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.
A few more lockdown restrictions were lifted this week and we were able to enjoy a bottle or two in the garden of our local hostelry. It was pleasantly sunny to match the mood of our hosts and fellow punters. Relief all round was the order of the day.
The weather’s been unseasonably cool of late despite the spring sunshine, with a definite chill in the air. But, after over three months under house arrest, a force nine gale wouldn’t have put us off. We supped well-wrapped in thermal long johns and bubble jackets accessorised with gloves, hats and scarves. It was like après ski but without the ski.
Last summer, Mr Mole was that unwelcome guest at a party who refuses to leave. We tried everything – organic repellent, castor oil spray, coffee grains, stomping and wailing too – all to nought. Mr Mole simply moved home to a different corner of our small plot. In desperation, we invested in an industrial strength sonic spike to drive the little bugger out. Despite plenty of hard evidence to the contrary, it worked. Rather than buy a pair of ear plugs, Mr Mole upped sticks to greener, less noisy pastures.
Chances are it’s a lost cause. We’re surrounded by fields and thickets littered with molehills. Flat, wet and fertile, the land serves up a juicy banquet of bugs and grubs – enough to fatten an unholy legion of the pesky pests. Our weekly constitutional takes us across Chedgrave Common, a boggy meadow punctured by muddy mountains of stone and soil, an obvious sign of the city of moles that lies beneath.
This is their party and we are the unwelcome guests.
Fleeting spring warmth, the partial easing of lockdown and the Easter break brought villagers, young and old, out onto the streets to make the most of the fine weather. And we were no exception. Downing tools for the day, we trotted off to Pyes Mill for a spot of lunch by the sparkling waters of the River Chet. The most direct route to the waterside clearing is across a boggy field which the owner has since barred after (allegedly) irresponsible dog walkers allowed Fido and Rover to trouble his cows. These are the same cows who troubled us the first time we ventured across his field forcing us to run for our lives. Just saying.
So we took the circuitous route via graves ancient and fresh, a tunnel of wild foliage, a babbling brook and a couple of country lanes. Pyes Mill was less busy than expected, though there was a swan having a good lick (and who wouldn’t if they could?), a few young families mucking about on the grass and a gang of naughty lads sharing a spliff. Liam can smell a joint at twenty paces.
We found a bench among the molehills and unpacked our picnic. When I say picnic, it was a meal deal from the Co-op. After months under house arrest, alcohol was first on the menu. Drink was drunk but rather too quickly. We regretted not picking up a second bottle when we had the chance. Lesson learned for next time.
I’ve always said that if I was a stick of Brighton rock, you’d find the words ‘city boy’ stamped all the way though me. And if, as a city boy living in the city, I’d heard gunshot, I’d have called the old bill, no hesitation. The truth is, despite the crime and the grime on the mean streets of old London town, I never heard gunfire for real, not once. Now I’m in the middle of huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ country where men are men and birds are nervous, I’m slowly learning to embrace the back of beyond. When I hear both barrels go off in the mean fields of Norfolk, I just shrug my shoulders and chuck another log on the wood burner. Pity the poor pheasants, though.
I got my first jab a few weeks back but, being a tad younger than me, Liam had to wait a tad longer for his. He got his first shot in the food court at the Castle Quarter Shopping Centre in Norwich where life-saving injections rather than artery-hardening fried chicken are now on the menu.
Vaccine centres across the realm come in all shapes and sizes but none is more majestic than the soaring Gothic splendour of Westminster Abbey in London. And who better to enter stage right than Norfolk boy Stephen Fry, actor, writer, presenter, everyone’s favourite audiobook narrator and all-round gay good egg. Here he is getting his first jab by Poets’ Corner, final resting place of writers, artists and actors down the ages – Chaucer, Browning, Tennison, Dickens and Olivier, among many others.
It’s a place for national treasures like Stephen Fry.