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.
Liam and I know how lucky we are. We don’t have children to feed, educate and amuse. We don’t have elderly parents to care for. We don’t have serious physical or mental health issues. We don’t live in a flat with no outside space. We don’t have money worries. And we don’t live where COVID-19 has been most deadly – quite the contrary, in fact. Some people have all these things tied up in a bow. Yes, we know how lucky we are.
If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. No, not teddy bears having a picnic but a rainbow tree adorned with ribbons and messages of hope for troubling times.
Glorious weather brought out flocks of lycra’d cyclists and packs of dog walkers in sensible shoes. Everyone toed the line, distance wise, and we didn’t encounter any pond life thinking the 2 metre rule didn’t apply to them.
By the end of our stroll we’d worked up quite a thirst but, as the pubs are all shut, we made do with a glass or two in the garden afterwards. Life could be worse. We could run out of booze.
I cannot lie. I was so relieved when off licences were added to the list of essential retailers. A dry lockdown would be way beyond the pale ale and, thankfully, local shops are well-stocked with the hard stuff, helping to tranquilise us through the coronavirus crisis.
We’re creatures of habit, Liam and I. And touring the village watering holes for a few bevvies is one of them. We call it doing our bit for the local economy. As they’re all shut up for the time being, we get our fix by cracking open a bottle and joining in the White Horse virtual pub quiz on Facebook every Monday at 8pm. It’s not quite the same as the real thing and it’s too easy to cheat – not that we do, of course – but it’s as good as it gets right now.
Simon, Chedgrave’s very own jolly landlord, is doing his bit to keep community peckers up and the virtual quiz really helps. He also does a nice line in colourful shirts to brighten up the dullest of days – always a talking point. Sartorially, though, he’s got a long way to go before he can compete with the nation’s all-time favourite pub landlady – bottle-blond, chain-smoker, Bet Lynch (AKA Julie Goodyear). Bet’s signature look was leopard skin. She covered everything in it, even her chest exerciser.
Brassy Bet’s tenure behind the bar at the Rovers Return on Coronation Street may be long over but you can catch her glory days weekday afternoons on ITV3. That’s what I do.
It’s just as well Liam and I get along. Pressure cooker living 24/7 could strain even the most intimate relationship. Our neighbours are also in confinement for the duration and so thin cottage walls means dialling down the dirty pillow talk for a while. I let off steam by swearing at Alexa and trying (unsuccessfully) to get her to swear back. Liam relieves stress by punching the hell out of the dough. The result isn’t half bad. When we’re finally released from house arrest, the Great British Bake Off could be on the menu.
Life may have slowed to a trickle but that didn’t stop a couple of water pipes choosing the worst time to burst – one in the loft and another beneath the bath. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one leak might be regarded as a misfortune; two looks like carelessness. With water drip, drip, dripping down our dining room wall, we weren’t sure if plumbing emergencies were exempt from the national lockdown. But a nice man with his big wrench came round to stem the tide anyway. With most shops shut, our young saviour managed to source a length of copper pipe from the wind chime in his father-in-law’s garden, proving that necessity really is the mother of invention. We are forever in his (and his papa-in-law’s) debt.
It was just a few short weeks ago when we were in London for my old girl’s 91st birthday. Everything then was normal. The Tube was packed and the streets thronged with kids, shoppers and tourists. As we’d got into town early, we took a stroll around the magnificent Natural History Museum in South Kensington to gawp at the long-extinct, alongside the mass ranks of over-excited scouts. Little did I know we might be going the way of the dodo ourselves.
We awake each morning to a cacophony of birdsong and days have merged into one. Life in lockdown passes at a snail’s pace with tasks expanded to fill the time available. Paid work has more or less dried up so domestic chores and essential errands dominate our days. Liam’s very handy with the hoover while I over-dust the knick-knacks. The house has never been so clean. Cabin fever and wall climbing is relieved by long walks along the river Chet and the queue outside our local Co-op store – keeping our distance from others, of course.