John Hurt, the first Chancellor of the Norwich University of the Arts, was a talented, versatile and prolific character actor. His superb portrayals of John Merrick, the Elephant Man, Max in Midnight Express and Caligula in the BBC’s I, Claudius immediately spring to mind. There are many, many others in a career spanning six decades. But for me, it was his role as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant which resonated the most. It was 1975 and I was 15 and fretful. The film was a revelation. Not because I wanted to do a Crisp by slapping on, dragging up and renting myself out for a few shillings. No, because I suddenly realised that if Quentin could live an unabashed life during the most hostile of times, then my own coming out might not be so traumatic. Apparently, John Hurt was strongly advised against taking the part. It would be career suicide, he was told. Hurt ignored the doomsayers and I’m so glad he did. And despite a few initial wobbles, my step from the closet turned out just fine.
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)…
Would you Adam and Eve it? Our washing machine and dishwasher conked out within a few weeks of each other. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. They were both installed when the building was converted into flats about eight years ago and had been worked to death ever since. Still, to lose two appliances at once looks like carelessness, to misquote the marvellous Oscar Wilde. The equally marvellous Co-op came to our rescue with instant, no drama service. Quite fitting as we live in an old Co-op warehouse.
The replacement washing machine is from Beko, a Turkish brand. We’re doing our bit to keep the Turkish economy afloat. We chose cheap to keep our own economy afloat. The dishwasher is British made but you’d hardly know it from the manual. I’m not bad at English. I’ve got an O Level in it. But even I can’t fathom the meaning of:
The rapid light flicker fleetly.
Answers on a postcard.
Ten years ago, come Saturday night, you’d find me shaking my booty to the Freemasons surrounded by topless hairy marys. Ten years on, I’m on the sofa thumbing through a dishwasher manual watching sequinned men shake their booties on Strictly Come Dancing. Sad but true. And strangely satisfying.
A couple of weeks back, Liam treated us both to a slice of cabaret at Norwich’s trendy Playhouse Theatre. We were front and centre for a night of song and gossip from veteran actress and national treasure, Anne Reid.
Ms Reid first electrified the nation when she was fried by a dodgy hair dryer in Coronation Street, Britain’s longest running soap. It was 1971 and the untimely death of her character, Valerie Barlow, had 18 million viewers on the edge of their lurid orange velour sofas – about 30% of the entire UK population at the time. After taking time out to do the family thing, Ms Reid returned to the boards and popped up all over the place in film and television. Later, as a 66-year-old jobbing actress, she bedded the future 007 Daniel Craig in the 2003 film, ‘The Mother’. She received a BAFTA nomination for her performance. I would too, if I had the chance to bonk James Bond.
Anne Reid hasn’t looked back since. These days, she’s better known as Celia, the Daily Mail reading bigot with a lesbian daughter in the romantic drama ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, playing opposite old-school socialist Alan (Derek Jacobi). It’s an engrossing tale of family dysfunction with tight, fast dialogue. The show’s been an unexpected worldwide hit for the BBC.
Back to the Norwich Playhouse. Thanks to Ms Reid’s touching renditions and recollections, we left the theatre on a nippy night feeling nothing but warm inside.
We all know Christmas is big for business so Christmas ads must be big too. John Lewis, that bellwether of the British high street, usually leads the pack. Its lavish TV offerings rarely fail to tug at the heart strings or loosen the purse, and this year is no different with a theme centred round the loneliness of old age. Like I need reminding that, childless as we are, our incontinent years might be a little bit crap. John Lewis has been criticised for spending so much on a TV campaign when they could have donated to charity instead. I’m all for bashing the corporate world for not paying their dues and not doing their bit. But in this case, the reproach is a tad misplaced. The campaign is supported by Age UK and has resulted in thousands of extra volunteers for the festive period. Besides, it’s our collective responsibility to care for the vulnerable, not a shop’s.
We also know Christmas is all about over-excited kids brainwashed into wanting bigger and better, faster and flashier. It’s all down to cynical marketing and playground peer pressure: pester-power is the biggest bang in the advertiser’s armoury. Or is it? Grab a tissue and watch this clever message from IKEA Spain. It had me in floods.
The moral of my story? Spend more time with your kids and spare a thought for the two old fairies at the bottom of the garden.
With thanks to John Lennon for the title of this post.
According to a recent article in the Independent newspaper, Norwich is the second most tattooed city in the land, with 41% of people saying they sport more than six images. Coincidentally there are six tattoo parlours in the city centre, all doing a roaring trade. There was a time when tattoos were the preserve of randy roughs and frisky seamen. These days, the streets are teeming with cocks of the county wearing their body art with pride. Everybody’s at it. Some are so well adorned, they could be skinned and hung in the Tate. And yes, the image above is a tattoo of Norwich’s ancient cathedral. Is nothing sacred? Norwich tattoos even get a brief mention in Turkey Street.
‘F-f-fwend,’ said Sean, holding out his hand to an ageing skinhead with a trio of studs in one ear and a spider tattoo crawling up the side of his neck.
Turkey Street, Chapter Thirteen, Blesséd are the Meek
I’m not against tattoos per se. In fact, I’ve got one myself. It’s a sad little thing resting on my shoulder, long faded with age and disfigured by a mole. I had it done many moons ago and have never repeated the experience. It was like having glass dragged across my skin. No, a little body engraving is fine by me, it’s just, like most things, less is more. When the lovely Iwan Thomas was the first to be ejected from this year’s Strictly Come Dancing on the Beeb, maybe it had more to do with the sudden exposure of his breast plate embellishment than his stompy cha-cha-cha. And I do wonder, when the ravages of time take their inevitable toll and taut young bodies are distorted by bingo wings, double-barrelled bellies and thunder thighs, how many men (and women, of course) will regret the artful decisions of their youth.
Image courtesy of BBC/Guy Levy
Norwich life is enriched by regular soirees of beer and banter with a well-preserved couple who have been together since God was a toddler. They will remain nameless to spare their blushes. We’re the same generation and witter on endlessly about the good-old, bad-old days, the state of the nation and who will change our nappies during the bewildered years. It’s a fun and fruity gig.
Last time we met, we all fell into conversation with the pot man collecting a forest of empty glasses from our table. It turned out he was a student at the University of East Anglia working his way through a PhD in Medieval History. He was also gay, clever and quick witted. The young buck took one look at the four old codgers and quipped,
God, it’s like staring at my future. An episode of Vicious.*
Well that put us in our place. You’ve got to love the young.
*Vicious is a recent high camp, hit-and-miss TV sitcom featuring a couple of elderly theatrical types starring a couple of old thespians, Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen.