In the Footsteps of the Durrells

In the Footsteps of the Durrells

We’re off on our hols to sunny Greece. Seven heavenly days round a cool pool in Corfu. We’re flying out from Norwich’s very own international airstrip – small but perfectly formed, a doddle to get to and a doddle to get through. We’re not expecting the full Durrell-esque experience – no crumbling Venetian mansion overlooking the shimmering Ionian Sea and awash with exotic fauna for us. But we have bagged the next best thing for our bargain-bucket budget – a little place slightly off the beaten track. It might come with challenging plumbing but also boasts a set of five star reviews on Trip Advisor for its unpretentious, no-fuss comfort. We intend to do absolutely nothing but sleep, drink, read, drink, eat, drink, oh, and play Scrabble. We’ve packed a couple of torches and a keg of insect repellent. Happy days.

Make mine a double on ice and shove a brolly in it. Yamas!

Norwich, City of Murals

Norwich, City of Murals

I’ve always liked a mural, ever since Coronation Street’s former resident charlady Hilda Ogden tarted up her back parlour with a sea view embellished with a trio of flying ducks. She called it her ‘muriel’ and she was very proud of it. I was rather addicted to Corrie growing up – all those ballsy northern women slapping back life’s many misfortunes with humour and wit. These days, soaps tend to be all bed-hopping, murder and teenage angst with slash-yer-wrist plot-lines. Humour and wit is in short supply. Not my cup of char at all.

And talking of muriels, they’re being slapped up all over the place round these parts. Norwich is a quirky kinda town, pretty for the most part but few British cities were spared the Luftwaffe’s bombs or the post-war planners. Slum clearance was all fine and dandy but the bulldozers also swept away much worth preserving. Some clever soul had an inspiring idea of brightening up a few uninspiring corners with eccentric muriels. Hilda would have approved, I’m sure. Sadly, there are no flying ducks.

What’s the Point of Pride?

What’s the Point of Pride?

They used to say,

‘they shouldn’t be allowed to march.’

Now they say,

‘Why bother to march?’

Certainly there’s more joy than anger on pride marches these days. Yes, attitudes have changed, things are better. But all that glitters is not gold. Recently, Channel Four ran a series of ads made by Pride in London. It was part of the channel’s ‘50 Shades of Gay season’ marking the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The ads featured belated apologies from parents who rejected or ridiculed their own children because of their offspring’s sexuality or gender identity. Still too many parents disown their own for the sake of family, faith and community. Still too many parents worry about how it looks, not how how it is. Still too many young people suffer bullying and rejection – at school, on the streets, at home. Some cope better than others. Some don’t cope at all. We may be living in the age of sexual enlightenment but suicide rates remain depressingly high. Why is this?

‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’

As famously written by poet, Philip Larkin.

Back in the dark ages, my experience with my own family was unusually benign for the times. It helped make me what I am today, for good or ill (no laughing down the back, please). The people in the ads are actors but the message is powerful. That’s why we march. That’s the point of pride.

 

On the Lash

On the Lash

It’s sod’s law. The warmest day of the year so far and I’m home alone. Our large south-facing windows can make the micro-loft a tad sweaty during the afternoon, so I popped out for a paper and a pint. Norwich was abuzz with shoppers in shorts, brats in caps and over-inked scallies in baggy sweatpants. A mixed bill of buskers competed for loose change but none captured the crowd more than King No-One, a young indie rock band from York on a national street tour. They were surprisingly good and received a warm hand. Judge for yourself…

I parked myself on the only free bench outside a local hostelry next to a squad of half-naked lads out on the lash – their tats and tits out for the girls. Rutting Brits are renowned for stripping off at the first hint of a sunbeam, and it isn’t always pretty.  Sadly, the hot totty next to me was more tepid than steaming. As regular readers will know, I’m a dedicated earwigger and I tuned in to the conversation while pretending to pore over the latest batch of dishonest general election promises.

How much does aircon cost to run?

Why do you care? You’re an electrician.

So? I don’t a get a special rate, you know.

You’re out on the lash every night – and you worry about the bills?

Yeah. That’s why I can’t afford the bloody aircon.

The young can be so dull. At least they didn’t bore me silly with inane chatter about the ‘beautiful game’.

After a second jar, I meandered back home for a TV dinner and an evening in front of the box. Sad, I know, but I rather enjoy my ‘me’ moments. As long as they’re not too often, you understand. The old warehouse accommodating our micro-loft is generally kept shipshape, but the foyer is a bit like a chimney and tends to suck in debris from the street – spring blossom, summer petals, autumn leaves, winter sludge and the occasional fag butt. As I waited for the lift, I looked down to see this:

At first I thought a bug had cadged a lift in a Tesco’s home delivery crate. It wasn’t wriggling so I poked it with a key. Turned out to be a false eyelash. Dropped by a one-eyed drag queen, perhaps? All quite normal for Norfolk.

 

East Angrier

Norfolk has its very own community television station called Mustard TV. Why Mustard? It’s a nod to Coleman’s mustard, the city’s famous hot and spicy condiment. The station is run on a wing and a prayer, and presented by those at the very start of their broadcasting careers and others at the very end. With Liam on family duties in London and me with thumbs a-twiddling, I channel-hopped onto Mustard and stumbled on ‘East Angrier’, a vox pop show for local yokels to vent their spleens. Here we go, I thought, another rant by the ignorati spitting out their fake views. But, no, I was pleasantly amused. No bigoted salvos about Johnny foreigners, Islam or Brexit. A few fine citizens had a go at Trump (that works for me) and annoying self-service tills in supermarkets (that works for me too). One Norfolk broad whinged about the number of spam emails she gets (tell me about it) and a grumpy old git reflected on the appearance of his fellow Angles…

Blokes over 30 wearing skinny jeans with the knees cut out look like bleep, bleep.

And…

Bald blokes with ponytails. What the bleep is that all about?

Clearly a man after my own heart.

And then there was the scruffy student fretting he hadn’t finished his essay on David Hockney. He was standing astride the line of blue and green glass tiles which flows down Westlegate marking the course of one of Norwich’s lost rivers – the Great Cockey. This is not to be confused with the Little Cockey which isn’t worth parting your legs for.

John Hurt, RIP

john-hurt

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.

New Balls Please

New Balls Please

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)…

look-east