I know it’s a-coming because the Christmas lights went on in Norwich last week, enthusiastically witnessed by thousands of over-wrought kids and their anxious carers. Pushy pushchairs and strident strollers took back the streets and our ankles became collateral damage. The good burghers of Norwich fired up City Hall with a row of giant exploding fountains, and rockets flew from the roof of Jarrolds, the well-groomed department store for the well-heeled. Here’s a taste…
Chapelfield Shopping Centre has also unveiled its glitzy seasonal offering, even turning the word ‘christmas’ into a verb – punters are ‘christmassing’ all over the shop. The meaning isn’t entirely clear but I’m guessing it’s about people spending money they don’t have on things people don’t need. It was ever thus. They’ve replaced the enormous melodic Christmas tree of yesteryear with something more modest. It’s chic but silent.
I rather miss the camper, older model belting out Yuletide tunes every thirty minutes though I’m guessing that sentiment wouldn’t be shared by the staff and patrons of the adjacent restaurants who’d have to put up with the racket.
After the fun came the fare. We squeezed through the crowd to grab some hot Spanish sausage. Exotic street food has really taken off round these parts and I’ve always been partial to a generous slice of Iberian spice. The chorizo ciabatta griddled with red piquillo peppers was divine. We finished off the evening in a local hostelry, the newly tarted-up Lamb Inn – no prams the size of a small hatchback, no tantrum-ing kids, no over-fussing parents. My kind of advent.
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.
I’m a sucker for a good old fashioned Grimm tale. And if it comes triple-wrapped in high camp and topped with flying fairies, then I’m hooked. And they don’t come more camp or more soaring than Cinderella at the London Palladium. Panto’s not for everyone, I know. All that ‘he’s behind you’ and ‘oh no, he isn’t’ slapstick leaves some people baffled. But only the truly sour would sniff at this lavish, no-holes-barred, gags and glitter extravaganza. I haven’t laughed so much in years. With the likes of Julian Clary and Lilly Savage in the cast, the hard core double-entendre was not for the faint hearted but there were no profanities among the lewdness – so that kept the mums and dads happy. Lilly was a tad under-powered so it was left to Julian to steal the show. Seeing him in leathers and feathers flying over the stalls on a Vespa was surreal. And the rest of the cast were pretty sparkling too. Amanda Holden can actually sing. Who knew? There’s something very winter-warming about this peculiarly British theatrical tradition. Oh no there isn’t. Oh yes there is!
Thank you to our very own fairy godmother for getting us to the ball. You’re a star.
Why is it that bad news travels fastest and furthest? Tales of comfort and joy are always way down the bill on the nightly news. I was reminded of this by Julia at Turkey’s for Life when she commented on my recent Good Samaritan post. Despite my usual it’ll-be-alright-on-the-night demeanour, the post was a tad gloomy. And my mood was hardly lifted by the slaughter in an Istanbul nightclub or the death of George Michael. As contemporaries, George and I had more than one or two things in common.
Julia reminded me that 2016 wasn’t all death and destruction, disease and destitution. There were many good news stories that failed to make the headlines. Luckily for us, Future Crunch compiled many of them in a post – 99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year – which Julia posted on Facebook to add a positive flourish to the end of the year. Many of the ninety-nine celebrate remarkable successes in conservation, ecology and sustainable development. Let’s be hopeful. At the end of the day, this little third rock from the sun is all we have.
Over to George for my favourite track of his – Praying for Time – a real gloomy tune from the master of slash-yer-wrist ditties. It’s all in the words.
Once more round the sun and it’s that time again to look back at the top of the pansy crop. For some reason, matters medical and mortality caught the imagination this year. On a happier note, stepping back in time to renew old acquaintances and bear witness to vows ’til death they do part also proved popular. So ladies and gents, I give you…
2016 has provided a bumper crop of depressing man-made disasters: war, terrorism, ISIS, Brexit, Trump, ugly nationalism, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I don’t know about you, but a lurch to the hard right or hard left is not what I signed up for. You could be forgiven for thinking we’re all off to hell in a handcart. But then the smallest of kindnesses can restore your faith in humanity. Recently, Annie of Back to Bodrum reminded me of this when a dolly* driver went the final mile to get her home. Around the same time, I was having my afternoon cuppa in a local café when a man approached a woman sitting at an adjacent table. He smiled.
“No,” she said. “I don’t. Sorry.”
“Yesterday. You helped me. Remember?”
“Yes, yes. Now I remember.”
“Well these are for you,” he said, handing her a bunch of flowers.
The man had gone before the startled woman had a chance to respond but it brought the broadest smile to her face, as it did to mine and to everyone around us.
The flower man was elderly, white and local. The woman was elderly too and Asian, perhaps Filipino judging from her Imelda Marcos inflection and fabulous shoes. I mention their ethnicity and age only because I hear petty racism is on the march again, particularly amongst older generations. I never did find out what the good Samaritan had done to help the old man in need. Typically British, I didn’t like to ask. But it gave me a little hope.
Wishing us all a kinder and brighter 2017.
*Dolly is what I called a Dolmuş, a minibus used for public transport in Turkey.
You’ve got to hand it to former Labour Party heavyweight, Ed Balls. After losing his seat to the Tories at the last general election, he’s been busy re-inventing himself in the most unexpected ways. Ed became something of a comic sensation on Strictly Come Dancing this year. His salsa to Gangnam Style is now legendary. The question of whether we were laughing with him or at him is a tad ungenerous. Balls had a ball and it was infectious. God knows, we could all do with a laugh right now. As a politician, he was rather dour, but Strictly had a definite humanising affect. There’s a lesson there somewhere.
Few people here realised Ed was a local boy until he became the Chairman of Norwich Football Club. ‘The Canaries’ are something of an obsession in this town, a devotion little rewarded on the pitch recently. Naturally, the newly-improved Balls was asked to switch on this year’s Christmas lights in front of the Art Déco finery of City Hall, and naturally, he couldn’t resist a salsa reprise with Santa. We also had the obligatory reverend wheeled out to remind us all that Christmas without Christ was just Marks and Spencer. As Norwich is one of the least religious cities in the land, I’m afraid the sermon flew over the heads of the kirk, literally as well as spiritually. Still, like many others, we’ll be hitting M&S for all our festive fancies.
When Ed pushed the button, we got something quite unexpected. My own snaps of the extravaganza turned out to be mostly rubbish, as usual. But I do like the one that makes it look like someone succeeded in doing what the Luftwaffe conspicuously failed to do.
I’ll leave it to the BBC to show you properly. (click below)…