One thing we confirmed during our cheery jolly to Shrewsbury is that, according to Salopians (as Shropshire folk are called), it’s pronounced Shroosbury, as in ‘Taming of the…’. We also discovered that it’s tranquil, polite and stuffed with interest – from amazing ‘olde worlde’ architecture along Dickensian streets with quirky names to match to an embarrassment of watering holes and eateries to suit all tastes and pockets. And rain didn’t stop play – well this was the wet West Country (or rather the West Midlands as pointed out by an old friend – you know who you are). It’s west of East Anglia so that’s good enough for me. In fact, the number of Welsh accents we heard almost convinced us we were actually in Wales.
After a good old gander round the narrow streets and little lanes, we happened upon ‘The Nag’s Head’, a bijou pub on Wyle Cop (yes, that’s the name of the street) to be welcomed by an old codger at the bar supping Guinness. He said…
I knew you were comin’ so I put ABBA on.
‘Dancing Queen’ was followed in quick succession by Freddie Mercury, Elton John and George Michael. As Liam slurped his large Merlot, I googled ‘gay bars in Shrewsbury’ and guess what came up? Yep, The Nags Head.
Britain’s longest river, the Severn, wraps around Shrewsbury like a leafy boa (very much like Norwich’s Wensum) which presumably provided an effective defence against the marauding Welsh way back when. These days the calm waters provide a pleasant riverside stroll and opportunities for a tipple or two on sunny days.
Day two was spent in lovely Ludlow, a genteel medieval, Tudor and Georgian assortment sitting on top of a hill overlooking rolling Shropshire countryside. Poet Laureate John Betjeman described Ludlow as ‘probably the loveliest town in England’ and we could see why. The sun poked through the clouds for market day and judging by the posh merchandise on offer, we knew Ludlow was a notch or two above. The town is famous for food so, after a good look around, we settled on delicious Thai for lunch provided by an Anglo-Thai gay couple. We seem to have a nose for the gay thang.
So that was Shrewsbury and Ludlow. Are they on the leader board for our dotage? Shrewsbury certainly, Ludlow less so. Lovely as it is, I don’t think we’re nearly posh or genteel enough.
Little ol’ Norwich has been voted as one of the top twelve places to live in the UK according to the Sunday Times (as reported in our local rag, The Norwich Evening News). And then Time Out London did a full page spread praising Norwich as one of the happiest cities in the realm. The magazine recommends a few places we know well – The Grosvenor Fish Bar (voted as one of the best chippies anywhere), Wild Thyme for the veggies (but sadly out of action right now due to an inconvenient fire), The Plough (prettiest beer garden in the city), The Playhouse Bar (for an arty student vibe) and Strangers Coffee House (they have their own roastery). I could’ve written the piece myself.
So why are we thinking about laying our cloth cap in God’s Own Country when the time is right? Well, we like it Oop North and, as we shuffle towards our twilight years, it pays to be on the right side of God. Just in case.
Time Out page courtesy of – you know who you are!
To (badly) quote the glorious Victoria Wood, you know you’re getting old when you walk past a shop window displaying a pair of Scholl sandals and think to yourself Ooh, they look comfy. I had a similar revelation when I was thumbing through an Independent on Sunday glossy supplement and came across an advert for flatulence filtering underwear called Shreddies. And there was me thinking breakfast cereal made from wholegrain wheat. But then too much bran can brew a lusty whiff, so perhaps that’s the association. And while we’re on the subject of our grey days, why are the models advertising a product obviously targeted at the winking-sphincter brigade, young and lithe with rings of steel?
Norwich is a retiring kind of town, the perfect place to hang up your boots. The micro-loft is the ideal roost, a lift just wide enough for a mobility scooter (I fancy a tiffany blue number with a harlequin shopping basket in fuchsia), tiny bills that won’t break the piggy bank and a small enough footprint to make light work of domestic drudgery. We’re spitting distance from the local quack for all those inconvenient ailments that get us all in the end. The medical centre comes with a handy on-site Boots for the pills and potions that will keep us going beyond our three score and ten (fingers crossed). And, when one of us does drop off the perch, the Co-operative funeral parlour is right next door (I hear they do a lovely spread, or is that spread you out lovely?) with the Samaritans opposite for the grieving widower. Should either of us try to hedge our bets by finding Jesus at the last minute, we’ve got a church on the corner. Amen to that.
Every so often, Liam whips out his abacus for a fiscal review. Nothing gets Liam’s juices flowing quite like a multi-coloured spreadsheet and a rub of his crystal ball. As we edge ever closer to our incontinence years, Liam has decided that this year’s theme should be death and the hereafter, to make sure all our ducks are lined up in a neat row should the unspeakable happen. I’ve parked a reasonable pension courtesy of my long career as a municipal bean counter and I plan to draw it at 60. The beer-bottle budget isn’t quite enough to support our Champagne tastes but it should prevent the need to turn a few tricks for the living dead down the day centre. But what would happen if I dropped off my perch in the meantime? Well, here’s the thing. Through a bureaucratic fluke, Liam would come into a small fortune. When I caught him fingering the chicken wire at B&Q, I knew he wasn’t contemplating Eggs Benedict. I could hear him thinking ‘I wonder how I could string this across the top of the stairs?’
Aside from late starters, rent-a-womb celebrities and the yogurt pot and turkey-baster brigade, most people of a queer bent don’t have any children. The social revolution that enabled many of us to step out of the closet and skip hand-in-hand through the pansies also robbed us of a safety net. Where are the kids to protect us in our dotage? The irony is not lost on me. Our various nephews and nieces may well be fond of their limp-wristed old uncles but I don’t expect any of them to give up a spare room or change our nappies during our dribbling years.
Care of the old is a hot topic right now and Channel 4 News has been doing its bit to highlight the fate of the oldest gays in the village. I don’t know where Liam and I might end our days but we certainly won’t be stepping back into the closet for the convenience of a born-again carer, whatever the religious persuasion. So what to do?
I’m reading Alan Clark’s ‘Rory’s Boys’ for a bit of a steer (that’s Alan Clark, travel journalist and former mad man, not the late Alan Clark, former philanderer and right-wing diarist). Rory’s Boys is a fictional tale about Britain’s first retirement home for gay men; a private establishment for the well-endowed. We’re not talking a state-underfunded shit-hole where the inmates are ignored or worse by under-trained, couldn’t-care-less carers on zero-hour contracts. In care homes, as in life, you get what you pay for and it’s all our own fault. Society simply isn’t willing to stump up and pay for the old to shuffle off this mortal coil with their dignity intact. I certainly don’t think the municipal pension coming my way will stretch to private care; maybe assisted suicide will be the answer in the end.
Alan Clark and I have something in common (apart from the shirt lifting thang). Our books were both nominated for the 2012 Polari First Book Prize, made it to the top ten then fell at the last fence. I’m only a few pages into the book but, as the title suggests, I’m guessing Rory’s brave new world of cute orderlies with cut lunches and the Sound of Music on a loop, won’t include any of our lesbian sisters. It’s a sad fact of life that gay men and lesbians often struggle to get along. Activism and the marching season may bring us together now and again but generally, that’s it. When sex, romance and parenting are removed from the equation, men really are from Mars and women really are from Venus.
The sequel to Perking the Pansies to tie up the fraying loose ends and bring our Anatolian journey to its crashing conclusion is coming along very nicely. Expect a few surprises. I have a working title of ‘The Sisterhood,’ so this may give a little clue about the main theme. In the meantime, a gentle plug for the books already on the virtual and actual shelves. Hey, a boy’s got to sell his soul to bring home the bacon.
The books are widely available in multiple formats. And if you buy direct from me, I get to keep the lion’s share of the take. For more information, check my website.