The Autumn edition of ‘Link’, the South Norfolk Council community magazine, dropped on the mat. Packed with facts and fun, it’s something to thumb through over coffee and a rich tea. It’s the usual recipe of charity gigs, sport and leisure updates, seasonal treats, pub and club news, health and environmental titbits and (groan) advice on preparing for Brexit. But also thrown into the mix is a remarkable full-page piece about a roving exhibition called ‘Helping History Out of the Closet’. Intended to raise awareness about LGBT issues, the show was put together by the Thetford Teenage History Club who were shocked to discover that man-on-man action could once land you in the clink, or worse. Why remarkable?
Well, it isn’t that long ago that a council in liberal London banned a gay support group from an out-of-hours chinwag on council premises for fear of a moral backlash. I guess the powers that be thought it might degenerate into an orgy and frighten the grand old dames of Kensington. I worked for that council and had the keys to the offices in Earls Court so we met anyway, under cover of darkness.
Essentially South Norfolk is one giant field sprinkled with small towns and villages. Like most rural communities, it’s conservative with a small ‘c’ (and sometimes with a massive one) where change is snail-paced and being different can be an isolating and horrible experience. We’ve come a long way. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Business has been brisk; we’ve been working late to meet immoveable deadlines and we needed a little light relief from our labours. It came in the form of camp and cheery French-language film, The Shiny Shrimps (or Les Crevettes Pailletées).
The story goes like this:
After an Olympic swimming champion at the tail-end of his career makes a homophobic remark on TV to a gay reporter, he is forced to do penance by coaching an amateur water polo team trying to make it to the Gay Games. His charges are unruly, uncompetitive and unapologetically flamboyant. It’s a tough gig but he whips them into shape. Along the way, it’s a journey of revelation and reconciliation to a soundtrack of Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out for a Hero and Sabina’s Boys, Boys, Boys with a bit of Celine Dion chucked in for good measure.
Billed as a cross between Pride and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the film isn’t nearly as good as either and a bit lightweight pathos and politics-wise. Nevertheless, it was feel-good jolly romp at the end of a hard-slog week. Here’s the trailer…
We moved to Norwich in 2012 after our four year adventure in Turkey. During this short time, the city has become busier, buzzier, more welcoming and more diverse – from Chinese students studying at the University of East Anglia and South Asians working for Aviva, to the rucksacked troupes of Spanish school kids wandering around thanks to direct flights from Spain to our very own little International airport. Tourism is on the rise, ably assisted by the merry band of volunteer ‘here to help’ street hosts handing out smiles and leaflets. We might even get a bumper crop of visitors from Vietnam – now that the CEO of Vietnam Airlines described the city as ‘irresistible’ and ‘serene’. Same-sex couples can and do walk down the street hand-in-hand and the Norwich Pride event is a firm fixture on the city’s annual social calendar.
Things aren’t perfect – far from it. The increase in rough sleeping and substance use is the most visible sign of this. Not that there’s any cash to fix the problem in the barmy blond bombshell’s big pre-election giveaway. There are very few votes in helping the homeless. And, even in liberal Norwich, small minds still exist. A case in point is the silly man who refused to drive a bus because the route number was displayed in rainbow colours. He allegedly told passengers, ‘This bus promotes homosexuality and I refuse to drive it.’ As we all know, the mere sight of a pretty rainbow can turn even the most red-blooded bloke in an instant. Just like the pealing of church bells makes us all fall to our knees to pray. He was reported to the bus company and suspended, pending an investigation. Good. I have no wish for him to lose his job but he really does need to leave this bigoted nonsense at home and get on with what he’s paid to do.
Sadly, for various reasons, we didn’t make it to Norwich Pride 2019 for the daytime festivities, though we did manage to catch the tail-end of the fun and raised a glass or two in a local hostelry. Judging by all the party pictures splashed across social media the following day, we missed the best-ever with thousands of folk of every imaginable hue marching and dancing, chanting and cheering. The big pink gong must go to Town Crier, Mike, who opened the proceedings with a rousing speech from the balcony of City Hall.
For more amazing scenes, check out the coverage on Auntie Beeb’s website.
Finally, the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster intends to legislate on two important issues affecting Northern Ireland – marriage equality and abortion – to ensure fairness and equity for everyone. And about but time too. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which does not recognise same-sex marriage and it’s also where the law on terminations is the most repressive. Generally, such social issues are a matter for the devolved legislatures in each of the four countries of the UK, but tribal bickering and pig-headed intransigence have meant that the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont hasn’t sat for over two years, depriving Northern Ireland of a functioning government. As a result, these and many other key issues have been stuck in limbo. No doubt, though, the members are still drawing their salaries.
Despite overwhelming evidence of popular support for marriage equality and abortion reform, the joyless old dinosaurs of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are implacably opposed to both on puritanical moral grounds but, unless the Stormont Assembly reconvenes by the 21st October (like that’s gonna happen), the Westminster Parliament will likely legislate. While some of the more reactionary fire and brimstone elements of the DUP will be foaming at the mouth, I suspect many others will just be relieved, with a handy ‘wasn’t me, guv’ alibi to keep the faith.
Pride season is in full swing with processions and celebrations large and small up and down the realm and around the globe. It’s a time to revel in the diversity of our rainbow world and a welcome antidote to the pollution of rising populism. We’ve been regulars at Norwich Pride but, sadly, we’ll miss it this year. So, instead, we chucked ourselves into the pride event in Great Yarmouth, a kiss-me-quick bucket and spade seaside town and port on the east coast. As a child, Liam spent many a happy holiday flying his kite along Yarmouth’s golden sands. The resort has long been down on its uppers – the advent of cheap package holidays to sunnier foreign climes saw to that. But, of late, the town been given a shot in the arm by staycationers avoiding Brexit and the construction of enormous wind farms in the North Sea.
Although understandably modest by Norwich standards (not to mention the mega parties in London and Brighton) the pride march along Marine Parade was no less joyful, camp or colourful. Even the Norfolk Fire Service got in on the act by bringing up the rear. No jokes about the fireman’s hose please.
One lesbian is murdered by a cowardly nationalist sniper while another becomes the Democratic Unionist Party’s first ever openly gay councillor. Journalist and tireless LGBT campaigner, Lyra McKee, was shot dead during rioting in Derry/Londonderry. The response was universal revulsion from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland. Alison Bennington was elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council as a member of the shamelessly anti-gay DUP. Her election met with horror by some party bigots. Could it be that these two events – just weeks apart – will bring real change? God, I really hope so.