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.
It was the calm before the storm. We flew out just before Storm Ciara barrelled across the flatlands on the Jet2 poofs and pensioners express to Gran Canaria with an all-male crew who minced up and down the aisles dishing up relentless jollity with the booze. We fitted right in and celebrated with fizz.
For our fix of winter sun this year we’d gone a bit more upmarket, staying at the Canary Garden Club, a well-appointed collection of whitewashed bungalows set in lush, beautifully-tended gardens. The sparkling pool was gorgeous though somewhat marred by the assortment of old fossils drying out in the sun. Still, it made us feel young again.
This was intended to be R&R gig and so we only ventured out once to the Yumbo Center – the epicentre of gay nightlife in Playa Del Inglés – with its trashy bars with their trashy boys flaunting their trashy bits. A likely lad emerged from the shadows and offered us Charlie, and I don’t mean my mother’s favourite fragrance from the seventies.
The gay scene has evolved down the years from the small intimate bars of my youth, partially hidden from view so as not to offend the easily offended, to cocktail cafés spilling out everywhere, in-yer-face drag shows banging out the show tunes and brash cruising establishments that do exactly what they say on the signs, and more – Sodom and Gomorrah in sequins and leather. We left it to the wide-eyed and lustful, and were in bed by midnight.
Most days we dined early and watched the sun go down over the Atlantic – just what the doctored ordered after an over-eventful year.
We arrived back at Stansted late – too late to travel back all the way to the middle of nowhere – so we’d pre-booked a budget hotel, or so I’d thought. To my surprise and total delight, Liam had upgraded us for Valentine’s. And on the train back to Norwich the next day, the guard hole-punched our tickets with a heart. Who said romance is dead?
Released in 2010, ‘Made in Dagenham’ is a gritty, evocative and warm-hearted film about the female workers at the Ford car plant in Dagenham, East London, who, in 1968, downed tools to demand equal pay for doing work of equal value. The machinists faced a barrage of patronising and often vicious opposition from every side – from the management at Ford UK, their paymasters across the pond and the Labour government of the day but also from their male co-workers and their union, run – you guessed it – by men. Evidently, solidarity only applied to the hairy-arsed blokes on the assembly line.
It was a time when a woman’s place was in the home and even those who had to work to put food on the table were routinely paid less than men because, well, they were just women, after all. Thankfully, times were a-changing. The strike was ultimately successful and led to the 1970 Equal Pay Act.
A musical adaptation followed in November 2014, opening at the Adelphi Theatre in London. It’s now doing the provincial rounds and we saw the production by the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society at Norwich’s handsome Theatre Royal. Am-dram it may have been but top not notch am-dram it was with sparkling vocal performances, light-footed routines and a real sixties vibe. We caught the matinee, joining the grey herd who laughed, gasped and clapped their way through a clever and often very naughty script, witty lyrics and jolly tunes. Mind you, the nice people from St John’s Ambulance were on standby with their defibrillators – just in case it all got too much.
Since we became village people, hardly a day has passed when it hasn’t rained – drizzle one day, deluge the next and endless dreary skies. Even the ducks have had enough. So at this time of year a young (and not so young) man’s fancy turns to a bit of cheap fun in the sun. Unlike the ducks, we’re flying south to Gran Canaria.
Whereas in 2019 we lodged in a bijou men-only bungalow complex for wrinkly friends of Dorothy, this time we’ve going large and going upmarket. While it would be rude not to venture to the bars at least once for our annual no nonsense in-yer-face, up-for-anything fix, I suspect the main event will be chick-lit under a parasol by day and cocoa laced with a medicinal nightcap by bedtime.
Now we’ve moved on to fresh fields, my five-day-a-week gym routine is no more. Whereas I was once able to stroll to my city centre torture chamber, I’d now have to bus it – so that’s that. But, I still need to help my circulation by power-pushing my ageing legs, and avoid diabetes by keeping the pounds off. So we’ve invested in this monster.
No longer am I able to leer discretely (or not so discretely) at the sweaty fellas squatting and pressing around me. No. My view has been replaced by classic episodes of Coronation Street from the eighties, weekdays on ITV3. The tattooed talent in tight togs have given way to dreary Deirdre’s dreadful perm, wooden Ken’s unlikely sexual prowess, bottle-blonde Bet’s gravity-defying hair do, blue-rinsed Phyllis’ hopeless pursuit of flat-capped miserable old fart, Percy Sugden, Jack and Vera’s endless bickering and Betty’s nuked hotpot. I love it. The script is glorious and my guilty secret is out.
I don’t normally mix business with pleasure but I’m making an exception this week. Regular readers will know about the cruel murder of fellow expat author Lindsay de Feliz in December last year. We – that is Springtime Books – published her memoirs and we thought hard about a fitting tribute. And, so, with the help of a number of generous donors and freebies thrown into the mix by our own team, we’re launching the Lindsay de Feliz New Writer of Expat Memoir Award. It’s a bit of a mouthful, I know.
A mouthful it may be but the lucky winner will receive a bursary to cover the full cost of a full publishing package – big picture edit, proofread, design, production and distribution for worldwide sale – the full monty.
The competition is open until the end of July 2020, and the winner will be selected in September 2020 by a panel of expatriate authors and writers from the Dominican Republic.
Our final jolly in old London Town at the end of 2019 was a trip to see Wicked – the stage prequel to The Wizard of Oz and a show every friend of Dorothy should see before they reach the end of the rainbow.
Bizarrely, neither Liam nor I had seen the musical before even though it’s been a firm West End fixture for donkey’s years and one of the rare few that just go on and on, pulling in the punters night after night. The trouble with many a classic on a long run is it can all get a bit tired. Fine wine to vinegar? Actually, no. The big scenes are still big and the current lead – Nikki Bentley, as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the East – has a belting voice. And the political subplot – the rise of fascism – is as relevant now as it’s ever been. There was a standing ovation at the end. All in all, not a bad gig.
I was badly shaken and much stirred to hear of the murder of fellow author, Lindsay de Feliz in December. Among her many qualities, Lindsay was very social media savvy and developed an impressive following. Her evergreen blog chronicled the many ups and considerable downs of her fascinating life in the Dominican Republic with her Dominican husband, Danilo, assorted stepchildren and a menagerie of dogs, cats and chickens. Life at times was really tough but she always embraced it without complaint or regret. Lindsay wrote candidly about her journey in her remarkable memoirs, ‘What About Your Saucepans?’ and ‘Life After My Saucepans’.
I never actually met Lindsay in person but we talked on Skype and gelled immediately, sharing the same ironic sense of humour. When we first became acquainted, I was a rookie author and she was generous with her help. I was trying to make a shilling or two from my first book and her advice was spot on. I shall be ever grateful.
The manner of Lindsay’s grizzly death is plain but the circumstances surrounding it are subject to much idle chitter-chatter. What is known is Danilo and two of his adult children have been arrested, and, some say, charged with her murder. The story broke in the press and hit the headlines. As Lindsay’s publisher, a national newspaper came sniffing around for the dirt, particularly about how much money she’d made. Of course, I kept mum. My discretion was not repeated online with some people, many of whom had never even heard of Lindsay, heckling from the cheap seats and baying for blood. It was an ugly spectacle, reflecting the very worst aspects of social media. Let’s not jump the gun. If Danilo is tried (fairly) and convicted, then so be it but, in the meantime, I’m steering well clear of the bear pit.
My thoughts are with Lindsay’s family and actual friends at this truly awful time. Lindsay, may you rest in peace.