Our little house is one of a small row of four workers’ cottages standing proud next to the 12th-century parish church of All Saints. Built in 1852, each dwelling once consisted of just four rooms – the original meaning of a ‘two up, two down’ – with water supplied by a well at the end of the row and, in all likelihood, a single outside latrine shared by all and sundry. There must have been quite a queue when cholera struck. The well’s still in full working order but, these days, only used for watering the roses.
One of our neighbours, a sucker for genealogy, obtained the entries for the 1911 national census. It provided a tantalising glimpse into the lives of the residents of our little terrace at that time.
While Liam was lapping up a concert by a local ladies choir at our spitting-distance church, I took a look through the documents. I really hope Mr Jackson the wherryman*, widow-woman Maria, James the omnibus driver, Mr Kerry the jobbing gardener and all their assorted families had happy and fulfilling lives. I guess we’ll never know, but the chances are their day-to-days were hand-to-mouth, horribly insecure and plagued by illness or the fear of it. Life expectancy at the time was about 56 for women and 52 for men, though this average was skewed by high child mortality rates which meant if you did manage to survive to adulthood, you had a better chance of growing grey.
Still, this was a big improvement on the situation when the houses were first chucked up. Back in the 1850s, life expectancy was only 42 for women and just 40 for men. As life was short and often grim, it’s little wonder people took to religion for solace. Thank God for the doorstep chapel.
*a wherry is a shallow-draught barge with a large single sail once used to transport cargo on the rivers and broads hereabouts.
Now we’ve moved on to fresh fields, my five-day-a-week gym routine is no more. Whereas I was once able to stroll to my city centre torture chamber, I’d now have to bus it – so that’s that. But, I still need to help my circulation by power-pushing my ageing legs, and avoid diabetes by keeping the pounds off. So we’ve invested in this monster.
No longer am I able to leer discretely (or not so discretely) at the sweaty fellas squatting and pressing around me. No. My view has been replaced by classic episodes of Coronation Street from the eighties, weekdays on ITV3. The tattooed talent in tight togs have given way to dreary Deirdre’s dreadful perm, wooden Ken’s unlikely sexual prowess, bottle-blonde Bet’s gravity-defying hair do, blue-rinsed Phyllis’ hopeless pursuit of flat-capped miserable old fart, Percy Sugden, Jack and Vera’s endless bickering and Betty’s nuked hotpot. I love it. The script is glorious and my guilty secret is out.
It’s funny how things turn out. At the start of 2019 we were loft-living city-style, happy as pigs in the proverbial. By the end, we’d escaped to the country surrounded by the stuff, all quite by chance. Our best laid plans for a move to God’s own county were consigned to the recycling bin. And, my old girl reached her own milestone – turning 90 and still on the fags.
These twin themes were writ large in Perking the Pansies this year. There’s a lesson there somewhere. Also featuring in the top ten were a couple of fairy films, a fine but imperfect city and steely celebrations by the pansies still perking after all this time. Ladies and gents, please give it up for…
As usual, popular classics were of the more salacious kind. For the third year running, Gran Canaria, Sex Emporium from 2012 was the most read blast from the past. And the most clicked image was those naughty but nice boys with their big oars from Catching Crabs.
Shame on you.
Happy New Year to one and all. All we hope for in 2020 is some sunshine. It’s been pissing down virtually every day since we moved.
Organised chaos has reigned for weeks. A production line of cardboard boxes great and small come and go with endless deliveries of stuff we didn’t know we needed. Our recycling bin runneth over and we’re stiff in all the wrong places. Labours are distracted by an abundant flock of squawking ducks, playful blackbirds, inquisitive tits, red-breasted robins and randy wood pigeons who seem to spend their days shitting and shagging. Not a bad life, I guess.
We’re slowing moving towards normality and winter nesting. The essentials are done. The bijou kitchen is fully-functional, the Lady of the House is up, Liam’s keyboard is plugged in and candles lit for sequined nights of Strictly Come Dancing. And we’re slowly getting used to the scary stairs, though only when we’re sober.
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 past years, the little nooks tucked beneath our eaves have provided a cosy des res for tits with chicks. This year, the tits have been evicted by pairs of starlings. Well, Liam tells me they’re starlings. I wouldn’t know. He’s much better acquainted with birds. And noisy buggers they are too – chirpy, chirpy, cheeping at all hours. We don’t mind really. It’s a little slice of the natural world in our urban jungle. Apparently, the males attract a mate by decorating the nest with flowers then tweeting to flirty birdies as they swoop past in a ‘hey there, gorgeous, come check out what I’ve got’ kinda way. Not so different from some men I know. Once betrothed, she moves in and redecorates. Not so different from some women I know.