While we’re away in sunny Corfu chomping on the mutton, slapping on the sunscreen, gassing the bugs and gagging on the retsina (despite sage advice to go easy on the hard stuff from Annie at Back to Bodrum), here are a few snaps to remind us of home sweet home. It’s not been a bad summer, all things considered. By the way, Liam cheats at Scrabble.
On a complete whim, we decided on a mini tour of Yorkshire. As England’s largest traditional county by far, it was a very teeny weeny tour encompassing just Leeds, Knaresborough and Harrogate. We travelled across the flatlands to Grantham, the birthplace of Maggie Thatcher. I’ll leave you to decide whether that should be celebrated. From there, the Virgin Express sped us north to Leeds, the throbbing heart of West Yorkshire. Where once there were dark satanic mills, now there are trendy loft conversions, glass towers and a branch of Harvey Nicks.
The handsome city has seen something of a renaissance of late and now boasts one of the most diversified economies in Britain. I’d like to tell you we were there to see the sights and take in the culture but I can’t. As soon as we’d dropped off our bags, we were off down the rough end beneath the rainbow bridge. Leeds has a small but beautifully-formed gay scene, each venue staggering distance from the next. Happy hour dribbled on all afternoon and we did indeed get to see some sights but nothing you’ll find in the tourist blurb. We eventually made it back to the hotel though I have no memory of how we got there.
Next day, button-bright, we jumped on the slow train to Knaresborough. The Guardian Newspaper describes the town as tatty and batty and the cap really fits. Perched high on the cliffs above the River Nidd and wrapped in a blanket of iridescent green, Knaresborough is famous for the railway viaduct that crosses the water. The views from the tumbledown castle are simply stunning.
The little town is also famous for its independent spirit and independent shops – the butcher, the baker, the cappuccino-maker. This is the place where madcap mattress-wheeling teams sprint around the town for no apparent reason in the annual bed race. It’s completely batty. And we do batty.
Liam and I always have an eye on the future and we wandered around the quirky streets making mental notes of the good points (many) and the bad points (few). We retired to a coffee house to debrief. The verdict? Right now, it’s top of the leader board.
The final destination on our whistle-stop tour was elegant Harrogate, which the Guardian calls hoity-toity. And so it is with its cream teas and posh nosh. I was last there for a wedding in 2004. The bride was a lovely gal from work with a well-deserved reputation for being an all round good egg. As I looked around the church at the time, I could tell who was in and who was out.
The next day it was back to good ol’ Norwich but not before I was interviewed on camera in the pouring rain by someone from the local telly asking me about local ishoos. I did explain that as I didn’t actually live in Yorkshire, my opinion counted for nowt (see, I’m already starting to speak Yorkist). He didn’t seem to mind. Hallelujah to God’s own country.
P.S. I had totally forgotten that the Harrogate bride now actually lives in Knaresborough. We could have met up for a long-overdue natter, how thick am I?
In Istanbul, tear gas and rubber bullets broke up small groups of brave souls attempting to defy the ban of this year’s pride march. In London, the rainbow flag flies proudly over Tower Bridge, one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Just sayin’.
Happy London Pride today. For those, like us, who won’t be parading down Whitehall, what better way to mark the event than to watch the cast of the Lion King featuring the London Gay Men’s Chorus singing the Circle of Life composed by England’s second biggest queen?
Learning to speak English must be difficult enough, but learning to spell it must bring even the most dedicated student out in hives. It’s just the little game we English like to play on Johnny Foreigner. Place names can be particularly bothersome. So for the uninitiated…
Leicester is Lester, Gloucester is Gloster, Chiswick is Chizik, Warwick is Warik (unless you’re Dionne) Harwich is Haridge and Norwich is Noridge (or Naaridge if you’re from round these parts).
But there is a certain consistency to the cesters, the wicks and the wiches. Not so in Norfolk – or I should say Naarfuk. Asking a Naaridge bus driver for a ticket to Costessey or Wymondham will provoke a puzzled response. You see, it’s Caassy and Windum. Confused? You will be.
We’d learned our lesson in correct enunciation by the time we caught our bus to Wymondham, a pretty parish of 15,000 souls southwest of Norwich. June was bustin’ out all over the place along the 10 mile route. We arrived to find the place bathed in sunshine but spookily empty for a hot Saturday afternoon. Perhaps everyone was at Pilates.
The main event was the famous abbey, founded in 1107. Well, it was famous until Henry VIII got his grubby hands on it. Once a thriving Benedictine priory, it only survived complete demolition by becoming the parish church – the monks were pensioned off and the last abbot became the local vicar. Nevertheless, and despite being half the length it once was, the twin-towered abbey church remains an imposing pile, rising majestically above the pine trees. Inside, the largely Norman-period nave has a fine wooden roof studded with carved angels. We sat in the pews awhile watching the roadies setting up for an evening concert. A plot for Midsomer Murders gathered momentarily in my mind in which an angel is pushed from the roof to squash a portly mezzo-soprano as she sings something seductive from Carmen. But whodunnit? If I ever get the commission, you’ll be the first to know but suffice it to say it involves a darts match and a ladies-only night in Cromer. I decided to call the episode ‘Revenge of the Fallen Angels’. As you can tell, I got rather carried away.
Wandering round, we’d never met a friendlier or more passionate bunch of volunteers. They positively gushed with enthusiasm. Without them we wouldn’t have known about the abbey’s more eclectic secrets. I cradled the hand of an angel to pray for world peace – and a lottery win. Liam stuck his finger in the monk’s hole and made a wish. Amen to that.
We were also told about the secret tunnel that allegedly led to the nearby fourteenth century Green Dragon tavern and the ancient exit still to be found in the pub. Apparently, the naughty monks were rather fond of the Devil’s brew. It might explain all that hole filling. Naturally, we had to investigate and partake of the Devil’s brew ourselves – purely for research purposes.
Now their kids have flown, Liam’s sister and significant other have sold their north London nest and migrated to a chocolate-box cottage with half an acre or so in rural Hertfordshire. Brother-in-law’s sixtieth birthday BBQ provided the perfect opportunity to survey the estate for the first time. It was gold stars all round from their Norwich kin, and a marvellous afternoon was had by all. I’m sure the birthday boy won’t mind me mentioning he was rather upstaged by the astonishing sight of a herd of wild deer trotting past the garden fence. They stopped and stared for just an instant before bolting off. This city slicker has never been up close and personal to a herd of anything before. Be still my racing heart. Apparently, the stag often makes himself at home on their lawn. I wonder if Bambi poo is any good for the roses?
To make the most of the weekend, we lodged overnight in Cambridge and the next day took a ramble around the famous city streets, following in the footsteps of some of the greatest thinkers of all time – Darwin, Newton, Hawking and our PhD’d niece, to name a just a few. The ‘city of perspiring dreams’ (a nickname coined by the student’s union) is truly impressive and the ancient colleges tightly packed along one side the leafy River Cam are simply stunning. But the flow of weekend tourists was overwhelming, the cyclists annoying and the price of pretty much everything inflated. In my romantic mind’s eye, I had a vision of floppy-haired scholars in straw hats punting down the river like a scene from Brideshead Revisited, but this was rather spoilt by an armada of long-lensed Koreans in baseball caps. In the end, these drinkers abandoned the thinkers and we caught the train home. And we made it to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival’s Party in the Park just before last orders.
Some snaps of the lovely Cambridge as we dodged the cyclists…
We were in London for cake and fancies to celebrate my Mother’s 88th birthday. The old girl was in fine fettle – fag in one hand, brandy and coke in the other. I was going to post a video of her blowing out the candles to Happy Birthday, but with the lights off, it came out like a scene from The Blair Witch Project (the cult horror film not the dodgy dossier that did it for a former prime minister).
On our way home the next day, we had a couple of hours to waste before catching the train back to old Norwich so we took a wander round Spitalfields and Broadgate in the City. Last time we were there, we were richly entertained by Tangoing couples. No such luck this time, more’s the pity. So instead, I’m posting a few random shots from our meander. As with much of London, the area is a mishmash of styles old and new, tall and short. It’s what makes the City what it is and I rather like it.
While supping coffee in the afternoon sunshine, Liam spotted a tiny bird nearby begging for a tasty titbit. Pigeons are commonplace in London but this little birdie was a pied wagtail, or so Liam told me. Liam is hardly well-acquainted with birds, so I had my doubts.
Back to Liverpool Street Station in time for our train, we stumbled across one of the Kindertransport memorials which commemorate the rescue of around 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Nazi persecution just before the outbreak of World War II. It was an age when Britain and others were a little less shoddy to refugees.
There’s a much grander statue on Hope Square in front of the main entrance to the station. But I like this one better as it seems to merge with the ebb and flow of the crowd. There are similar memorials in Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Gdansk. ‘Lest we forget,’ as the saying goes. Trouble is, I think we already have.
Norwich is riddled with old tunnels. Chalk and flint was mined for centuries, and many of the oldest mines run close to the centre of the city. Chalk was used for liming and mortar, and flint was used as a building material. You see flint everywhere – in what’s left of the old city walls, in the medieval Guildhall and in the 17th century weaver’s cottage we rented when we first paddled up the Wensum five years back.
Who knows what snakes beneath our feet? Many of the older shafts are uncharted, and sink holes appear without warning. Such was the case recently when a hole opened up close to the entrance to the Plantation Garden, Norwich’s sunken Eden, itself created from an old chalk pit. Babes in buggies and picnicking pensioners dropping into the abyss wouldn’t be good for business so the gardens were closed to the public while council surveyors did what council surveyors do. The hi-vis boys poked about a bit with their equipment and declared the area safe(ish). The gardens have now reopened and, once again, we can all look forward to a balmy summer of cream buns and string quartets.
A more famous example of that sinking feeling happened in 1988 when the ground collapsed beneath a bus along the Earlham Road, close to the gardens. Shaken but not stirred, neither the bus driver nor his startled charges were hurt. Pictures of the scene were beamed around the world; sleepy Norfolk gained international notoriety not seen since 61AD when Boudicca gave the Romans a bloody nose and razed Londinium to the ground in the first great fire of London. The whole area around the gardens is a death trap. The papal faithful at the nearby Catholic cathedral best get down on their knees to prevent the congregation going down like the Titanic.
Not to miss a trick, confectioner Cadbury, used the incident to promote one of their products with the line…
Nothing fills a hole like a double-decker.