Our final jolly in old London Town at the end of 2019 was a trip to see Wicked – the stage prequel to The Wizard of Oz and a show every friend of Dorothy should see before they reach the end of the rainbow.
Bizarrely, neither Liam nor I had seen the musical before even though it’s been a firm West End fixture for donkey’s years and one of the rare few that just go on and on, pulling in the punters night after night. The trouble with many a classic on a long run is it can all get a bit tired. Fine wine to vinegar? Actually, no. The big scenes are still big and the current lead – Nikki Bentley, as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the East – has a belting voice. And the political subplot – the rise of fascism – is as relevant now as it’s ever been. There was a standing ovation at the end. All in all, not a bad gig.
The Autumn edition of ‘Link’, the South Norfolk Council community magazine, dropped on the mat. Packed with facts and fun, it’s something to thumb through over coffee and a rich tea. It’s the usual recipe of charity gigs, sport and leisure updates, seasonal treats, pub and club news, health and environmental titbits and (groan) advice on preparing for Brexit. But also thrown into the mix is a remarkable full-page piece about a roving exhibition called ‘Helping History Out of the Closet’. Intended to raise awareness about LGBT issues, the show was put together by the Thetford Teenage History Club who were shocked to discover that man-on-man action could once land you in the clink, or worse. Why remarkable?
Well, it isn’t that long ago that a council in liberal London banned a gay support group from an out-of-hours chinwag on council premises for fear of a moral backlash. I guess the powers that be thought it might degenerate into an orgy and frighten the grand old dames of Kensington. I worked for that council and had the keys to the offices in Earls Court so we met anyway, under cover of darkness.
Essentially South Norfolk is one giant field sprinkled with small towns and villages. Like most rural communities, it’s conservative with a small ‘c’ (and sometimes with a massive one) where change is snail-paced and being different can be an isolating and horrible experience. We’ve come a long way. Let’s hope it stays that way.
We moved to Norwich in 2012 after our four year adventure in Turkey. During this short time, the city has become busier, buzzier, more welcoming and more diverse – from Chinese students studying at the University of East Anglia and South Asians working for Aviva, to the rucksacked troupes of Spanish school kids wandering around thanks to direct flights from Spain to our very own little International airport. Tourism is on the rise, ably assisted by the merry band of volunteer ‘here to help’ street hosts handing out smiles and leaflets. We might even get a bumper crop of visitors from Vietnam – now that the CEO of Vietnam Airlines described the city as ‘irresistible’ and ‘serene’. Same-sex couples can and do walk down the street hand-in-hand and the Norwich Pride event is a firm fixture on the city’s annual social calendar.
Things aren’t perfect – far from it. The increase in rough sleeping and substance use is the most visible sign of this. Not that there’s any cash to fix the problem in the barmy blond bombshell’s big pre-election giveaway. There are very few votes in helping the homeless. And, even in liberal Norwich, small minds still exist. A case in point is the silly man who refused to drive a bus because the route number was displayed in rainbow colours. He allegedly told passengers, ‘This bus promotes homosexuality and I refuse to drive it.’ As we all know, the mere sight of a pretty rainbow can turn even the most red-blooded bloke in an instant. Just like the pealing of church bells makes us all fall to our knees to pray. He was reported to the bus company and suspended, pending an investigation. Good. I have no wish for him to lose his job but he really does need to leave this bigoted nonsense at home and get on with what he’s paid to do.
Pride season is in full swing with processions and celebrations large and small up and down the realm and around the globe. It’s a time to revel in the diversity of our rainbow world and a welcome antidote to the pollution of rising populism. We’ve been regulars at Norwich Pride but, sadly, we’ll miss it this year. So, instead, we chucked ourselves into the pride event in Great Yarmouth, a kiss-me-quick bucket and spade seaside town and port on the east coast. As a child, Liam spent many a happy holiday flying his kite along Yarmouth’s golden sands. The resort has long been down on its uppers – the advent of cheap package holidays to sunnier foreign climes saw to that. But, of late, the town been given a shot in the arm by staycationers avoiding Brexit and the construction of enormous wind farms in the North Sea.
Although understandably modest by Norwich standards (not to mention the mega parties in London and Brighton) the pride march along Marine Parade was no less joyful, camp or colourful. Even the Norfolk Fire Service got in on the act by bringing up the rear. No jokes about the fireman’s hose please.
We’re all doomed according to those in the know. Global warming is melting the ice caps, sea levels are rising and, sooner rather than later, Britannia will sink beneath the waves along with much of the rest of the world. Mother Earth will likely survive – thrive even – but without us to muck it up again. And it probably serves us right. Still, while we wait for the next biblical flood, I do my bit, recycling-wise. This might seem like pissing in the wind but I do it anyway, separating this from that. These days about three quarters of what we chuck is tossed into the communal recycling bin, though it’s fair to say much of that consists of glass bottles of the wine kind. Our rubbish has always rattled.
My temperature is raised by some of our neighbours who seem incapable of following simple recycling guidelines or, more likely, are too idle to be arsed. But I get really heated by the vast quantity of soft plastic film that wraps pretty much everything these days. This can’t be recycled. Gawd knows why. So off it goes with the peelings and scraps to the incinerator to cause even more global warming or to end up swimming about in the oceans. I can almost hear the dolphins scream.
One lesbian is murdered by a cowardly nationalist sniper while another becomes the Democratic Unionist Party’s first ever openly gay councillor. Journalist and tireless LGBT campaigner, Lyra McKee, was shot dead during rioting in Derry/Londonderry. The response was universal revulsion from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland. Alison Bennington was elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council as a member of the shamelessly anti-gay DUP. Her election met with horror by some party bigots. Could it be that these two events – just weeks apart – will bring real change? God, I really hope so.
Yesterday, Norwich Pride reached the grand old age of 10 and the streets of the city throbbed to the fabulous in their multi-coloured glory. We came, we saw, we partied along with the mums, dads, kids and grandparents. Summer is Pride season and rainbow flags have been flying across the realm. Sadiq Khan, London’s Muslim Mayor, danced across a giant flag during London Pride and even the sleepy Suffolk town of Beccles flew one from the Town Hall. It’s about inclusion, right?
Not in Russia it’s not. In Russia the rainbow flag is subversive gay propaganda opening the floodgates to kiddie-fiddlers, making ladies of the lads, lads of the ladies and bringing Mother Russia to her knees. Waving it can land you in the clink, or worse. The term ‘Russian bear’ doesn’t refer to a hairy mary bopping round a bum-bag to Abba’s Dancing Queen, and it takes a brave soul to be out and proud. And so a band of rainbow comrades employed a little cunning to get their point across at the recent World Cup. Big respect to Norwich’s very own Di Cunningham, chair of Pride in Football, who rolled out the Three Lions Pride flag at England games. I’ve read Di and her team got a bit of low-level hassle from the authorities, but as the flag was endorsed by the English Football Association and supported by the UK Government, the Ruskies let it go. No one was going to provoke an international incident at Putin’s big showcase.
Ambassador Laurie Bristow & Deputy Ambassador Lindsay Skoll welcome England fans Di Cunningham @di_ceee & @JoeyWh1te from @3LionsPride to Moscow ahead of this evening’s big match. Football is for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. pic.twitter.com/rrIWH66lIo
More subtle was a group of activists from Spain, The Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia who roamed the streets, squares and subways of Moscow wearing their national kits which just happened to make up – you guessed it – the rainbow flag. Now that’s what I call a result.