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.
I’m not a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan and didn’t rate ‘Cats’ when I saw it in the West End. I remember thinking it was okay, that’s all. But when I saw the trailer for the new film version I was amazed. Amazed by its exquisite beauty and amazed by the critical storm that followed. Reviews were overwhelmingly bad and just got worse when the alley cats finally hit the streets of post-war Soho. It must be the most slagged-off release in living memory. It made us determined to judge it for ourselves. Was is that terrible?
Not even close. With a top drawer cast – including Judi Dench doing her regal number and a clowder of superb dancers from the Royal Ballet – ‘Cats’ is a sight for sore eyes on a lousy winter’s day – energetic, inventive, atmospheric and visually stunning. I’m not sure what the catty critics saw but it wasn’t the same film I watched.
It’s funny how things turn out. At the start of 2019 we were loft-living city-style, happy as pigs in the proverbial. By the end, we’d escaped to the country surrounded by the stuff, all quite by chance. Our best laid plans for a move to God’s own county were consigned to the recycling bin. And, my old girl reached her own milestone – turning 90 and still on the fags.
These twin themes were writ large in Perking the Pansies this year. There’s a lesson there somewhere. Also featuring in the top ten were a couple of fairy films, a fine but imperfect city and steely celebrations by the pansies still perking after all this time. Ladies and gents, please give it up for…
As usual, popular classics were of the more salacious kind. For the third year running, Gran Canaria, Sex Emporium from 2012 was the most read blast from the past. And the most clicked image was those naughty but nice boys with their big oars from Catching Crabs.
Shame on you.
Happy New Year to one and all. All we hope for in 2020 is some sunshine. It’s been pissing down virtually every day since we moved.
It’s Christmas Eve and we’re stopping home this year to soak up the village vibe. Thank you to Mr Marks and Mr Spencer for the superior festive fare. It’s not that Liam can’t cook – he’s actually rather good (me, on the other hand…) but after a few sherries down the local on Christmas Day, I fear a killing in the kitchen, and not in a good way. So best to minimise the risk with pre-prepared grub. After all, as the slogan goes…
“This is not just food, this is M&S Food.”
And who am I to argue?
God rest ye merry gentlemen, ladies and all those in between.
Despite the decidedly mixed reviews, we threw ourselves into the festive spirit by seeing ‘Last Christmas’, starring among others, the fabulous Emma Thompson (who also co-wrote the screenplay). Set to the music of the late, great George Michael and Wham!, it’s a bitter-sweet quick-witted story of tragedy and hope. It’s a very British film with very British humour which, perhaps, doesn’t always travel. We laughed and we cried – a good sign of a good time in my book.
A rom-com with a subplot for our dark times, there’s a twist in the tail which I really didn’t see coming. And anyone who can make George Michael’s glorious but sometimes gloomy lyrics work romantically is a genius. Despite the bah humbug-ers, I’ve a feeling it’ll become a Christmas classic.
The north folk round these parts take Christmas very seriously. The pretty sisters of Loddon and Chedgrave are decked out in their best festive livery and we’ve had fairs and fairies, themed evenings and evensong, Santa and his servants, mulled wine and warm bitter and a host of other merry romps. The villagers have gone to town for good causes, including the homeless of Norwich. Even a stuffed wild boar’s head at a local pub has got into the spirit of the season.
But the biggest bauble must go to local neighbours who’ve created a winter wonderland in their front garden. Completely mad and totally marvellous.
The Autumn edition of ‘Link’, the South Norfolk Council community magazine, dropped on the mat. Packed with facts and fun, it’s something to thumb through over coffee and a rich tea. It’s the usual recipe of charity gigs, sport and leisure updates, seasonal treats, pub and club news, health and environmental titbits and (groan) advice on preparing for Brexit. But also thrown into the mix is a remarkable full-page piece about a roving exhibition called ‘Helping History Out of the Closet’. Intended to raise awareness about LGBT issues, the show was put together by the Thetford Teenage History Club who were shocked to discover that man-on-man action could once land you in the clink, or worse. Why remarkable?
Well, it isn’t that long ago that a council in liberal London banned a gay support group from an out-of-hours chinwag on council premises for fear of a moral backlash. I guess the powers that be thought it might degenerate into an orgy and frighten the grand old dames of Kensington. I worked for that council and had the keys to the offices in Earls Court so we met anyway, under cover of darkness.
Essentially South Norfolk is one giant field sprinkled with small towns and villages. Like most rural communities, it’s conservative with a small ‘c’ (and sometimes with a massive one) where change is snail-paced and being different can be an isolating and horrible experience. We’ve come a long way. Let’s hope it stays that way.
We arrived early in Chelsea for our close encounter with Tut’s bling giving us the chance to wander round my old manor where, back in the day, I was the money counter in Habitat. Come Saturday afternoons, I used to hang out at the Markham Arms with punters spilling out onto the pavement, trying to catch the eye of a likely lad who might. And many did. The King’s Road was where London swung in the sixties and, in the seventies, glam rockers minced and punks strutted. These days the unique boutiques and the avant garde have given way to chic shops for the filthy rich surrounded by some of the most expensive property on the planet. The Markham Arms is now a bank.
Another pub where my youth was gloriously misspent was the Queen’s Head in (wait for it) Tryon Street. The scene of my undoing was probably Britain’s oldest gay pub, with a pink lineage stretching back to the buttoned-up fifties. Last time I looked back in 2013, the pub had been saved from developers wanting to make a mint converting the handsome building into luxury flats. Alas, it was a pyrrhic victory as this image confirms.
Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom on my trip down memory lane. Liam got to stand outside the former home of PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. It made his day.