Street Life

It was a warm but rainy day for our first forage into Norwich since March’s lockdown. I must admit we felt unexpectedly anxious at the prospect of leaving the sanctuary of the village and heading into town on a bus. We girded our loins, with masks and sanitisers cocked and ready.

It was actually fine. Because of social distancing rules, bus capacity has been reduced and, as we were two of only six passengers, there was plenty of room. This didn’t stop a young couple sitting together in non-designated seats and removing their masks to chat. What is it with the young? They may feel indestructible, safe in the knowledge that the dreaded lurgy is unlikely to bring them down, but that won’t stop them super-spreading to the rest of us.

It was good to get back into the city again. Norwich was busy but not packed – almost normal. Big Issue sellers were back on the streets and most cafés and shops were open. The only thing noticeably missing were the buskers and artists who, in better times, provide a weird and wonderful addition to Norwich’s street life.

Wherever we went seemed well-organised and COVID-secure with lots of one-way systems going on. Most people complied. No one was overwhelmed with punters, though. It’s an anxious time for traders, I’m sure.

After a bit of retail therapy, we headed to the Lamb Inn for a cheeky bottle of blush and some hearty pub grub, using a handy app to order and pay. Our food and drinks were brought to our table by a delightful young waitress. It was all done efficiently and with a reassuring smile. I think this continental style table service might catch on – until winter sets in that is.

Norwich in sunnier days…

Made in Dagenham

Released in 2010, ‘Made in Dagenham’ is a gritty, evocative and warm-hearted film about the female workers at the Ford car plant in Dagenham, East London, who, in 1968, downed tools to demand equal pay for doing work of equal value. The machinists faced a barrage of patronising and often vicious opposition from every side – from the management at Ford UK, their paymasters across the pond and the Labour government of the day but also from their male co-workers and their union, run – you guessed it – by men. Evidently, solidarity only applied to the hairy-arsed blokes on the assembly line.

It was a time when a woman’s place was in the home and even those who had to work to put food on the table were routinely paid less than men because, well, they were just women, after all. Thankfully, times were a-changing. The strike was ultimately successful and led to the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

A musical adaptation followed in November 2014, opening at the Adelphi Theatre in London. It’s now doing the provincial rounds and we saw the production by the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society at Norwich’s handsome Theatre Royal. Am-dram it may have been but top not notch am-dram it was with sparkling vocal performances, light-footed routines and a real sixties vibe. We caught the matinee, joining the grey herd who laughed, gasped and clapped their way through a clever and often very naughty script, witty lyrics and jolly tunes. Mind you, the nice people from St John’s Ambulance were on standby with their defibrillators – just in case it all got too much.

Here’s how they did it in the West End…

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.

We Have the Stars

We Have the Stars

I’ve moved a lot in my time – more than most, I reckon. I dropped from the womb in utilitarian army digs in Canterbury then on to a central London military tenement, lots of fun in the sun in tropical Malaysia, down with a bump in damp and grey Hounslow (west London) and onwards to civvy street Wandsworth (south London). And all before I could vote. My flight from the nest took me on a swinging tour of London postcodes – W6, W14, W4, SW19, SW18, E7, E17, interrupted midway by a five-year residency in royal Windsor with a moustachioed man called Mike. Then came the Turkey years – Yalıkavak and Bodrum – before finally wading ashore in old Norwich town. I’ve done old build, new build, Charles the First to Barratt box. When Liam and I embarked on the latest move – my nineteenth – it was a fond farewell to the flash city centre micro-loft and a nervous hello to the village micro-cottage. As Liam said, paraphrasing the indomitable Bette Davis in Now, Voyager,

‘Oh, Jack, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.’

Say it again, Bette.

Those stars better sparkle!

The Only Gays in the Village

By chance, Liam spotted a renovated 1850s cottage for sale in a small village called Chedgrave, ten miles southeast of Norwich. We went to see it. We liked it. We put in an offer. It was accepted. We put the micro-loft on the market. Our first viewer put in an offer. We accepted it. So we moved. Just like that.

We’d been thinking alot about our almost-final destination – the one before we get dragged kicking and screaming into a care home for the bed-wetting bewildered. For an age, tatty and batty Knaresborough in North Yorkshire was the odds-on favourite but after leading by a mile, it fell at the last fence. Why? Well, the town is so wonderful, nothing comes up. It seems no one leaves. And I can’t blame them.

Chedgrave is a small hamlet on the Chet, a river that forms part of the Norfolk Broads National Park. There isn’t much in Chedgrave – a church, a pub, a few shops. Fortunately, it’s twinned with Loddon, a pretty village with a lot more to offer. Both villages are on a fast bus route to Norwich so our regular city fix of stage and screen is assured.

We may be the only gays in the village. Will the village suit us? Will we suit the village? Will we get run out of town by an angry mob of red-faced, thick-set farm hands brandishing pitch forks? Will Liam join the WI and make strawberry jam? I’ll keep you posted.