I first posted this way back in February 2020 but then COVID-19 took centre stage and the rest, as they say…
Two years down the line and my brother-in-law will soon be on the road, walking coast to coast across Ireland. He’s bought a stout pair of walking boots, the rucksack’s fit to bursting and he’s ready to roll. I hope he’s packed a bottle of whiskey and a brolly too. He’ll need both. I know times are hard and bills are rising but if you can spare a few pennies, that would be really something. Click the image to find out how.
The Maddermarket Theatre, former chapel and the spiritual home of am-dram in Norwich, is firing on all cylinders again after a tough couple of years because of you know what. The latest production to rock the stage was Disney’s The Little Mermaid courtesy of the Echo Youth Theatre. Despite the best of intentions, amateur gigs can sometimes sink without trace. A stiff gin has got us through many a stinker. Did The Little Mermaid flounder on the rocks?
Definitely not. The young cast put on a cracking show full of joy, energy and enthusiasm, and the clever use of Heelys – trainers with wheels which enabled the seafood to glide effortlessly across the stage – was inspired. Wardrobe and makeup merit a special mention. The fishy weaves were just fabulous.
There was some real talent and great vocals on that stage – not least from our very own rising starlet, Alice Peck, the daughter of our local tavern keeper. We loved her performance. Keep it up, Alice. You have a bright future treading the boards.
After tripping the light fantastic along Tooting High Street, I took Liam even further down my memory lane with a short hop to Wandsworth Town. I showed him where I was a shoe shop Saturday boy, the primary school where I was a knotty-haired happy chappy, and finally, my digs from the age of ten until I ventured out into the wicked world – my ‘days on the tills, nights on the tiles’ moment before marriage and a mortgage.
After my Dad retired from the British Army, my parents ran a backstreet shop, one of a parade of four. Ours was a ‘bottle and basket’ selling booze and bread and all things in between, and we lived above and behind. It was a good little earner. Even during the dark days of the 1974 three-day week, Dad kept the lights on with candles from the cash and carry. It was a cold and miserable time and people hit the hard stuff to get through it – a bit like the recent lockdowns. On a happier note, as part of Her Maj’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations, Mum helped organise a street party. The till rang non-stop as the red, white and blue bunting fluttered in the summer breeze.
Of the other shops, next door was a butcher’s with a newsagent’s at the end. I can’t remember what the third shop in the parade was. It hardly matters now as they’re all gone – long-since converted into gentrified houses that fetch a king’s ransom.
Here’s a very rare picture of me from that bygone era. Our first-floor parlour was a riot of clashing colours and patterns – very de rigueur at the time. I’m sure it’s much more tasteful today. But why was my chopper bike propped up against the sofa?
I spent much of my teenage years in Tooting, a rough-round-the-edges strangely-named suburb in South London. My late, lamented old pal, Clive, was raised there in a modest terraced house, and we enjoyed many a fun-filled Saturday afternoon hot-gossiping and talking silly schoolboy sex to a seventies soundtrack of Elton, 10cc, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin and Bowie.
But as we discovered recently, the Tooting of yesteryear isn’t quite the Tooting of today. It’s still decidedly rough-edged but with a wonderful multi-cultural blend of spice and street cred drawing in an eclectic crowd, the young and the cool rubbing shoulders with the long-established South Asian community. It’s no wonder Tooting is now known as ‘curry corridor’, with a mouth-watering menu of restaurants. We quite fancied an ‘Indian’ but changed tack when we wandered through Broadway Market to find that the old stalls flogging fruit and veg, frilly knickers, tat and knock-off, have been largely supplanted by international street food vendors, sit-down eateries and uber-trendy bars.
We settled on artisan pizzas at Franco Manca washed down with vino and limoncellos, then boozy-cruised to a bar for espresso martinis. The evening ended with a couple of large glasses of fruity red at a ramshackle Portuguese bistro. Heads thumped the next day.
It’s been a queer year all told – locked and unlocked, masks on, masks off, masks on again, thrice jabbed, and a foreign foray thwarted. Unsurprisingly, 2021 pansy posts were a mixed harvest. I kept the memory of a treasured friend alive and ranted on about the unwelcome return of a nasty little word I thought had long been consigned to the dustbin of history. Then there were the lockdown tales keeping the home fires burning, sparkling art from rural Asia Minor and the interviews and reviews that came out of the blue.
2021 was also the year I acquired my very own looney toon stalker, Marsha the Troll, who regularly sends me rambling rants from the other side of the Pond – always incomprehensible, often threatening and sometimes with porn attached. I feel like a celebrity.
Here’s the cream of the crop for 2021 together with two evergreen posts from 2020 and 2014 bringing up the rear.
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 … Continue reading A Tale of Two Villages→
Last month saw us in London for a very special commemoration. An old friend died suddenly in early 2020 and it would have been his sixtieth birthday on 25th August. We couldn’t let the day go unmarked so we threw him a boozy late lunch in Soho attended by twenty of his nearest and dearest. … Continue reading Forever Young→
We just can’t wait to get back into the theatre – we’ve a glittering chorus of touring musicals queued up – from the modern: Six, Waitress, The Book of Mormon to the classics: Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Sound of Music. Few trades have suffered from COVID more than the performing arts. The only sure … Continue reading Get the Bloody Jab→
I was bullied from the moment I first flounced through the school gates. Nothing physical, you understand. That would be unseemly at a traditional grammar school with a 400-year-old charter granted by the Virgin Queen. Besides, beatings were reserved for the teachers to dish out. I suppose I hardly helped my cause by being a … Continue reading Queer as Folk→
I don’t get interviewed much these days. Back in my pansies heyday everyone wanted a piece of me; queuing up, they were. But now we’ve settled into county life, I’ve become old dog, old tricks, descending into idyllic rural obscurity. But then up popped a request from Nicola MacCameron, a voiceover artist at Mic And … Continue reading Nothing Beats a Good Story→
We can’t complain. Village life is calm and cuddly. But when the easing of lockdown let us travel further afield for the first time in around seven months, we packed our bags and were off like a shot. The bright lights of London beckoned and not even lousy weather could dampen our spirits. Travelling across … Continue reading A Final Farewell→
Before the miracle of modern medicine and universal healthcare, life for most was plagued by illness or the fear of it. People croaked in their beds from mundane diseases that today we pop a pill for. Many a cottage stairwell was too narrow for a coffin so some featured a trap door between floors called … Continue reading Bring Out Your Dead→
We’re currently living next to a building site. A local developer is chucking up a few more bungalows, like the world really needs a few more bungalows – affordable housing for the cash-strapped, yes, more well-appointed dwellings with double garages for the well-heeled, no. It’s a lost cause and we’re resigned to it. While a … Continue reading And For My Next Trick→
That flicker of light at the end of the lockdown tunnel is getting brighter. Our days in the sun (or beer garden) will soon return. Meanwhile, we continue to do what we can to stay safe and sane. I hear sales of jigsaws have gone off like a rocket. It’s not the sport for us. … Continue reading Jack in the Bottle→
A light dusting of the fluffy white stuff generally brings the entire nation to a shuddering halt and a lot of huffing and puffing over the airwaves. But, as we’re already under house arrest, this year’s avalanche has made little difference to our daily lives – except for one thing. Our Sainsbury’s supermarket delivery was … Continue reading Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!→
I was badly shaken and much stirred to hear of the murder of fellow author, Lindsay de Feliz in December. Among her many qualities, Lindsay was very social media savvy and developed an impressive following. Her evergreen blog chronicled the many ups and considerable downs of her fascinating life in the Dominican Republic with her … Continue reading RIP, Lindsay de Feliz, the Saucepans Lady→
Anyone living on these damp little islands and anyone who visits them knows that Britain is a nation of a thousand and one accents and dialects. Homespun and imported lingo twists and turns through town and county. We may live in a global village and in a mass media world where ‘Globalish’ (the cut-down version … Continue reading Oi Speak Narrfuk Oi Do→
Wishing everyone a healthier, safer 2022 and a new normal more like the old.