I’ve always been a sentimental old fool. I only have to hear Vanessa Redgrave’s voice-over at the start of Call the Midwife and I start to well up, knowing the everyday trials and triumphs of East End childbearing during the fifties and sixties will leave me drained and limp. So I should have known better when we decided on a distracting afternoon at the flicks to watch Lion. Based on a true story, it’s a heart-churning tale of a five-year-old Indian boy who, by tragic happenstance, finds himself lost and alone on the mean streets of Kolkata, far, far away from the dusty plains of home. Following near misses with the truly unthinkable and a stint in a teeming orphanage, he’s plucked from the crowd by a well-meaning Australian couple and re-homed in comfortable Tasmania. Job done, lucky boy, you might say. But 25 years later, haunted by vivid flashbacks of his childhood, he sets out to find his long lost family in an attempt to calm his troubled mind. Lion speaks volumes, not just about the casual horror of life on the streets but also the cultural dislocation and guilt felt by those airlifted to affluence. Dev Patel is excellent as the man on a mission to rediscover his past. But the undisputed star of the show is the extraordinary Sunny Pawar as the lost child. Take a box of Kleenex. You’ll need it.
John Hurt, the first Chancellor of the Norwich University of the Arts, was a talented, versatile and prolific character actor. His superb portrayals of John Merrick, the Elephant Man, Max in Midnight Express and Caligula in the BBC’s I, Claudius immediately spring to mind. There are many, many others in a career spanning six decades. But for me, it was his role as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant which resonated the most. It was 1975 and I was 15 and fretful. The film was a revelation. Not because I wanted to do a Crisp by slapping on, dragging up and renting myself out for a few shillings. No, because I suddenly realised that if Quentin could live an unabashed life during the most hostile of times, then my own coming out might not be so traumatic. Apparently, John Hurt was strongly advised against taking the part. It would be career suicide, he was told. Hurt ignored the doomsayers and I’m so glad he did. And despite a few initial wobbles, my step from the closet turned out just fine.
Lisa Morrow, writer of several books about Turkey, has branched out into audio with a talking tour of the Kadıköy district of Istanbul. Using a smarty-pants smartphone app based on GPS technology, Lisa leads the visitor through this vibrant quarter of old Constantinople. She’s called it Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadıköy Walk. As a guide and story-teller, Lisa packs in the facts, the must-sees and the tall tales of legend. With her calming and melodious tones (with just a hint of Oz), Lisa makes the perfect travel companion.
Here’s the blurb:
Lisa Morrow, a long term resident of Istanbul, used VoiceMap to create an audio tour of Kadıköy, tracing back though the history of this once multicultural neighbourhood on the Asian side of the city. Kadıköy is where she regularly shops, walks and socialises, so researching and writing about its forgotten secrets in order to produce a tour sharing her discoveries, was an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Lisa first backpacked through Turkey in 1990. After numerous repeat visits she moved to Kadıköy and started to explore the area’s past. Stopping in a quiet side street she says, “This is Sivastopol Street. It’s likely the street was named by one of the more than 200,000 Russian refugees who landed along the Bosphorus shores, after the Bolshevik’s seizure of power in Russia in the October Revolution of 1917. The majority of Russians had left Istanbul by the end of the 1920s. But people of Greek descent who were born in Turkey, called the Rum population, were thriving”.
Lisa Morrow, writer, sociologist and occasional belly dancer, has used innovative new storytelling platform VoiceMap, to create her own audio walking tour of Kadıköy’s lesser known history. The result is an immersive and entertaining experience through Kadıköy that will leave you with a whole new understanding of Istanbul’s history.
VoiceMap, a recently-launched mobile application for iPhones and Android devices, uses cutting-edge GPS technology and the age-old art of storytelling to change the way people experience cities. “VoiceMap is a publishing platform for location-aware audio tours – or, with less jargon and more poetry, a way of seeing the world through another person’s eyes,” explains CEO and co-founder, Iain Manley.
After downloading the app and selecting a route, VoiceMap users can put their phone in their pocket and follow a storyteller’s voice through a particular neighbourhood, while anecdotes, commentary and opinions play automatically at specific GPS locations.
Very clever, don’t you think? Beats tailing someone waving a clipboard and waiting for stragglers to catch up. And it’s a snip at $6.99 (about £5.60). You can find out more here.
In the meantime, here are some Kadıköy snaps to whet the appetite…
Our flat is like a weather chamber. When Mother Nature decides to throw a wobbly, we hear every eruption. So last month when Storm Doris (Doris?) huffed and puffed with 90 mph winds, we feared she’d blow the house down. We decided to abandon the microloft and seek refuge elsewhere. Usually this would be the pub but on this occasion we choose the Bridewell Museum. The Bridewell charts the civic and social history of Norwich – from its modest beginnings as a few Anglo-Saxon huts on the muddy banks of the river to the pillaging Vikings, conquering Normans, religious glory days of spires and steeples, economic salvation by Flemish refugees, a spectacular rise to become England’s second city, a slow industrial decline and the city’s renaissance as a financial centre, cultural hub and UNESCO City of Literature. It’s a ripping yarn of churches and chapels, friaries and priories, martyrs and merchants, weavers and cobblers, chocolatiers and mustard makers, fire and flood, black death and blitzkrieg. Norwich was the first British city to build social houses and the first to have them flattened by the Luftwaffe – two of the many things catching my attention as we meandered through the exhibits. And what fun we had dressing up.
If you’d like to know more, check out Norwich Museum at the Bridewell.
Afterwards we did make it to a local hostelry for a few jars. Well who am I to argue with the lady?
And so we survived Doris’ rage in one piece. Which is more than I can say for the roof.
I hate beards. Well, I hate the idea of having one. So it makes no sense whatsoever that I should grow a beard – other than as a perverse way of raising a few pennies for a cause close to my heart.
Mencap is an amazing charity. Since the 1940’s they’ve pushed through huge changes in social care and legislation for people with a learning disability. What’s more, they give brilliant support in the community, running life-changing housing and employment schemes for people who otherwise would lose out.
With social care provision in a right state at the moment, it’s more important than ever to bang the drum for anyone who’s vulnerable. And I have a personal reason for supporting Mencap. My amazing younger brother had some wonderful support throughout his life, right up to when we lost him in 2013. Without it, Mark’s life would have been so very different.
I’ll leave the last word to Northel, a young man with a learning disability who recently wrote to me.
The charity helps people like me with a learning disability to find jobs, and they support us and our families. Your gift will help more people like me with a learning disability and for that I am truly grateful.
If you can spare a few pennies to sponsor me through a month of itching hell, I’d be ever so grateful. I’ll post a picture of the hairy mess on my Just Giving page and on Facebook once it reaches its full, disgusting glory. Anything I raise will go to Mencap. Click the JustGiving link below.
P.S. Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.
Recently, apprentice clerics at an Anglican theological college in Cambridge were given permission to hold a service to commemorate LGBT history month. The Church of England still gets its collective cassock in a twist about sexuality, particularly in matters carnal and marital, so a step in the right direction you might think. Allegedly the cheeky ordinands went a tad too far for some when they held the service in Polari, a slang language of mixed origins once used in Britain by sinners on the social margins – actors (when acting was considered little better than whoring), circus types, villains, ladies of the night, and up to the seventies, gay people.
So, instead of…
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The congregation got…
Fabeness be to the Auntie, and to the Homie Chavvie, and to the Fantabulosa Fairy.
The college principal ‘hugely regretted’ the use of an unauthorised liturgy. In other words he threw a queeny fit. Personally, I think it’s much ado about nothing. It wasn’t a public service and, since the Bible has been translated many, many times down the ages from the Hebrew and Greek texts, who’s to say the Polari version is any less legitimate? A fairy tale is a fairly tale whatever language it’s in.
Polari died out when times became less buttoned-up but a few words have entered into modern parlance – naff and camp among them. It has a delicious un-PC vocabulary of wonderfully ripe terms. Here’s a few…
Basket (a man’s bulge through his clothes); bibi (bisexual); bona (good); bona nochy (a good night); bungery (pub); buvare (a drink); camp (effeminate); carts (willy); chicken (young man); cottage (a public convenience used for jollies); dilly boy (rent boy); dish (bum); eek (face); handbag (money); jubes (breasts); lallies (legs); mince (walk); naff (nasty); national handbag (welfare benefits); omi (man) omi-palone (camp queen); plate (oral sex); palone (woman); palone-omi (lesbian); remould (sex change); riah (hair) rough trade (working class sex); slap (makeup); todd (alone); tootsie trade (sex between two passive partners); trade (sex); troll (to walk about looking for sex): varda (see).
Varda the godly chickens!
If Christmas was sedate and tranquil, January was an exploding glitter ball. The month began with the high flying Cinderella at the London Palladium, the middle featured La La Land, the bookie’s favourite at the Oscars, and the grand finale was a splendid performance of ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ at Norwich’s very own Theatre Royal. Literally meaning ‘the cage of crazy women’ – in fact ‘folles’ is French slang for screaming ladies of an entirely different gender. ‘Cage’ enjoys a glorious pedigree – the original 1973 French play, the 1978 (my coming out year) Franco-Italian film, ‘The Birdcage’, a 1996 Hollywood remake starring the late, great Robin Williams and a multi-gonged stage musical. The latest revival is now doing the rounds in the provinces. After Trump’s depressing God’s own country speech at his inauguration, it certainly revived me with its delicious ‘I am what I am’ bugger the bigots message. John Partridge’s performance as Albin, the ageing drag queen, was a revelation – totally OTT one minute, delicately poignant the next. The Norwich crowd gave him a well-deserved standing ovation.