Two Up, Two Down

Our little house is one of a small row of four workers’ cottages standing proud next to the 12th-century parish church of All Saints. Built in 1852, each dwelling once consisted of just four rooms – the original meaning of a ‘two up, two down’ – with water supplied by a well at the end of the row and, in all likelihood, a single outside latrine shared by all and sundry. There must have been quite a queue when cholera struck. The well’s still in full working order but, these days, only used for watering the roses.

One of our neighbours, a sucker for genealogy, obtained the entries for the 1911 national census. It provided a tantalising glimpse into the lives of the residents of our little terrace at that time. 

While Liam was lapping up a concert by a local ladies choir at our spitting-distance church, I took a look through the documents. I really hope Mr Jackson the wherryman*, widow-woman Maria, James the omnibus driver, Mr Kerry the jobbing gardener and all their assorted families had happy and fulfilling lives. I guess we’ll never know, but the chances are their day-to-days were hand-to-mouth, horribly insecure and plagued by illness or the fear of it. Life expectancy at the time was about 56 for women and 52 for men, though this average was skewed by high child mortality rates which meant if you did manage to survive to adulthood, you had a better chance of growing grey.

Still, this was a big improvement on the situation when the houses were first chucked up. Back in the 1850s, life expectancy was only 42 for women and just 40 for men. As life was short and often grim, it’s little wonder people took to religion for solace. Thank God for the doorstep chapel.

*a wherry is a shallow-draught barge with a large single sail once used to transport cargo on the rivers and broads hereabouts.

Wicked

Wicked

Our final jolly in old London Town at the end of 2019 was a trip to see Wicked – the stage prequel to The Wizard of Oz and a show every friend of Dorothy should see before they reach the end of the rainbow.

Bizarrely, neither Liam nor I had seen the musical before even though it’s been a firm West End fixture for donkey’s years and one of the rare few that just go on and on, pulling in the punters night after night. The trouble with many a classic on a long run is it can all get a bit tired. Fine wine to vinegar? Actually, no. The big scenes are still big and the current lead – Nikki Bentley, as  Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the East – has a belting voice. And the political subplot – the rise of fascism – is as relevant now as it’s ever been. There was a standing ovation at the end. All in all, not a bad gig.

Cats

I’m not a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan and didn’t rate ‘Cats’ when I saw it in the West End. I remember thinking it was okay, that’s all. But when I saw the trailer for the new film version I was amazed. Amazed by its exquisite beauty and amazed by the critical storm that followed. Reviews were overwhelmingly bad and just got worse when the alley cats finally hit the streets of post-war Soho. It must be the most slagged-off release in living memory. It made us determined to judge it for ourselves. Was is that terrible?

Not even close. With a top drawer cast – including Judi Dench doing her regal number and a clowder of superb dancers from the Royal Ballet – ‘Cats’ is a sight for sore eyes on a lousy winter’s day – energetic, inventive, atmospheric and visually stunning. I’m not sure what the catty critics saw but it wasn’t the same film I watched.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

The north folk round these parts take Christmas very seriously. The pretty sisters of Loddon and Chedgrave are decked out in their best festive livery and we’ve had fairs and fairies, themed evenings and evensong, Santa and his servants, mulled wine and warm bitter and a host of other merry romps. The villagers have gone to town for good causes, including the homeless of Norwich. Even a stuffed wild boar’s head at a local pub has got into the spirit of the season.

But the biggest bauble must go to local neighbours who’ve created a winter wonderland in their front garden. Completely mad and totally marvellous.

The Sun’ll Come Out (Tomorrow)

The hunky young chap who provided our removals quote was Loddon born and bred and so we had a long chat about village life. His pearls of wisdom were illuminating. ‘People will stare,’ he said, ‘because you’re new. But don’t be put off. It’s their way.’ He also said we won’t be considered locals for decades. Since we’ve not got that many decades left, I suppose that means we’ll always be the strange gays in the village. That’s fine with me. I’ve always been on the outside looking in.

So far everyone’s been delightful – friendly and helpful – but yes, some do stare a bit, but they smile too. We intend to chuck ourselves into village life. And so when we found out our neighbour’s daughter was in the Loddon Players production of ‘Annie, the Musical’, we thought, let’s give it a whirl.  Liam popped down to Funky Feet, the local dance studio, to pick up our tickets. The lady at the desk was very welcoming and talkative. It seems the village drums have been banging all over the parish. As the old saying goes, it’s better to be looked over than overlooked.

As we’re car-less (and hope to remain so), our neighbours kindly gave us a lift to the venue at the local school. Our very own local pub landlord co-directed and played the male lead with a wonderfully theatrical flourish, ably supported by a classy cast. But the really big gong has to go to the kids’ ensemble whose joyful funky feet danced and sang their way across the stage. The talented young lady who played the eponymous redhead has a bright dramatic future ahead.

The End of the Yellow Brick Road

Our move date from city to country coincided with tickets to see Armistead Maupin’s one-man show at Norwich’s Theatre Royal. Maupin is the author of the Tales of the City series of novels set in San Francisco which chronicle the lives and times of an eclectic group of residents passing through the Barbary Lane boarding house turned apartments owned by Anna Madrigal. We love the books (and subsequent TV serialisations) so it was with heavy hearts we had to give Maupin a miss.

Liam was determined not to miss the next big thing – gay icon-wise – to come along. And they don’t get bigger than the late, great Judy Garland. Liam is a BIG fan and was virtually hyperventilating as we took our seats at Norwich’s Cinema City for ‘Judy’, staring the wonderful Renée Zellweger in the title role. Liam loves a dead diva.

Covering the brief period when the down-at-heel legend arrives in London in the winter of 1968 to perform a series of last-chance concerts, ‘Judy’ is not exactly a feel-good film. We all know what happens in the end and watching Judy’s descent into drug and drink-fuelled hell makes grim viewing. But the film is strangely compelling and Ms Zellweger is mesmerising – interpreting rather than parodying Judy’s magical stage presence –  and all in her own voice. No miming needed.  I hear Oscar knocking.

Did I Feel the Love Tonight?

Did I Feel the Love Tonight?

I love the Lion King. I love the original Disney animation. I love the musical. And when I saw the trailer for the ‘photorealistic’ computer-generated remake, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. So there was a lot riding on our return to Pride Rock. The film is technically brilliant – a visual masterpiece that dazzles with intricate detail and epic scale. It’s sure to do very well at the box office. But, on the whole, I was left strangely unmoved by the spectacle. The film lacks much of the charm and expressiveness of the ‘hand-drawn’ original. And the re-worked music seemed under-powered, particularly the African chants and rhythms which underscore the story’s very essence. Beyoncé’s breathy rendition of Elton John’s ‘Can You Feel Love Tonight’ was really disappointing. Gifted as she is, the song doesn’t suit Beyoncé’s range and, in my humble view, Elton’s ballads should never be warbled, X Factor-style. But, I guess that’s the modern way and my musical tastes are distinctly old hat.