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.
Back in 2008, the eccentric old fella next door bought my London Victorian terrace in Walthamstow. One fateful evening he popped round with his chequebook and asked, “How much?” And just like that the deal was done and we were on our way to Turkey for a new life in a foreign field. I wrote about it in that book. Cue the shameless plug.
I’ve been pretty lucky with buyers. My gaff before Walthamstow was also flogged off to a neighbour. Both sales saved me a king’s ransom in estate agent fees.
Last year, my old Walthamstow house came back onto the market for the first time since I sold it. Despite being in a very sorry state, it went for more than double the 2008 price tag. London prices really are crazy. I don’t know what happened to the eccentric old fella next door but it was really sad to see my pretty Victorian terrace with all the vivid memories of good times past looking so unloved and unlived in. I really hope whoever’s got it now will sprinkle a little fairy dust to bring it back to life. Because it’s a cracking little place for the right person.
Our first film of 2023 was ‘Empire of Light’ written and directed by Sam Mendes and set around a grand old art deco cinema in a forlorn English seaside resort during the early nineties. We were expecting a gentle love affair between two social misfits – a single white woman of a certain age and a handsome young black fella – an evocative period piece to warm the heart on a damp afternoon, set against the decline in traditional bucket and spade holidays. What we got was much more: a beautifully filmed, visually absorbing in-yer-face exposé of depression, repression and racism – and a little hope too – during rapidly changing times.
Opening to mixed reviews, the film stars the superb Olivia Coleman and easy-on-the-eye Micheal Ward as the star-crossed lovers with an excellent supporting cast, including Colin Firth as the sleazy cinema manager and Toby Jones as the geeky projectionist. Some critics thought the screenplay was a bit thin, whereas we saw the actors speak volumes with just a glance. We loved it, though I can’t quite get over Colin Firth demanding to be sucked off – quite the departure from Mr Darcy and his magnificent britches in ‘Pride and Prejudice’.
According to those in the know, as most of us took precautions during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic – social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing and all that jazz – we didn’t build up enough immunity from all the usual respiratory viruses that spread like the Black Death at this time of year. When Liam and I did finally succumb to COVID, we were vaxed to the max, so the result was a very mild affliction. And being the wrong side of 50, seasonal flu is kept at arm’s length by annual jabs.
But then came the worst of winter colds to shatter our complacency and bring us to our knees. Starting late Christmas Day and lasting well into January, we coughed, sneezed and spluttered our way through the festivities. Days of snot were coupled with nights of hacking. It was tiring and tiresome. It got so loud, you could hear us in the next village. For days I sounded like I was on forty a day and at one point I completely lost my voice. Many would see my involuntary vow of silence as a blessing. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, apparently. We drank through it.
The weather outside is dull and drizzly so it must be pantomime season, just the thing to chase away those winter blues. Panto is a centuries-old theatrical tradition which has evolved into a totally OTT cross-dressing, saucy song and dance piss-take loosely based on a fairy tale, fable or folklore. Kids love it and, for many, it’s their first taste of live theatre. Grown-ups love it too, catching the ripe gags that fly over the heads of the little ‘uns. Often a little bit naff, Panto is always great fun. And it’s profitable, keeping many a local theatre in the black for the rest of the year.
We’ve done two pantos this season – both versions of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. The first beanfeast was at the glorious London Palladium starring the incomparable Julian Clary as the Spirit of the Beans, brought up the rear by a host of top notch familiar faces. The Palladium gig is the annual headliner, panto-wise – getting the full-on West End treatment with no sequin spared. Julian stole every scene with one outrageous costume after another and all the best lines. It was a glorious belly-laugh of the lewd, the crude and the rude. All in the best possible taste – not.
The second interpretation, at the Fisher Theatre in nearby Bungay, was a more modest affair. It was surprisingly good; a few missteps, the odd fluffed line and an emergency stand in due to illness but that’s par for the course in amdram-land. None of that mattered, especially to the army of kiddies in the audience who lapped up every silly joke and every slapstick moment. Great fun for all the family in a cute local theatre with a fab little bar attached. Wonderful.
Last year New Year’s Eve pyrotechnics were all big bangs but no punters. The pandemic saw to that. This year, punters were back in force, lining the banks of the Thames. To mark their return, London Mayor Sadiq Khan put on a show of shock and awe. There were nods to various events from 2022 – the lionesses’ historic win in the Euros, fifty years of London Pride, standing tall with Ukraine and, of course, remembering Her Maj. The sky exploded like a million party poppers, a spectacular musical extravaganza to celebrate London’s extraordinary diversity and strong sense of inclusion – a city for all – and it was a marvellous sight to behold.