With all the endless doom and gloom swilling around us, it’s easy to forget just how far we’ve come. It says something incredibly powerful about our society when the three finalists of Strictly Come Dancing – the most popular show on British TV – were a black woman, a deaf actor and a same-sex couple, as voted for by the viewers. As critic Barbara Ellen put it in her Guardian review:
“A ground-breaking Strictly final in step with modern Britain.”
“… Strictly, and the BBC, at its best: everyone welcome, and everything all the better for it.”
Hot on the heels of Strictly came the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, also a public vote. It was won by the child of Chinese-Romanian immigrants with a gay diver bringing up the rear in second place.
And then came the out-of-the-blue and very public marriage proposal on the stage of Norwich’s splendid Theatre Royal at the end of their Christmas panto production of Dick Whittington. When Joe popped the question, the kids went wild. Just as well Luke said yes!
I reached the grand old age of sixty last year. This year was Liam’s turn and I’d planned a succession of treats – for me as well as for him – in old London Town. First up was a dinner date and gossipy catch up with an old pal in a fancy French restaurant in Chelsea, the trendy part of town where I gladly misspent much of my youth – ‘Days on the tills and nights on the tiles,’ I call it. The King’s Road is my memory lane and Liam joined me on my trip down it.
Next day I whisked Liam off to Covent Garden for a full English followed by a stroll. Once London’s main fruit and veg market with an opera house attached – think Audrey Hepburn as the cockney sparrow flower girl lip-syncing to ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly?’ in My Fair Lady – Covent Garden has long since evolved into a major magnet for tourists. And there were tourists aplenty, finally returning from home and abroad after lockdown.
Here’s the queue for Burberry. All that fuss just for a posh handbag.
We decided to take in some street opera and pavement art instead.
Our Covent Garden jolly continued with a ride around the London Transport Museum. In many ways, the story of London Transport is the story of London itself. The city couldn’t have spread like it has without the constant innovation needed to enable Londoners to go about their business. If trains, tubes, trams and trolley buses are your thing, it’s an Aladdin’s cave. We loved it.
After a brief power nap back at the hotel, we jumped on the Tube for a real indulgence – a performance of Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre. The musical tells of the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the (to me) lesser known American ‘Founding Fathers’, delivered in song and rap. The deliberately delicious twist is that most of the cast – including Alexander himself – is black or mixed heritage. Adorned with every gong going, the show is slick, brilliantly staged and tuneful. The rap is used as dialogue and is lyrical and clever. It’s a masterpiece, a work of genius.
The evening concluded with more posh nosh and a final snifter in our favourite dive bar in busy, buzzy Soho. The long weekend was a whirlwind with the perfect ending. We finally got to meet Fred, our newest great-nephew.
We queued up at the checkout with two bottles of Majestik and a tub of Cadbury’s Celebrations, attracting the curiosity of the shopper ahead of us. She was loading her groceries into a large tartan shopping trolley, her eyes darting quickly between me and Liam as if she had suddenly recognised long lost friends. I contemplated smiling but thought better of it.
‘You’re Jack Scott, aren’t you? I’ve been reading your blog.’
‘Oh,’ I said, blushing like a pubescent teen caught coming out of a backstreet massage parlour. ‘I suppose I should apologise.’
‘Actually, it’s rather good.’
Liam rolled his eyes.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘would you mind telling him that?’
She grinned at Liam, almost in sympathy, paid the cashier and pulled the ﬂap down over her trolley.
‘Thrilled to meet you both. You’ve caused quite a stir, you know. And don’t worry, I’m not about to stalk you, but I hope we meet again. We’re practically neighbours after all.’
Turkey Street, Jack and Liam move to Bodrum, Chapter 27, The Exiles
That was the very first time I met Annie, a vetpat of distinction. It wasn’t to be the last. This is Annie in her own words:
“In early 1982 I boarded a Turkish Kibris flight to Izmir – my destination was a 29 foot sloop in Bodrum’s new marina. At 22, my belongings fitted into a worse for wear sailing holdall. In 2012 I made a similar journey from Heathrow to Bodrum. Thirty years have passed and Bodrum has changed. There are plenty of very good blogs detailing the ex-pat journey through modern Turkey. The aim of this one is to catch sight of past Turkey through my experience of re-settling in modern Bodrum.”
Annie Onursan, Back to Bodrum
Erudite and creative, Annie has recently taken up painting with watercolours – first with greeting cards and now with larger works – inspired by the natural world and the timeless rural life that surrounds her. It turns out she’s good, very good. Here’s a sample.
I spotted Annie’s first larger piece – ‘Watching’ – on Facebook. I loved it, really loved it. Sneaky old Liam contacted Annie and snapped it up as a surprise birthday gift. It now hangs proudly on our wall – an Annie Onursan original, from her village to ours.
Annie is a member of a local arts group called the Bodrum Art Collective. Check out their website here.
Now that live theatre is back in full flow after the lockdown drought, we’ve been lapping up the good, the bad and average. First on the bill was the fantastic Come From Away – a West End show for our times – at the aptly named Phoenix Theatre. Next up was Norwich’s cute Maddermarket Theatre for a semi-pro production of One Man, Two Guvnors, the full-on farce which made a West End and Broadway star of James Corden. We saw the London show a few years back but enjoyed our little local offering rather more.
Then there was Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks the Musical on its pre-West End run – strictly for the kiddies and needs work before it gets to London – and The Dresser starring the brilliant Matthew Kelly as the well-past-his-sell-by-date thesp and a so-so Julian Clary as his long-suffering retainer. Both productions were at Norwich’s splendid Theatre Royal.
But by far the best in show was Six – also at Norwich’s Theatre Royal – a very modern musical about Henry the Eighth’s six wives. The gig was first performed by Cambridge University students at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 and has since gone global. It’s now on its UK tour.
Presented as a concert by a girl group, the wives take turns to sing their stories to decide who should get lead vocals. It’s a right royal foot-tapping take on girl power long before the Spice Girls got in on the act. Of course, in reality they were just pawns in Henry’s matrimonial chess game – divorced, beheaded, died –divorced, beheaded, survived.
Let’s face it, we only really remember the old letch because he had six wives. Ok, there was the small matter of the break with Rome too, but honestly, Henry, all that fuss over a pretty face and the pursuit of a male heir. His daughters were much more capable. Well perhaps not Bloody Mary so much, but the Virgin Queen showed real girl power.
It is said that if you hang around Piccadilly Circus for long enough, the entire world will pass you by. In my day, working the Dilly was popular with rent boys, so hanging around could get you arrested. When we passed by it was a convenient place to convene for those taking part in the Extinction Rebellion demonstration that coincided with our visit. At the time, the circus was ringed by brightly painted lions. This animal trail malarky has really got out of hand. Apparently the King of the Jungle on his Tusk Lion Trail can be spotted all over town.
Our last night in London was a Soho pub crawl reminiscent of the good old days. Thank God we were staying local so we only needed to stagger back to our pit. Next day, headache’d and hungover, we rode the bus to Liverpool Street Station for our train back to Norwich. The Tube would have been quicker, but nothing can beat the top deck of a London bus for a bit of sightseeing. We got to the station early, so it was a spot of overpriced lunch and a hair of the dog in nearby Spitalfields. The area is graced with a series of bronze statues, mostly of cutesy baby elephants – the Herd of Hope – to highlight the plight of orphaned calves in the wild.
But the most evocative sculpture on display is of a boatload of refugees. It’s intended to reflect the history of Spitalfields as a haven for migrants down the centuries. Ironic really. These days the area is mostly given over to plush offices and fancy eateries – not a damp slum, cold-water tenement or raggéd refugee in sight. Any remaining housing is some of the most expensive on the planet.