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.

Bottle and Basket, Booze and Bunting

After tripping the light fantastic along Tooting High Street, I took Liam even further down my memory lane with a short hop to Wandsworth Town. I showed him where I was a shoe shop Saturday boy, the primary school where I was a knotty-haired happy chappy, and finally, my digs from the age of ten until I ventured out into the wicked world – my ‘days on the tills, nights on the tiles’ moment before marriage and a mortgage.

After my Dad retired from the British Army, my parents ran a backstreet shop, one of a parade of four. Ours was a ‘bottle and basket’ selling booze and bread and all things in between, and we lived above and behind. It was a good little earner. Even during the dark days of the 1974 three-day week, Dad kept the lights on with candles from the cash and carry. It was a cold and miserable time and people hit the hard stuff to get through it – a bit like the recent lockdowns. On a happier note, as part of Her Maj’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations, Mum helped organise a street party. The till rang non-stop as the red, white and blue bunting fluttered in the summer breeze.

Of the other shops, next door was a butcher’s with a newsagent’s at the end. I can’t remember what the third shop in the parade was. It hardly matters now as they’re all gone – long-since converted into gentrified houses that fetch a king’s ransom.

Here’s a very rare picture of me from that bygone era. Our first-floor parlour was a riot of clashing colours and patterns – very de rigueur at the time. I’m sure it’s much more tasteful today. But why was my chopper bike propped up against the sofa?

Top of the Pansy Pops 2021

It’s been a queer year all told – locked and unlocked, masks on, masks off, masks on again, thrice jabbed, and a foreign foray thwarted. Unsurprisingly, 2021 pansy posts were a mixed harvest. I kept the memory of a treasured friend alive and ranted on about the unwelcome return of a nasty little word I thought had long been consigned to the dustbin of history. Then there were the lockdown tales keeping the home fires burning, sparkling art from rural Asia Minor and the interviews and reviews that came out of the blue.

2021 was also the year I acquired my very own looney toon stalker, Marsha the Troll, who regularly sends me rambling rants from the other side of the Pond – always incomprehensible, often threatening and sometimes with porn attached. I feel like a celebrity.

Here’s the cream of the crop for 2021 together with two evergreen posts from 2020 and 2014 bringing up the rear.

A Tale of Two Villages

We queued up at the checkout with two bottles of Majestik and a tub of Cadbury’s Celebrations, attracting the curiosity of the shopper ahead of us. She was loading her groceries into a large tartan shopping trolley, her eyes darting quickly between me and Liam as if she had suddenly recognised long lost friends. I … Continue reading A Tale of Two Villages

Forever Young

Last month saw us in London for a very special commemoration. An old friend died suddenly in early 2020 and it would have been his sixtieth birthday on 25th August. We couldn’t let the day go unmarked so we threw him a boozy late lunch in Soho attended by twenty of his nearest and dearest. … Continue reading Forever Young

Get the Bloody Jab

We just can’t wait to get back into the theatre – we’ve a glittering chorus of touring musicals queued up – from the modern: Six, Waitress, The Book of Mormon to the classics: Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Sound of Music. Few trades have suffered from COVID more than the performing arts. The only sure … Continue reading Get the Bloody Jab

Queer as Folk

I was bullied from the moment I first flounced through the school gates. Nothing physical, you understand. That would be unseemly at a traditional grammar school with a 400-year-old charter granted by the Virgin Queen. Besides, beatings were reserved for the teachers to dish out. I suppose I hardly helped my cause by being a … Continue reading Queer as Folk

Nothing Beats a Good Story

I don’t get interviewed much these days. Back in my pansies heyday everyone wanted a piece of me; queuing up, they were. But now we’ve settled into county life, I’ve become old dog, old tricks, descending into idyllic rural obscurity. But then up popped a request from Nicola MacCameron, a voiceover artist at Mic And … Continue reading Nothing Beats a Good Story

A Final Farewell

We can’t complain. Village life is calm and cuddly. But when the easing of lockdown let us travel further afield for the first time in around seven months, we packed our bags and were off like a shot. The bright lights of London beckoned and not even lousy weather could dampen our spirits. Travelling across … Continue reading A Final Farewell

Bring Out Your Dead

Before the miracle of modern medicine and universal healthcare, life for most was plagued by illness or the fear of it. People croaked in their beds from mundane diseases that today we pop a pill for. Many a cottage stairwell was too narrow for a coffin so some featured a trap door between floors called … Continue reading Bring Out Your Dead

And For My Next Trick

We’re currently living next to a building site. A local developer is chucking up a few more bungalows, like the world really needs a few more bungalows – affordable housing for the cash-strapped, yes, more well-appointed dwellings with double garages for the well-heeled, no. It’s a lost cause and we’re resigned to it. While a … Continue reading And For My Next Trick

Jack in the Bottle

That flicker of light at the end of the lockdown tunnel is getting brighter. Our days in the sun (or beer garden) will soon return. Meanwhile, we continue to do what we can to stay safe and sane. I hear sales of jigsaws have gone off like a rocket. It’s not the sport for us. … Continue reading Jack in the Bottle

Oi Speak Narrfuk Oi Do

Anyone living on these damp little islands and anyone who visits them knows that Britain is a nation of a thousand and one accents and dialects. Homespun and imported lingo twists and turns through town and county. We may live in a global village and in a mass media world where ‘Globalish’ (the cut-down version … Continue reading Oi Speak Narrfuk Oi Do

Wishing everyone a healthier, safer 2022 and a new normal more like the old.

Bring Out Your Dead

Before the miracle of modern medicine and universal healthcare, life for most was plagued by illness or the fear of it. People croaked in their beds from mundane diseases that today we pop a pill for. Many a cottage stairwell was too narrow for a coffin so some featured a trap door between floors called a ‘coffin hatch’ (or sometimes a ‘coffin drop’, for obvious reasons). This allowed the dearly departed to be laid out at the end of a bed in their Sunday best for the procession of mourners who came round for tea and sympathy. And it provided a more dignified exit to the graveyard. Much better than bouncing a stiff down the stairs.

Our cottage may no longer be an unsanitary hovel with cholera in every cup, but we’ve still got a coffin hatch, though not an original. It was constructed by the previous owner when he moved the staircase to a different part of the house. This modern hatch is just the thing for hauling up and down the big and the bulky. We’ve even hit on the idea of using the hole for a lift, as and when the stairs get too much. We’re rather taken with the thought of dying in our sleep – from old age we hope.

And For My Next Trick

We’re currently living next to a building site. A local developer is chucking up a few more bungalows, like the world really needs a few more bungalows – affordable housing for the cash-strapped, yes, more well-appointed dwellings with double garages for the well-heeled, no. It’s a lost cause and we’re resigned to it.

While a big, butch workman swinging an even butcher mechanical digger was busy excavating a trench for a new drain, he ripped out an underground communications cable, cutting phone and broadband lines to every house in the street.

Oops!

This is during a pandemic with people trying to earn an honest crust working from home, doing their bit to keep themselves and the economy afloat. Head-scratching all round by shuffling workers in hard hats and a ‘wasn’t me, gov’ vacant look on their red faces.

Engineers from Openreach* armed with tools and sensors rode to the rescue, plugging us back in the very next day. I call that a result. It’s a temporary fix, though. The cable can’t be re-buried until the new drain is finished. So the builders have protected it from further damage with a tatty old upturned wheelbarrow. Very hi-tech. What are the chances?

And for my next trick – no water and no electricity?

* For the uninitiated, Openreach is the company that manages much of the UK’s fixed-line telecoms infrastructure.