone app based on GPS technology, Lisa leads the visitor through this vibrant quarter of old Constantinople. She’s called it Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadıköy Walk. As a guide and story-teller, Lisa packs in the facts, the must-sees and the tall tales of legend. With her calming and melodious tones (with just a hint of Oz), Lisa makes the perfect travel companion.

Here’s the blurb:

Lisa Morrow, a long term resident of Istanbul, used VoiceMap to create an audio tour of Kadıköy, tracing back though the history of this once multicultural neighbourhood on the Asian side of the city. Kadıköy is where she regularly shops, walks and socialises, so researching and writing about its forgotten secrets in order to produce a tour sharing her discoveries, was an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Lisa first backpacked through Turkey in 1990. After numerous repeat visits she moved to Kadıköy and started to explore the area’s past. Stopping in a quiet side street she says, “This is Sivastopol Street. It’s likely the street was named by one of the more than 200,000 Russian refugees who landed along the Bosphorus shores, after the Bolshevik’s seizure of power in Russia in the October Revolution of 1917. The majority of Russians had left Istanbul by the end of the 1920s. But people of Greek descent who were born in Turkey, called the Rum population, were thriving”.

Lisa Morrow, writer, sociologist and occasional belly dancer, has used innovative new storytelling platform VoiceMap, to create her own audio walking tour of Kadıköy’s lesser known history. The result is an immersive and entertaining experience through Kadıköy that will leave you with a whole new understanding of Istanbul’s history.

VoiceMap, a recently-launched mobile application for iPhones and Android devices, uses cutting-edge GPS technology and the age-old art of storytelling to change the way people experience cities. “VoiceMap is a publishing platform for location-aware audio tours – or, with less jargon and more poetry, a way of seeing the world through another person’s eyes,” explains CEO and co-founder, Iain Manley.

After downloading the app and selecting a route, VoiceMap users can put their phone in their pocket and follow a storyteller’s voice through a particular neighbourhood, while anecdotes, commentary and opinions play automatically at specific GPS locations.

Very clever, don’t you think? Beats tailing someone waving a clipboard and waiting for stragglers to catch up. And it’s a snip at $6.99 (about £5.60). You can find out more here.

In the meantime, here are some Kadıköy snaps to whet the appetite…