When Liam planned our ‘jolly’ down memory lane, he wasn’t to know it would be the hottest May Day holiday on record. The Sun puts a smile on everyone’s face, doesn’t it? And we smiled our way round Bankside, my favourite district of London. Back when the first Elizabeth was on the throne, old Southwark was a riot of licentiousness – playhouses, brothels and taverns – beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London’s buttoned-up elders who wagged their fingers from the other side of the Thames. This is where Will Shakespeare plied his trade among the players, the prostitutes and the drunks. That’s my kind of town.
Not that there are many ne’er-do-wells milling around these days. The area has cleaned up its act and is now home to over-priced flats, over-priced eateries, over-priced bars, world-class modern art and a working replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It certainly pulls in the crowds.
I went all thespian and began to recite the only lines I could remember from my part in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream circa 1976…
You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear
The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor,
May now perchance both quake and tremble here,
When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.
And roar I did, when Snug the Joiner became the lion in a rabbit costume smelling of mothballs and accessorised with an improvised mane. Times were hard in the seventies.
Liam decided my hammy Shakespeare was putting off the tourists and bundled me onto a riverboat and took me to a different kind of theatrical show – a little fairy dusting of trad drag.
It was an eventful afternoon made all the more eventful by the delightful boys from the Abbey Rugby Club in Reading. They were on a ‘Monopoly board tour’ and had landed on Trafalgar Square for a queer beer. Well fancy that. And I did.
We took our seats at Cinema City for Nothing Like a Dame, a film that captures four great thespian dames – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins – in conversation. We had great expectations and we weren’t disappointed. All the director had to do was point the camera, say ‘action’, sit back and watch them rock. And rock they did with gossipy warmth, wit and insight, humour, naughtiness and modesty – without a hint of the pompous luvviness you might expect from these titans of the stage. It really hit me when I released that Joan Plowright, who could out-act anyone with just a look, is now blind. I had no idea. Despite this, the film was a voyeuristic joy, and it was a privilege to see it.
And so, in the best pansies tradition, here’s the trailer…
March was Maker’s Month at the Forum where handy creatives from across the county showcased their passion for all things woven and sewn. Traditional skills have come back into fashion as a welcome antidote to our no-time-to-knit, wear-it-only-once society. I’m all for it. The revival is good for the mind as well as the pocket. Some of the exhibits, though, were plain scary.
Back in the day many working class mothers knitted, and my mother was no exception. I was raised to the clicking of knitting needles, and half-finished woollens could often be found stuffed down the side of the sofa. Mother knitted for all her sprogs – jumpers and cardigans mostly. Here’s one she made earlier for my first school photo.
It itched. That bit I remember.
She also made mittens and we had a balaclava each, which, on a frosty day, made us look like a gang of apprentice muggers.
One day, mother decided to raise her game and invested in a knitting machine on the ‘never, never’ as hire-purchase financing was called. Why ‘never, never’? Because the item was never, never yours until the final payment was made. And if you missed a payment, off it went back to the shop, no money back. I assume she forged my father’s signature as back then, housewives couldn’t get credit. Sadly, mother’s venture into mass production was short-lived; the machine was sent packing by my father when he got home from the barracks. Who knows? She could have been Britain’s answer to Benetton. Or perhaps not, judging by the scratchy cardigan. Nice buttons, though.
It was high time for a little naughty fun in the smoke – a chance to spend a boozy afternoon with the London landlady of our Turkey years and an old mucker of mine from way back when. First stop was the French House, an iconic Soho watering hole popular with arty types. It’s a…
…fabulous and entertaining spot to raise a glass in London, the French House truly deserves its reputation as the best known pub in the world’s naughtiest square mile. It’s no music, no machines, no television and no mobile phones rule makes it a haven for conversationalists and a firm favourite among some of the best known names in show business.
Even if they do say so themselves.
And converse we did through four bottles of their finest house plonk. Sadly, the clientele was a bit light on thespians and there was nobody famous to gawp at.
Next up was a Thai vegan restaurant. Imagine me doing vegan? Not when I’m sober. It was tasty enough but a bit of pricey for a plate of rice and veg sprinkled with a few cashew nuts and not at all fit for soaking up the Devil’s brew.
Finally, we fell into The Admiral Duncan, a gay bar made famous by a nail bomb which, in 1999, killed three and maimed many others. It was good to see the old place still thriving after all these years despite the advent of ‘dating’ apps which have killed off many a clip joint. It’s the Amazon effect. Why bother with the faff and expense of propping up the bar hoping for a chance liaison when you can order in with free delivery?
Our former landlady popped to the loo to spend a penny and got more than she bargained for. Liam asked if she was alright.
Not really, no. There’s a transsexual masturbating in the ladies.
I had no words.
Liam suffers from acid reflux – indigestion from Hell – which he controls with early dinners and prescription drugs. In rare cases, the condition can lead to oesophageal cancer, something most sufferers don’t know they’ve got until it’s way too late. Early diagnosis improves the odds massively. If only there was an effective screening programme for those most at risk.
Enter stage left, the boffins from the University of Cambridge. They’re trialling a low-cost diagnostic tool which, if successful, could be the answer. Enter stage right, Liam the lab rat. He swallowed a large pill attached to a length of twine. Going down was the easy bit (isn’t it always?). The pill dissolved to reveal what Liam described as a Brillo pad which was tugged up through his gullet, scraping the sides as it travelled. It was quite a performance by all accounts.
To get over the shock of the drama, Liam took himself off to Cinema City to watch Stephen Sondheim’s Follies broadcast live from the National Theatre to 2,500 venues globally. Liam is a huge Sondheim fan. I’m not, so I didn’t crash the party. The last time we watched a live performance beamed to cinemas was Billy Elliot. Now that’s my kind of musical. It’s a great way for the fiscally-challenged to watch a top-notch West End show at a knock-down price.
I joined Liam later for a bottle. He was delirious after Sondheim – almost losing his mind with the pleasure – and needed a large red to bring him down to planet Earth. Throat well lubricated, we raised a glass to the miracle of medical science. It’s keeping us alive, after all. And now we’ve both done our civic duty for the greater good, we’re feeling rather smug.
I’ve always liked a mural, ever since Coronation Street’s former resident charlady Hilda Ogden tarted up her back parlour with a sea view embellished with a trio of flying ducks. She called it her ‘muriel’ and she was very proud of it. I was rather addicted to Corrie growing up – all those ballsy northern women slapping back life’s many misfortunes with humour and wit. These days, soaps tend to be all bed-hopping, murder and teenage angst with slash-yer-wrist plot-lines. Humour and wit is in short supply. Not my cup of char at all.
And talking of muriels, they’re being slapped up all over the place round these parts. Norwich is a quirky kinda town, pretty for the most part but few British cities were spared the Luftwaffe’s bombs or the post-war planners. Slum clearance was all fine and dandy but the bulldozers also swept away much worth preserving. Some clever soul had an inspiring idea of brightening up a few uninspiring corners with eccentric muriels. Hilda would have approved, I’m sure. Sadly, there are no flying ducks.
The last of seven murals was recently unveiled on Arcade Street…
Image courtesy of the Eastern Daily Press.
In Istanbul, tear gas and rubber bullets broke up small groups of brave souls attempting to defy the ban of this year’s pride march. In London, the rainbow flag flies proudly over Tower Bridge, one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Just sayin’.
Happy London Pride today. For those, like us, who won’t be parading down Whitehall, what better way to mark the event than to watch the cast of the Lion King featuring the London Gay Men’s Chorus singing the Circle of Life composed by England’s second biggest queen?