Since 2011, the people at Blog Expat have been shining a little light on expatland by interviewing bloggers from city to steppe, temperate to tropical. They’ve assembled quite an archive over the years. So when I heard they were to publish an anthology of their best stories, I thought it was a good idea. And when I heard they were to include me among the chosen, I thought it was a great idea.
My Life Abroad, a Selection of Expat Stories was published in September 2016. All the participants received a complimentary copy of the book which was a generous touch. Mine dropped on the mat a few weeks back and naturally I gave it a good thumbing. No one could question the book’s scale and ambition. There are abridged versions of 55 interviews and all continents apart from Antarctica are represented. Oddly, though, the contributors are kept anonymous, presumably to protect the guilty.
Every piece is prefaced with an jokey illustration. My own story has two men in summer attire framed on one side by a Shia cleric and on the other by a woman in a burka. Of course it could be a bloke in drag. That’s the point of a burka – you can’t tell. Now, most Turks are Sunnis and I’ve seen more Saudi-style full body bags in Harrods. In my interview I wrote…
Some people show breath-taking ignorance of the Islamic world, tarring all Muslim countries with the same negative brush. No, we aren’t subject to Sharia Law. No, gay people aren’t routinely lynched by rabid mobs of mad mullahs. No, women aren’t forced into marriage as soon as they hit puberty and dressed head to toe in black poly-cotton sheets (well, not in Bodrum anyway). Turkey isn’t perfect but it isn’t Iran.
So I’m hoping the cartoon is intended to be ironic.
Despite the potential faux pas, many of the stories are fun, thoughtful and well worth buying a bookmark for.
You’ve got to hand it to former Labour Party heavyweight, Ed Balls. After losing his seat to the Tories at the last general election, he’s been busy re-inventing himself in the most unexpected ways. Ed became something of a comic sensation on Strictly Come Dancing this year. His salsa to Gangnam Style is now legendary. The question of whether we were laughing with him or at him is a tad ungenerous. Balls had a ball and it was infectious. God knows, we could all do with a laugh right now. As a politician, he was rather dour, but Strictly had a definite humanising affect. There’s a lesson there somewhere.
Few people here realised Ed was a local boy until he became the Chairman of Norwich Football Club. ‘The Canaries’ are something of an obsession in this town, a devotion little rewarded on the pitch recently. Naturally, the newly-improved Balls was asked to switch on this year’s Christmas lights in front of the Art Déco finery of City Hall, and naturally, he couldn’t resist a salsa reprise with Santa. We also had the obligatory reverend wheeled out to remind us all that Christmas without Christ was just Marks and Spencer. As Norwich is one of the least religious cities in the land, I’m afraid the sermon flew over the heads of the kirk, literally as well as spiritually. Still, like many others, we’ll be hitting M&S for all our festive fancies.
When Ed pushed the button, we got something quite unexpected. My own snaps of the extravaganza turned out to be mostly rubbish, as usual. But I do like the one that makes it look like someone succeeded in doing what the Luftwaffe conspicuously failed to do.
I’ll leave it to the BBC to show you properly. (click below)…
The marching season is in full mince and after the slaughter in an Orlando gay club, Pride has a special resonance this year. Cutting through the noise, it now seems the carnage was the work of a closet case whose religious beliefs fried his brain. He happened to be a fundamentalist Muslim with shameful stirrings but could just as easily have been a fundamentalist Christian with the same sense of self-loathing. That’s the trouble with blind faith, those who fall from grace sometimes lose the plot. Ironically, some from the religious right don’t know who to condemn more, the man or his victims. And, the Second Amendment is a godsend to the trigger happy. Jesus wept.
On this side of the pond, London Pride was heralded by a flypast from the RAF’s Red Arrows and a rainbow flag flew over Parliament. It’s hard to imagine that happening in many capitals around the world.
Predictably, Istanbul Pride was banned again this year. To avoid the brutal oppression of 2015 when everyone was swept from the streets by tear gas and water cannon, Istanbul’s Governor gave plenty of notice. Last year, the holy month of Ramadan was the excuse. This year it was the threat from ultra-nationalist groups. Or maybe the powers that be just didn’t like it. Come the day, a few brave souls turned up anyway and were met by riot police and…well, you can guess the rest. And that was followed a couple of weeks later by an attempted military coup to ‘protect’ human rights and ‘preserve’ Turkish democracy. Since when was democracy ever preserved by soldiers in tanks? Was the coup real or not? Conspiracy theories abound but it was real enough for those who died as a result. Whatever the truth, you can bet your bottom lira life will start getting tougher and rougher for those who won’t or can’t toe the party line. Get thee to a mosque and to Hell with human rights.
Norwich Pride is on the 30th July and the only aggro expected is from a few nutters whispering hell and damnation from the wings. Even the zealous are painfully polite in these parts (as befits the ‘second kindest’ place in the kingdom, according to YouGov research). We’ll be there to wave our rainbow flags accompanied by a couple of old reprobates from the Smoke. We’re praying for a bit of sun – minus the fire and brimstone. I hear we’re to have a beer tent this year, thank the Lord: a first for Norwich Pride and a major step forward in my humble opinion. Cheers!
A happy pride season to one and all, whoever you get down on your knees for.
Norwich has more medieval churches than you shake a stick at, a church for every week of the year so the saying goes. You can hardly turn a corner without bumping into a stone steeple or Gothic arch. Back in the day, the cloth trade made Norwich rich and the top of the heap paid their way into Heaven by sponsoring medieval masterpieces. The cassock class were more than happy to indulge the myth and take the bung. But in these more secular times, the Faithful are few: come Sunday, most pews are empty. Some churches have been mothballed – boarded up and padlocked to keep out the elements and the vandals. Many others, though, have been given a new lease of life as arts centres, theatres, museums and exhibition spaces. Such is the case with the Church of St Peter the Less on Barrack Street. The pretty 15th century building miraculously survived the Luftwaffe’s bombs which flattened everything else around one night in 1942, and now sits on a grassy mound by a busy roundabout. Since 1980, the church has been home to the Norwich Puppet Theatre, one of those amazing provincial arts organisations that flourish against all the odds.
Norwich Puppet Theatre
When not stringing up the cast to amuse little people, the theatre is available for hire (including civil weddings, ironically). So, one Sunday we took our pews for a performance of Twisted Cabaret by the Knightshift Dance Company and jobbing drag queen, Miss Special K. The fusion of modern community dance with old-school gay showbiz was inventive enough but a man in a frock and ginger wig singing ‘Your son’ll come out tomorrow,’ in a deconsecrated church was deliciously subversive. Those God-fearing old merchants must be spinning in their graves. I loved it.
You could have knocked me over with a feather boa when, in 2013, it was a Conservative government that introduced the law to legalise same sex marriage. Let’s face it, those dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue Tories aren’t exactly noted for their enlightened social policies or support for civil liberties. The passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Act through Parliament was far from smooth; lots of hysterical talk from barren barons and men in frocks about the end of the world and the divine sanctity of wedlock. But the legislation was passed, God didn’t lift a finger and the lights stayed on. Hallelujah.
Marriage is a devolved affair in the UK so the 2013 Act only applied to England and Wales. It didn’t take long for the winds of change to blow through these damp little islands. The Scottish Parliament legalised same sex marriage in 2014 followed by the Isle of Man this year. The Channel Islands will bring up the rear in 2017. So who’s letting the side down? Those hell and damnation Presbyterians in Northern Ireland, that’s who. Last November the Northern Ireland Assembly voted narrowly in favour of marriage equality but the Democratic Unionist Party vetoed the motion by using something called a ‘petition of concern’, a mechanism established by the Northern Irish peace settlement to protect the rights of minorities. Ironic, don’t you think? A shameful abuse of power, I call it.
Those dour old dinosaurs really need to step out of their orange lodges and into the light. Public opinion in Northern Ireland is firmly behind reform and who would have thought only a few years ago the people of the Irish Republic would have voted so convincingly for marriage equality? But then, they are no longer held in the medieval grip of the Catholic Church, thank the Lord.
Liam and I formed a Civil Partnership in 2008 and then converted to marriage as soon as we legally could. My mother is Northern Irish and proudly so. I have family connections across the province. We now have the ludicrous situation where our marriage is, or soon will be, legally recognised throughout these islands except for one small corner, all because of a band of crusty old bigots in orange sashes on the wrong side of history. As if the people of Ulster haven’t suffered enough.
Change will eventually come. The writing’s on the wall. I invite you to help it along by signing the latest petition here.
When, one winter’s night in 1958, Ian Harvey (a minor apparatchik in Her Maj’s Government of the day) was caught pleasuring a Coldstream Guard in the bushes of London’s St James’s Park, Winston Churchill is said to have remarked,
On the coldest night of the year? It makes you proud to be British.
I laughed when I read this but it does reveal the barefaced hypocrisy of the ruling class at the time with their do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude to sexual shenanigans. Boy-on-boy activity was on the menu at every British public (i.e. private) school and fagging* was the dish of the day, whereas us plebs could be banged up for even the briefest of fumbles behind the bike sheds. Many were. Now there’s a fascinating new book that prises open the Establishment’s closet door and shines a torch into the dank recesses. Closet Queens by Michael Bloch is a survey of alleged gay or bisexual male politicians of the Twentieth Century. From tittle-tattle to open secrets, it’s an amusing read. But what about the plaster saints of the cassock class? There are a quite a few bones rattling away in the rectory, or so I’ve heard.
As for Mr Harvey, he got off lightly with a small fine and a slap on the wrist but he was forced to resign his ministerial position. For a Tory, he sounds quite a decent sort of chap. He paid the errant soldier’s fine and returned to his wife and kids with his tail between his legs. From 1972 onwards, he was the Vice-President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. And that’s not all. In 1980 he became Chairman of the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. Blimey. I didn’t know there was a Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. In fact, until fairly recently, I’d never seen the words ‘Conservative’ and ‘homosexual equality’ in the same sentence. To be fair, equality wasn’t exactly high on Old Labour’s agenda either. Your average salt of the earth, red blooded working class bloke wasn’t really into poofters; unless it was behind the bike sheds, of course.
*A fag was a young pupil who provided a personal service to one or more older boys. Well, you can just imagine what that involved.
A short while ago I shared this image on Facebook. It was a whimsical tease about the sartorial obsession the religious establishment have with funny hats, as if a silly head covering confers gravitas and wisdom. The idea being that if atheists could come up a millinery gimmick to get them in the papers, they might get taken more seriously. It was a joke, obviously. Not so to someone. A couple of days later, the picture and associated comments disappeared quicker than a South American political activist. Where did it go? Why did it go? Who knows? But then, a few days on, the post miraculously re-appeared. I know it was probably some Faceache anorak in hipster whiskers and top knot but I like to think it was divine intervention.