Go West, Young Man

We have old friends in Torquay, a palm tree-lined seaside resort in Devon. We hadn’t seen them in ages because of the pandemic, so a catch-up was well overdue. All roads lead to London, and we didn’t fancy the hassle of crossing the sprawling metropolis only to come out the other side, so we flew from Norwich International airstrip to Exeter International airstrip on a little jet – like Z-listers without the paps.

Old Exeter – Roman Isca Dumnoniorum, Saxon Execeaster – has been around a while, though at first glance you’d never know it. The Luftwaffe did a great job flattening the city in the Second World War, so you have to look closely to find ancient treasures.

Mercifully, the magnificent cathedral, founded in 1050, was spared the hellfire that destroyed pretty much everything else – a little odd considering it sticks out like a bullseye at the heart of the city. Although I’m not religious in the slightest, I do so love a gander round a holy pile.

Most of what the visitor sees is thirteenth century, and what impresses first is the awe-inspiring ceiling that soars towards the heavens. At 96 metres, it’s the longest continuous medieval stone vault in the world. It surely convinced the hovel-dwelling, unwashed illiterati of old that it was made with divine intervention – and so helped keep them on their knees.

And then there are all the elaborate tombs – mostly containing the old bones of long-dead bishops.

And the stained glass windows aren’t bad either.

While Norwich hosted T-Rexes and steppe mammoths for the summer, Exeter went for giant cutesy street dogs.

After Exeter, we spent the next couple of days hitting the sherry and chewing the cud with our old muckers at their palatial digs in Torquay. And fantastic it was too. Our hosts are a little camera shy so, instead, here’s an elegant bust of Agatha Christie, the queen of the whodunnit and the best-selling fiction writer of all time, who was born in the town.

The Book of Mormon: The Newest Testament

Since they switched the theatre lights back on, we’ve been playing catch-up with all the shows queuing up impatiently in the wings. Our latest gig was the UK tour of The Book of Mormon. Deliciously camp, rude, lewd and super crude, the song and dance show pulls no punches when ridiculing the fairy tales at the core of the Mormon credo – and by extension, organised religion in general. So there was a third biblical testament buried on a hillside in upstate New York? Who knew? Not the villagers in far-flung Uganda who had more pressing, real-world problems to deal with, like trigger-happy warlords, grinding poverty, AIDS and female genital mutilation. Ripe for conversion? The all-American dancing boys from Salt Lake City thought so. The desperate often are.

Credit: Paul Coltas

All’s well that ends well as the Bard once wrote and the show does have a happy ending because, in the end, we all need something to believe in, even if it’s just the power of the human spirit. By curtain call we were all on our feet. Yes, it’s that good.

As we left the theatre, we spotted a solitary Mormon elder politely handing out leaflets for the cause. Seems The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sees the show as an opportunity for a recruitment drive. Who said there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

Belfast – Should We Stay or Should We Go?

I was a little nervous when I took my seat to watch Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film about the life of a working-class family in late sixties Belfast. It was a time when the Troubles really exploded on the streets, and I was dreading being slapped about the face by the grim senselessness of sectarianism.

But despite the nightmarish backdrop, there’s something incredibly warm and generous about the film. Set to a Van Morrison soundtrack (with a little help from Love Affair’s Everlasting Love) and shot in radiant black and white, the tender and funny script has a simple question at its heart – leave for a brighter future ‘across the water’ or stay for kith and kin and all that’s familiar. It was a choice faced by generations of Irish people – including our own.

The sparkling cast really deliver – anything with Judi Dench gets my vote – and despite the eye candy that is Jamie Dornan, the stand-out performance has to be from Jude Hill as Buddy, the young boy around whom the story revolves.

Do they stay or do they go? Here’s a clue. Sir Kenneth Branagh is now one of the UK’s foremost actors and directors.

Here’s the trailer…

Jurassic City

It’s been a pretty dismal summer, weather-wise. The shortest of heatwaves in June, a washed-out July and a blanket of low cloud for most of August. Still, we didn’t suffer the death and devastation of flash floods, wilting temperatures and rampant wildfires that afflicted Turkey and much of continental Europe so I guess we should count our lucky stars. And who needs the sun anyway when the streets of Norwich are lit up by brightly coloured dinosaurs?

Over the last few years we’ve had an invasion of psychedelic gorillas, a parade of glittery elephants, the flight of the camp dragons, a husk of vivid hares and a swarm of big bugs. Now it’s the turn of dazzling dinosaurs on the Go Go Discover T Rex Trail inspired by the arrival in Norwich Cathedral of Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplodocus cast. It’s the final gig of his nationwide tour.

Image courtesy of Norwich Cathedral

Twenty-one individually designed T Rex sculptures meander through the centre of the city as a guided route to the Cathedral – just in time for school’s out for Summer. If God can’t tempt the kids into church come Sunday, Dippy surely will.

Here’s a small sample. I guess my favourite ought to be the rainbow T Rex stomping all over Millennium Plain but actually it’s Sherlock on Cathedral Close that gets my vote.

As usual, the trail is all in aid of Break, a charity providing support to young people in care. They’ve also covered Cambridge in a herd of colourful cows. That’s a lot of painted udders.

Close Encounters

We were to meet up with the fragrant Roving Jay for one of our regular bloggers’ food-and-drink conventions but our plans were scuppered at the last minute. As we’d already bought the bus ticket, we went into town anyway for a wander around. Tombland, Norwich’s historic heart, is looking splendid after a recent wash and brush up. You might think the name comes from something spooky but it’s actually old English for ‘open ground’ (or such like) and is where the old market was held until those dastardly all-conquering Normans moved it to its present location a little after 1066 and all that.

It was a great day for a stroll so we decided to check out Cathedral Close, the substantial grounds of the grand Norman church. The Close is full of statues – of men mostly, as is the norm. However, one woman, Edith Cavell, has pride of place at the entrance. Ms Cavell was a British nurse in German-occupied Belgium during the Great War. She is remembered for tending to soldiers from both sides of the trenches and for helping about 200 Allied soldiers escape. Arrested by the Germans, she was tried for treason and shot by firing squad. It caused quite an international incident at the time as it wasn’t the done thing to shoot women – only horses. As she was a Norfolk lass, Edith Cavell is buried in the cathedral.

Doubtless, someone will discover something about Ms Cavell’s words, views or deeds that wouldn’t quite be cricket by today’s standards and demand she’s knocked off her plinth. That would be a shame.

Naturally, a chilled bottle was waiting for us at the end of the trail. We settled down at the Red Lion Pub on the river next to the Bishop Bridge, built in 1340 and the city’s oldest, to watch people messing about in canoes. Bottoms up!