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.
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.’
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.
In 2010, I handed over a king’s ransom for a set of crowns courtesy of a handsome Turkish dentist called Ufuk (yes, you’ve read it right). And since we ended our Anatolian affair in 2012, I’ve been going to a dentist regularly here in old Naaridge in an effort to preserve my Hollywood smile. It’s a modest surgery above a shop on Timberhill – very different from the swish practice Liam attends where the waiting room looks like a hotel lobby. Ramshackle it may be, but my dentist has all the right equipment and a hands-on approach. Despite my many scale and polishes, I’ve only just recently noticed the statue of a stag on top of the building. I must have passed it a thousand times so that says a lot about my powers of observation. My only defence is that, unlike the monarch of the hill, I don’t keep my head in the clouds. I did a bit of digging and the sculpture was erected in the 1890s by gun maker George Jeffries who once occupied the shop below. Presumably, it was put there to promote his deadly double-barrells, just the ticket for slaughtering these magnificent beasts in the wild. Hardly what I call a fair fight.
We’ve had an invasion of psychedelic gorillas, a parade of colourful elephants, the flight of the camp dragons and a husk of vivid hares, not mention the wacky ducks that paddle up the Wensum every year. Now big bugs are swarming all over our local shopping centre. And, really big buggers they are too, like extras from an old Hammer horror film. The kids love ’em. And who could resist the chance to clamber all over some poor giant ladybird minding her own business? With the relentless rise of online shopping, it’s a clever ploy to get parents off their computers and into the stores. Long live pester power.
Following our friendly skirmish with modern Norsemen, we decided to give the Viking Exhibition at Norwich Castle a whirl and find out a little bit more about their hell-raising forebears. I’ve no clue what kind of history kids get taught these days but when I recently asked a history student what happened in 1066, he didn’t know. Now, I’m not one who thinks it should all be about dynasties and dates, but 1066? Really? In my day, the ‘Dark Ages’ (as they used to be called) were very much part of the curriculum and the Viking era was all about rape, pillage and good King Alfred burning his cakes. The aim of the exhibition – Viking, Rediscover the Legend – is to deconstruct the blood and guts myth and tell the more complex story of raid, migration and integration.
Sadly, I was a little underwhelmed by the show – a bit sparse, exhibit-wise. But it was a welcome distraction on a very hot and sweaty afternoon. And I loved the exquisite York Helmet, the best surviving example of its type in Europe. It’s quite small. I imagine the owner, Oshere, was a bit on the short side. This may explain all that Viking aggro – small man syndrome! I know all about that. I was also struck by the size of the coinage – no bigger than modern-day pennies and easily lost down the side of a sofa. But then they didn’t have IKEA back in the dark days of the Dark Ages.
It was hotter than Havana the day a paddling of technicolor plastic ducks floated into town for the Grand Norwich Duck Race on the River Wensum – a plucky contest held every year for charity. As usual, the competition for the most outrageous outfit was fierce with the over-sized over-the-top bath tub toys lined up like a beauty pageant, vying for votes. My personal favourite was the pretty in pink flamingo impersonator. All style over substance, I suspected. The long luscious legs were more suitable for wading than for swimming. The ducks race along the short distance between St George’s and Fye Bridges. I say ‘race’ in the loosest sense of the word. It’s always more an aimless drift as the waters of the genteel Wensum flow at a lazy, almost stationary pace. We placed a small wager on some random duck. We didn’t win and retired to a local watering hole to drown our sorrows.