La La Land

Lauded as a return to the great Hollywood musicals of yesteryear, the very thought of ‘La La Land’ made Liam go weak at the knees. Must be the gay gene. Either that or arthritis. So we sank into our comfy seats at Cinema City, big drinks in hand and surrounded by the wealthy wrinklies of the county for a grey hair-raising, foot-tapping, old school show. Sadly, for me, the hype didn’t quite live up to the reality. The plot – a love affair between a failed actress and her down at heel jazz player – was engaging enough. I’m partial to a simple boy meets girl romance (or boy meets boy, girl meets girl for that matter). But the ambitious and much-praised opening danceathon at a traffic jam on a LA freeway was underwhelming and the other song and dance routines peppering the film seemed a bit random. Emma Stone was dazzling in the lead but Ryan Gosling as her beau, while very nice to look at and not at all bad on his feet, was well, flat, acting-wise. The film was atmospheric and partially redeemed by the closing ‘what if?’ scene so I suppose the moral of the story is that love doesn’t always conquer all.

With a full chorus of rave reviews and gongs galore, the film will undoubtedly conquer all at the Oscars so what do I know? And Liam loved it.

Here’s the official trailer. It’s better than the movie.

 

He’s Behind You!

Cinderella at the Palladium

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.

Praying for Time

Praying for Time

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.

RIP, George.

 

 

New Balls Please

New Balls Please

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)…

look-east

Jack and Liam Move to Norwich

Jack and Liam Move to Norwich

Hardly breaking news is it? But it’s the title of a little something I wrote back in the summer of 2014 for the Visit Norwich City of Stories website. I was chuffed at the time when it was chosen as the opening piece in a series showcasing different aspects of Norwich life. I even pitched up at the red carpet launch and helped myself to one too many cocktails. The website has recently gone from literary showcase to shop window and content has been updated to feature the best the city has to offer. My article still stacks up I think, so I’m posting it here for posterity, with a few images to give it life.

City of Stories

Jack and Liam move to Norwich

Jack and Liam took up pole position outside a coffee shop to sup their lattes and people watch. The passing footfall was a bumper crop. A warm summer’s afternoon had delivered coaches of North Folk and charabancs of tourists to Norwich’s cobbled streets. Dutch lowlanders in sensible shoes mingled with happy snapping Koreans; local gentry in waxed jackets weaved through the hipsters in vintage garb; busy bees in smart suits hurried past, glued to their smart phone and a jester-hatted Big Issue seller competed with a line of smiley charity workers collecting direct debits for the cause. In the middle of the rainbow crowd, two men with well-fed midriffs and trendy whiskers paused to take in a busker crooning for his supper. They grinned as the Frank Sinatra tribute segued from New York, New York to a local interpretation of My Kind of Town (‘Naaridge is’) and when the final chords faded to nothing, they tossed some coins into a trilby perched on a Fender amp and vanished into the throng holding hands. Like everyone else in the surprising city, they were doing it their way.

Norwich Buskers

Jack ran his fingers along the cartoon tourist map. The tapestry of streets was weaved with familiar names of old London Town like Charing Cross, Blackfriars Bridge, Bishopsgate, Spitalfields, Haymarket, and Pudding Lane, threaded with roads of goats, cattle, dogs and a rampant horse, and stitched with more holy places than a mitred man could shake his crook at. But clearly this was not London. What the boys from the Old Smoke heard was an altogether different soundscape, just distant enough to escape the orbit of the great metropolis and the relentless surge of Estuary English. Somehow, Norwich had preserved a unique linguistic heritage, a melodic sweep of bouncing vowels and dropped consonants pickled down the centuries.

The inquisitive strangers downed their coffees to roam the streets. Their meandering took them to the Assembly House, a gorgeous pile of Georgian elegance and the perfect stage for Regency debutantes in ribboned bonnets to chase Mr Darcy and his magnificent britches around the courtyard fountain. Next door, the architectural show continued with the Theatre Royal, its modern overcoat disguising 250 years of board treading. A quick circuit of the front-of-house posters revealed an eclectic tradition of new and old, high-brow and kitchen sink, top hats and tutus, laughter and tears.

Back down the hill and along Gentlemen’s Walk, they passed neat rows of multi-coloured market stalls lined up like beach huts marooned at low tide. The vast City Hall, looking down on the medieval guildhall it replaced, provided an over-imposing backdrop.

Jack and Liam scampered down a maze of lanes and alleyways, a treasure trove of independents – shops, pubs and cafés. Norwich had bucked the national trend of sameness. Maybe the city’s relative seclusion had bubble-wrapped it from the commercial onslaught of identikit chains or perhaps wise burghers had protected the endangered. Whether by accident or design, it was a window shopper’s dream.

The most complete medieval city in Britain boasted the guide book, and as they pounded the streets up Saint This, down Saint That and along the lazy winding river that caressed the city like a feather-leafed boa, Norwich oozed the ages from every brick, paving stone and stained glass window. The city, it seemed, was triple dipped in history.

Finally, Jack and Liam came to rest on the far side of a handsome stone bridge and sat under the shade of a sprawling tree outside the Playhouse, the Theatre Royal’s little sister. A tree-top teapot in vivid yellow wafted in the breeze. The walk-weary old Londoners rested with a bottle of Merlot in the Playhouse beer garden. Close to the newly elevated University of the Arts, the bustling bar was the trough of choice for young fashionistas and their arty mentors. Jack and Liam took their seats in the refectory and imbibe an ambience that overflowed with naive optimism.

And that’s how it happened. One heady afternoon in the garden of the Playhouse Theatre Bar, Jack and Liam found somewhere new to lay their hats. An offbeat, theatrical, cosmopolitan, romantic, open-minded and open-hearted place set beneath the true-blue skies of Norfolk. Norwich, a surprising city. A place to live and a place to start living.

A random sample of Norwich’s medieval churches…

Back to Bodrum

Back to Bodrum

Picture it, May 2012, a stone cottage in the centre of old Bodrum Town. With the house cleared and our bags packed, a young lady popped by to say farewell and to make a confession. Heart all a-flutter, she said,

I’ve just met a boy I really like. He’s called Celal but I’m worried Dad won’t approve.

The young lady in question was Esi Onursan. Readers may know of her mother, Annie, author of Back to Bodrum, the wonderful blog about the everyday life of a Bodrum returnee. As Annie herself put it…

In early 1982 I boarded a Turkish Kibris flight to Izmir – my destination was a 29 foot sloop in Bodrum’s new marina. At 22, my belongings fitted into a worse for wear sailing holdall. In 2012 I made a similar journey from Heathrow to Bodrum. Thirty years have passed and Bodrum has changed.

You can say that again.

bodrum castle4

Picture it, October 2016, a country pile on the outskirts of Mumcular…

…surrounded on three sides by an arc of dense pine-forested hills and on the fourth, a swimming pool overlooked a dusty olive grove. The house itself was centred round a striking dome-capped circular room, an architectural nod to the traditional yurts used by ancestral Turkic tribes as they migrated west from the Asian Steppes.

As I wrote in Turkey Street.

Esi was about to marry Celal, the boy she thought her father wouldn’t approve of. It was the perfect day for an alfresco wedding. Mother Nature, an unpredictable old bag during autumn, smiled benevolently. The guests gathered, the I dos were brief but perfectly formed and the newlyweds were drenched in petals of purple bougainvillea. Esi glowed and Celal beamed. Breaking with tradition, the village world and his wife were not invited. No doubt, tongues will wag for months to come. Instead, the congregation was selected, Brit-style. Annie provided a generous table and bottomless wine cellar. We ate, we drank and we made merry with friends old and new under the canopy of a small copse delicately decorated in lace and silk. Speeches were pointed and poignant. This was a bittersweet wedding. Esi’s father, Teo, wasn’t there to give her away. He had died a few months earlier.

But not before giving his approval.

Here are a few images that caught my eye from the hundreds on Facebook.

Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the Rain

What better way to raise our spirits after the misery of Brexit and the rise of the loony right than a street party? Thank the Lord Mayor for his big day. Last year, we sizzled under a cloudless sky. This year sunshine and showers were on the menu, but this didn’t dampen our ardour or the enthusiasm of the performers. From ballerinas to buskers, breakdance to bangra, choristers to elderly brass bandeliers, the mad mix of turns – on the stages, on the streets and on the floats – proved Norwich folk are truly bonkers. Amen to that!

Despite sinking one sherry too many, we made it to the fireworks finale – just. Sadly, the next day we didn’t manage to roll out of our pit in time to cheer on the dressed-up waterfowl in the annual duck race.

For pure foot tapping joy, you can’t beat a bit of Bollywood. It brought the proverbial house down. To end this madness, I give you bangra and bangs…