We took our seats at Cinema City for Nothing Like a Dame, a film that captures four great thespian dames – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins – in conversation. We had great expectations and we weren’t disappointed. All the director had to do was point the camera, say ‘action’, sit back and watch them rock. And rock they did with gossipy warmth, wit and insight, humour, naughtiness and modesty – without a hint of the pompous luvviness you might expect from these titans of the stage. It really hit me when I released that Joan Plowright, who could out-act anyone with just a look, is now blind. I had no idea. Despite this, the film was a voyeuristic joy, and it was a privilege to see it.
And so, in the best pansies tradition, here’s the trailer…
March was Maker’s Month at the Forum where handy creatives from across the county showcased their passion for all things woven and sewn. Traditional skills have come back into fashion as a welcome antidote to our no-time-to-knit, wear-it-only-once society. I’m all for it. The revival is good for the mind as well as the pocket. Some of the exhibits, though, were plain scary.
Back in the day many working class mothers knitted, and my mother was no exception. I was raised to the clicking of knitting needles, and half-finished woollens could often be found stuffed down the side of the sofa. Mother knitted for all her sprogs – jumpers and cardigans mostly. Here’s one she made earlier for my first school photo.
It itched. That bit I remember.
She also made mittens and we had a balaclava each, which, on a frosty day, made us look like a gang of apprentice muggers.
One day, mother decided to raise her game and invested in a knitting machine on the ‘never, never’ as hire-purchase financing was called. Why ‘never, never’? Because the item was never, never yours until the final payment was made. And if you missed a payment, off it went back to the shop, no money back. I assume she forged my father’s signature as back then, housewives couldn’t get credit. Sadly, mother’s venture into mass production was short-lived; the machine was sent packing by my father when he got home from the barracks. Who knows? She could have been Britain’s answer to Benetton. Or perhaps not, judging by the scratchy cardigan. Nice buttons, though.
It’s an old joke and I tell it every year to groans from Liam.
Liam slipped his ring on my finger two years later. It’s been stuck there ever since.
We ‘formed’ a civil partnership, which always sounded like a firm of solicitors to me. We called it ‘a bit of a do’ and invited our nearest and dearest to the party. Six years later, same sex marriage was legalised and we upgraded to equality class as soon as we were able. Due to a bit of legal hocus pocus, our civil partnership was struck from the record like it never existed and replaced by our marriage.
On the day of our anniversary – our tin anniversary according to tradition – we decided on some posh lunchtime nosh followed by a mini pub-crawl. A meal at Bishop’s had been on our bucket list for a while and we weren’t disappointed. It was divine. The fancy gin aperitif was a great starter. Then we hit the bars.
We didn’t actually sup in all of these establishments, just selected the best from the menu as we meandered round town. Nevertheless, we were a tad tipsy by the time we fell into bed. Pity poor Liam who had work the next day.
Next month, Liam’s planned an anniversary tour of the Smoke to relive that fateful moment when our eyes first met across a crowded bar of after-work desperados.
A bitter east wind blew us into Strangers’ Hall with its unassuming entrance on Charing Cross. That’s Charing Cross in Norwich not its more celebrated twin in Central London from where all distances from the city are measured.
Home to wealthy merchants, sheriffs and mayors during Norwich’s textile heyday, Strangers’ Hall is so called in recognition of the ‘strangers’ – asylum-seeking weavers from the Low Countries who helped make Norwich rich during the Tudor period. It was a time when the English weren’t quite so mean to economic migrants – or at least understood their value. Tucked behind the busy street, the lovingly preserved building dates right back to 1320 and is a hotchpotch of inter-linked rooms dressed to impress like a period drama – Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian. You half expect Dames Judi, Maggie and Penelope to wander through in bonnets and bodices. It’s a great way to keep out of the cold and a bargain at just a fiver.
A Siberian cold front – ‘The Beast from the East’ – has rolled in from Europe, cloaking the flatlands in a thick blanket of fluffy snow drifting in the arctic breeze. Cancelled buses forced Liam to take the day off and a ‘real-feel’ of minus 11 means we’re going nowhere. And neither is anyone else judging by St Stephens roundabout, empty save for one brave soul. Come rush hour, it’s normally nose to nipple.
This winter’s brought some lively weather to keep us from our slumber and to wake the dead in the funeral parlour next door. Unsurprisingly, the huffing and puffing of storm Eileen and her gusty sisters trying to blow our house down damaged the roof over our heads. So it was over to our property management company to contact our freeholders to contact their insurers to contact the roofers to contact the scaffolders to repair the flashing loosened by the ladies. It’s a long supply chain and, of course, we didn’t get any warning before a couple of butch men in hard hats and tool belts over woolly jumpers arrived to chuck some poles up the side of the microloft. It’s just as well I wasn’t sitting in my underwear and fluffy mules.
I should be used to chance encounters with scaffolders. Before we bought the microloft, the roof of our rented weaver’s cottage had sprung a leak. The workers turned up unannounced then too. But that was in the summer and at least I had something scanty to ogle – discretely, naturally.
And then there was the time back in the day when I had a proper job with a proper office on Kensington High Street. The building had been caged in scaffolding for repainting and repointing. There I was, busy counting beans at my proper desk, when there was a rat-a-tat-tat at the window. I looked up to see my brother-in-law beaming at me.
“Milk and two sugars, please,”
Yes, he’s a butch scaffolder. And yes, I made him a brew.
On Christmas Eve my thumb began to ache and throb. I drank through the pain. By the Feast of Stephen, it resembled a medieval pox. The image doesn’t really do justice to the horror of it all. Though angry and weepy, it hardly seemed serious enough for a mercy dash to A&E: the busy medics have quite enough to do over the festive period without me pitching up with a silly sore thumb. So what’s a boy with a pussy digit to do? Well, a call to our local surgery the next day provided the answer.
“The nurse can see you later today,”
said the helpful receptionist.
“Nasty infection. A few pills will soon sort that out,”
said the lovely nurse.
“Oh, and it might burst in the meantime,”
And so it did. I took the pills and drank through the pain.