My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?)

At the tender age of 12, Rob put on a full-blown Disney parade for his giggly Grandma. In dodgy wigs and improvised costumes, he gave her Ariel, Belle, Mary Poppins and Mickey Mouse while doting Dad acted as stagehand, sound technician and general props-body. It didn’t go well.

As much as I dislike the whole ‘we’re all queer, now’ thing, I jumped at the chance to see My Son’s a Queer, written and performed by Rob Madge at Norwich’s trendy Playhouse Theatre. It’s received some spectacular reviews, selling out at London’s off-West End Turbine Theatre in 2021 and taking the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe by storm. It’s currently on national tour before heading to yer actual West End this October. We saw the single-handed touring version and it was glorious – a fabulous autobiographical tale of Rob’s upbringing as a Disney-obsessed, uber-flamboyant child delivered in words, music and old family videos.

Just an everyday ordinary family with an everyday extra-ordinary child; the love – and sometimes the exasperation – shone brightly through those old movies. Despite the teachers, the bullies and the rejection, Rob stuck by his sequins and, thanks to Rob’s courage and loving family, proved beyond doubt that home is where the heart is. This isn’t always the case for the child who’s just a little bit different. We laughed a lot, we cried a bit, we jumped to our feet at the end. The simple answer to the question but what can you do? to parents everywhere is just roll with it; it will bring you endless joy.

GoGo Mammoths

GoGo Mammoths

Over the past decade Norwich has seen an invasion of psychedelic mountain gorillas, a parade of glittery elephants, the flight of the camp dragons, a husk of vivid hares, a swarm of big bugs and a hungry group of dazzling dinosaurs. This year, the T-Rexes are back with a vengeance to sink their claws and jaws into a herd of steppe mammoths – all in aid of Break, a charity supporting children in care. A round of applause, please. Let’s not worry too much that the hunters and the hunted roamed the Earth at entirely different times, separated by millions of years. It’s just a bit of fun for the bored kiddies during the summer holidays.

Most of the proto-jumbos with their oversized tusks are more county than town, dotted about various corners of Norfolk, so I thought I’d never spot one grazing in Norwich. I made do with snapping a small selection of the dapper dinos in their flashy finery instead.

But then I spotted this handsome beast clad in metal nuts at the entrance to St Mary’s Works. The old shoe factory is now the venue for Norwich’s uber-trendy Junkyard Market serving up street grub and fruity cocktails to a youthful crowd of beards and tattoos. We were there to celebrate a village boy’s 40th.

The sun was setting on a scorching day, and Metal Mammoth was glowing in the twilight, hot and sticky to the touch.

Welcome Back, Norwich Pride

Last Saturday Norwich Pride was back painting the town pink after a three-year absence because of you know what. And it was back with a bang – bigger, brasher and better than ever. Our bus into the city was transformed into a pride express, stuffed with jolly rainbow people from town and county. After arriving in the city, we joined the crowd of many colours heading to the centre and pitched our tent along Gentlemen’s Walk to watch the parade. It ran late. Turns out that a cast of thousands wanted to get in on the act, so it took a while to gather them all up.

When it did set off, the exuberant mega-march just went on and on and on. It was truly heartening to see a long chorus line of so many young people putting it out there, happy and unafraid.

Norwich Pride is fully inclusive, everyone welcome, no one turned away. Why? Because it’s free. Some other pride events are now ticket-only. I get it, really I do. Many are run on a wing and a prayer and a bad weather day can result in a wash-out, leaving a trail of unpaid bills. But not everyone can afford the price to be proud, especially right now. Just like the NHS, let’s hope Norwich Pride remains free at point of access for many, many years to come.

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.