Imagine the absurdity of two openly gay, married, middle aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country. I chronicled our exploits with the mad, the bad, the sad and the glad in a blog for the whole world to ignore. Then came the book which became a critically acclaimed best seller. Its success opened out a whole new career for me, firstly as an author, and now as a publisher. Who'd have thought it? Certainly not me.
In June 2012, we ended our Anatolian affair and paddled back to Britain on the evening tide, washing up in Norwich, a surprising city in eastern England, then to the wilds of Norfolk as the only gays in the village. I’m sometimes nostalgic for our encounters with the hopeless, the hapless and, yes, the happy go lucky. They gave me an unexpected tale to tell and for this I thank them.
We were to meet up with the fragrant Roving Jay for one of our regular bloggers’ food-and-drink conventions but our plans were scuppered at the last minute. As we’d already bought the bus ticket, we went into town anyway for a wander around. Tombland, Norwich’s historic heart, is looking splendid after a recent wash and brush up. You might think the name comes from something spooky but it’s actually old English for ‘open ground’ (or such like) and is where the old market was held until those dastardly all-conquering Normans moved it to its present location a little after 1066 and all that.
It was a great day for a stroll so we decided to check out Cathedral Close, the substantial grounds of the grand Norman church. The Close is full of statues – of men mostly, as is the norm. However, one woman, Edith Cavell, has pride of place at the entrance. Ms Cavell was a British nurse in German-occupied Belgium during the Great War. She is remembered for tending to soldiers from both sides of the trenches and for helping about 200 Allied soldiers escape. Arrested by the Germans, she was tried for treason and shot by firing squad. It caused quite an international incident at the time as it wasn’t the done thing to shoot women – only horses. As she was a Norfolk lass, Edith Cavell is buried in the cathedral.
Doubtless, someone will discover something about Ms Cavell’s words, views or deeds that wouldn’t quite be cricket by today’s standards and demand she’s knocked off her plinth. That would be a shame.
Naturally, a chilled bottle was waiting for us at the end of the trail. We settled down at the Red Lion Pub on the river next to the Bishop Bridge, built in 1340 and the city’s oldest, to watch people messing about in canoes. Bottoms up!
Our next family do since the end of lockdown was to Liam’s lot. A fun family BBQ in rural Hertfordshire, a night or two in Cambridge and a visit to Ely, a teeny-weeny city with a vast cathedral dominating the flatlands. ‘The ship of the Fens’ can be seen for miles around, demonstrating just how important He used to be to the prince, the pauper and everyone in between. There’s been a house of God on this spot since 673.
Ely sits on a small plot of high ground at the heart of the Fens, a once expansive marsh long since tamed by dykes and ditches, and drained for agriculture. The city has a quirky feel to it and, despite being only 14 miles from Cambridge and 80 miles from London, projects an air of splendid isolation and self-sufficiency, perhaps inherited from times past when it was an island, cut off for much of the year.
Obviously, the huge church is the main event. I’m not even remotely religious but its sheer scale forces you to look up to the heavens in utter astonishment.
Hardly a week goes by when we don’t get a call telling us we’re about to get done for tax fraud or threatening to cut off our internet if we don’t pay up. Then there’s the tirade of texts and emails about dodgy activity on accounts we don’t hold or failed transactions on accounts we do – pay here, pay now. If we didn’t know any better, we’d have sleepless nights fretting the bailiffs might come a-knocking.
Then I started receiving abuse from some loony toon in the States about an image I used in a couple of posts here in Pansyland. The woman claimed the picture was of her, posted without her consent. Except, of course, it isn’t of her. It’s a picture of someone I once knew who died in tragic circumstances. My abuser also alleged that posting her picture made me complicit in a campaign of hate and revenge porn by a former squeeze. Except, of course, the image isn’t remotely saucy. It’s just an old picture from happier times.
It’s hard to unpick my very own little troll’s backstory as her written English is so poor. It’s just a rambling, incoherent rant, really. Anyway, apparently she’s reported me to the ‘sheriff’ (what, of Nottingham?) and threatened to have me arrested by the CIA. I’ll do ‘jail time’ as the Americans call it, if I don’t take the image down. She’s used several channels to have a pop – email, here on the blog, Facebook. At first it was quite menacing but after a few days it just became an irritant. She clearly needs help. Listen up Martha, it ain’t you. Go see a shrink.
We can’t complain. Village life is calm and cuddly. But when the easing of lockdown let us travel further afield for the first time in around seven months, we packed our bags and were off like a shot. The bright lights of London beckoned and not even lousy weather could dampen our spirits. Travelling across the city was a slightly unnerving experience. In normal times, whatever the time of day, the Tube is nose to nipple. But we don’t live in normal times. It was like Old London Town was just waking up from a long hibernation – which, in a way, it was. Then we got to eat inside a restaurant so we supped a gin fizz to celebrate. We felt like naughty truants bunking off school.
It was a whirlwind four-day tour seeing my mother in the flesh for the first time since December 2019. These days she’s as deaf as a post but otherwise in fine fettle. She refuses to get her hearing tested which makes phone calls a bit of a challenge but it’s the kind of contrariness that has got her to 92 – that and the tea and the fags.
We caught up with other family too for a bite and a long natter, and with a gaggle of vintage pals to bid our final farewells to one of our own who died suddenly just before the pandemic placed us all under house arrest. His is a nice spot in Highgate Cemetery, made famous as the last resting place of Karl Marx and a host of other worthies, so he’s in illustrious company. It was a sweet and simple ceremony. We laughed, we cried. Then we got drunk.
We had the partridge. Now all we needed was the pear tree. At least that’s what I thought until Liam pointed out that the big fat bird wandering around our small garden to feed with the bully-boy crows was, in fact, a pheasant. Not as colourful as our usual pleasant pheasant with its red, gold and blue livery, but a pheasant all the same.
I’m told that pheasants aren’t the sharpest beaks in the aviary. I had this one practically eating out of my hand. A very friendly pheasant it was. Friendly enough to hop straight into the pot if I’d asked nicely. Friendly but dumb.