Ten Lucky Years

A decade has now passed since we closed the door on the stone house in Bodrum for the last time and brought our four-year Turkish adventure to a sudden end. And ever since, while the world has continued its grim descent into oblivion, we’ve just carried on regardless. Our Anatolian days taught us to think differently and live differently – making do with less and being all the happier for it.

After Turkey, we pitched our tent in Norfolk, a flat and bountiful corner of old England – first in Norwich, then Chedgrave, a village few people have heard of. To begin with, we rented, trying the city on for size. Our first lodgings were a 400-year-old former weaver’s gaff in flint and brick near Norwich’s University of the Arts. We loved it, giving us a taste for city life and its student vibe. But our antique digs were cold and draughty and, even back in 2012, cost a king’s ransom to heat. Gawd knows what the bills are like now.

After a couple of years, we decided to put down roots and buy our own slice of historic Norwich – a micro-loft in a handsome converted Victorian warehouse, a writer’s garret to polish off Turkey Street, my second memoir.

At the time, our savings were still in Turkish lira earning pretty good interest. Little did we know that the lira was about to take a dive – and lucky for us, we converted to sterling just in the nick of time. Only days later Turkey’s currency dropped off a cliff, and it’s been more or less in freefall ever since. Had we hesitated it might have been the workhouse for us, not some trendy city-centre apartment.

Five years later, we fancied a quieter life, with room to breathe and a log burner to keep our tootsies toasty. We put the micro-loft on the market and it was bought by the first person to view. Quite by chance, Liam noticed a tiny 1850s worker’s cottage for sale. We came, we saw, we bought. Five months into our village life, the world was in lockdown, and our cottage was the perfect place to ride out the storm. Our luck was still in.

Truth is, we only chose Norfolk because we needed somewhere we could actually afford and that was a relatively easy commute to London: there was family stuff to deal with. But as time moved on there was no longer a need for us to stick around the sticks. For a while, we toyed with God’s Own County – Yorkshire – with its big-limbed, hunky Heathcliffs. It certainly does have its moody blue attractions among the moors and mills.

But we’re rather taken with our East Anglian hamlet, with its broad Naarfuk brogue, big skies and chirpy birds with their squawky dawn call – loud enough to wake the dead in the churchyard next door. And we may be newbie Norfolk broads but we’re definitely not the only gays in the village.

The cottage is my nineteenth address. Will I make it to twenty? And will our luck hold? Who knows? But we do have a coffin hatch just in case the Grim Reaper comes a-knocking.

The Little Mermaid Makes a Big Splash

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.

Ariel with Flotsam and Jetsam
Ariel saves Prince Eric
Sebastian the crab with Alice the soft-curled beauty in yellow.

Images courtesy of Charley Nicol and Norwich Evening News.

The show got a well-deserved standing ovation. And the stiff gins were nice too – before, during and after.

Nuns and Nazis

I first watched The Sound of Music in the sixties at the tender age of seven. To see over the heads of the people in front of me, I sat on an upturned seat. Not that I saw that much anyway. I nodded off halfway through and didn’t wake up ‘til Dame Julie and co were heading for the hills.

Even though the film eventually became a Christmas staple on TV, I never actually sat through it. All I knew was that it was a tale of good versus evil with singalong tunes. And then the BBC exposed the truth about the von Trapps in a 2013 warts-and-all documentary. It turned out our heroes didn’t climb any mountain or ford any stream to escape the clutches of the nasty Nazis. No, they caught the 5.30 express to Italy. It was a bitter blow.

To restore my faith in the fairy tale, I jumped at the chance to see a new production at Norwich’s Theatre Royal by the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. They’re amateur thesps but they always put on a good show.

As we necked our interval gins, I asked Liam,

So, when does the cute blond sing ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me?’

That’s from Cabaret.

Oh.

Seems I was mixing up my Nazis.

Overall, the production was charming, with some really sweet moments. Nuns and Nazis, what’s not to like? For us, the stand-out performance was from Sara Cubitt as the Mother Abbess. ‘Climb Every Mountain’ is a tough song to sing, and we held our breath as she warbled towards that devilishly difficult final note. Did she hit it? Oh yes. 

The Nimmo Twins – Normal for Norfolk

After a six-year hiatus, local comedy heroes The Nimmo Twins (Owen Evans and Karl Minns) were back treading the boards at the Norwich Playhouse for the second of their twenty-fifth-anniversary shows. Despite their glittering quarter-century career, to our shame, we’d never heard of them, but then a couple of fellow villagers put us firmly in the picture.

I’m glad they did. In skit and sketch, satire and song, characters old and new, the Twins put us straight about all things normal for Norfolk – the ups and mostly downs of Norwich City Football Club, local petty bureaucrats who couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, geriatric TV presenters well past their sell-by, livestock-lovin’ farmhands with single-digit IQs and flash Londoners with their fancy cars and holiday homes, all delivered in the broadest of Naarfuk and with tongues firmly in cheek. It’s a total, affectionate piss-take and it’s hysterical.

Come On You Queens!

Now that live theatre is back in full flow after the lockdown drought, we’ve been lapping up the good, the bad and average. First on the bill was the fantastic Come From Away – a West End show for our times – at the aptly named Phoenix Theatre. Next up was Norwich’s cute Maddermarket Theatre for a semi-pro production of One Man, Two Guvnors, the full-on farce which made a West End and Broadway star of James Corden. We saw the London show a few years back but enjoyed our little local offering rather more.

Then there was Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks the Musical on its pre-West End run – strictly for the kiddies and needs work before it gets to London – and The Dresser starring the brilliant Matthew Kelly as the well-past-his-sell-by-date thesp and a so-so Julian Clary as his long-suffering retainer. Both productions were at Norwich’s splendid Theatre Royal.

But by far the best in show was Six – also at Norwich’s Theatre Royal – a very modern musical about Henry the Eighth’s six wives. The gig was first performed by Cambridge University students at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 and has since gone global. It’s now on its UK tour.

Presented as a concert by a girl group, the wives take turns to sing their stories to decide who should get lead vocals. It’s a right royal foot-tapping take on girl power long before the Spice Girls got in on the act. Of course, in reality they were just pawns in Henry’s matrimonial chess game – divorced, beheaded, died – divorced, beheaded, survived.

Let’s face it, we only really remember the old letch because he had six wives. Ok, there was the small matter of the break with Rome too, but honestly, Henry, all that fuss over a pretty face and the pursuit of a male heir. His daughters were much more capable. Well perhaps not Bloody Mary so much, but the Virgin Queen showed real girl power.