Ten Lucky Years

A decade has now passed since we closed the door on the stone house in Bodrum for the last time and brought our four-year Turkish adventure to a sudden end. And ever since, while the world has continued its grim descent into oblivion, we’ve just carried on regardless. Our Anatolian days taught us to think differently and live differently – making do with less and being all the happier for it.

After Turkey, we pitched our tent in Norfolk, a flat and bountiful corner of old England – first in Norwich, then Chedgrave, a village few people have heard of. To begin with, we rented, trying the city on for size. Our first lodgings were a 400-year-old former weaver’s gaff in flint and brick near Norwich’s University of the Arts. We loved it, giving us a taste for city life and its student vibe. But our antique digs were cold and draughty and, even back in 2012, cost a king’s ransom to heat. Gawd knows what the bills are like now.

After a couple of years, we decided to put down roots and buy our own slice of historic Norwich – a micro-loft in a handsome converted Victorian warehouse, a writer’s garret to polish off Turkey Street, my second memoir.

At the time, our savings were still in Turkish lira earning pretty good interest. Little did we know that the lira was about to take a dive – and lucky for us, we converted to sterling just in the nick of time. Only days later Turkey’s currency dropped off a cliff, and it’s been more or less in freefall ever since. Had we hesitated it might have been the workhouse for us, not some trendy city-centre apartment.

Five years later, we fancied a quieter life, with room to breathe and a log burner to keep our tootsies toasty. We put the micro-loft on the market and it was bought by the first person to view. Quite by chance, Liam noticed a tiny 1850s worker’s cottage for sale. We came, we saw, we bought. Five months into our village life, the world was in lockdown, and our cottage was the perfect place to ride out the storm. Our luck was still in.

Truth is, we only chose Norfolk because we needed somewhere we could actually afford and that was a relatively easy commute to London: there was family stuff to deal with. But as time moved on there was no longer a need for us to stick around the sticks. For a while, we toyed with God’s Own County – Yorkshire – with its big-limbed, hunky Heathcliffs. It certainly does have its moody blue attractions among the moors and mills.

But we’re rather taken with our East Anglian hamlet, with its broad Naarfuk brogue, big skies and chirpy birds with their squawky dawn call – loud enough to wake the dead in the churchyard next door. And we may be newbie Norfolk broads but we’re definitely not the only gays in the village.

The cottage is my nineteenth address. Will I make it to twenty? And will our luck hold? Who knows? But we do have a coffin hatch just in case the Grim Reaper comes a-knocking.

The Nimmo Twins – Normal for Norfolk

After a six-year hiatus, local comedy heroes The Nimmo Twins (Owen Evans and Karl Minns) were back treading the boards at the Norwich Playhouse for the second of their twenty-fifth-anniversary shows. Despite their glittering quarter-century career, to our shame, we’d never heard of them, but then a couple of fellow villagers put us firmly in the picture.

I’m glad they did. In skit and sketch, satire and song, characters old and new, the Twins put us straight about all things normal for Norfolk – the ups and mostly downs of Norwich City Football Club, local petty bureaucrats who couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, geriatric TV presenters well past their sell-by, livestock-lovin’ farmhands with single-digit IQs and flash Londoners with their fancy cars and holiday homes, all delivered in the broadest of Naarfuk and with tongues firmly in cheek. It’s a total, affectionate piss-take and it’s hysterical.

Washing Machines Live Longer with Calgon

Not in this house, they don’t. I can’t be arsed to buy any product advertised on the box which has been dubbed into English. I use a supermarket own brand which is cheaper and probably made by Calgon anyway. Or rather I used to.

The water in East Anglia is notoriously hard. Ever since we moved to the back of beyond I’ve been suffering from slight contact dermatitis, and the mineral-rich water hereabouts was the possible cause. I say slight because it comes and goes and is more of a minor itchy irritant than a major malady. It’s the only downside to village life.

So we got ourselves a water softening wonder box. It sits comfortably next to the boiler and now delivers the silkiest of waters, so no more clogged pipes, furry kettles or lumpy limescale on tiles, taps and toilets. Bath time is now big bubble time. But has it cured my itch? Err, no. Maybe it’s the gardening.

The Ship of the Fens

Our next family do since the end of lockdown was to Liam’s lot. A fun family BBQ in rural Hertfordshire, a night or two in Cambridge and a visit to Ely, a teeny-weeny city with a vast cathedral dominating the flatlands. ‘The ship of the Fens’ can be seen for miles around, demonstrating just how important He used to be to the prince, the pauper and everyone in between. There’s been a house of God on this spot since 673.

Ely sits on a small plot of high ground at the heart of the Fens, a once expansive marsh long since tamed by dykes and ditches, and drained for agriculture. The city has a quirky feel to it and, despite being only 14 miles from Cambridge and 80 miles from London, projects an air of splendid isolation and self-sufficiency, perhaps inherited from times past when it was an island, cut off for much of the year.

Obviously, the huge church is the main event. I’m not even remotely religious but its sheer scale forces you to look up to the heavens in utter astonishment.

The Mean Fields of Norfolk

The Mean Fields of Norfolk

I’ve always said that if I was a stick of Brighton rock, you’d find the words ‘city boy’ stamped all the way though me. And if, as a city boy living in the city, I’d heard gunshot, I’d have called the old bill, no hesitation. The truth is, despite the crime and the grime on the mean streets of old London town, I never heard gunfire for real, not once. Now I’m in the middle of huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ country where men are men and birds are nervous, I’m slowly learning to embrace the back of beyond. When I hear both barrels go off in the mean fields of Norfolk, I just shrug my shoulders and chuck another log on the wood burner. Pity the poor pheasants, though.