The tail end of August saw us in old London Town to commemorate what would have been the 59th birthday of an old friend who died unexpectedly in January this year. It was our first trip to the Smoke since lockdown and we were understandably anxious. It’s only about 100 miles from here to there but it might as well be another country.
The shiny new train wasn’t busy. We almost had the carriage to ourselves and most passengers complied with the ‘new normal’ – face mask-wise. Booking into a hotel for a couple of nights gave us the chance to test the waters. We rode the Tube and drank in familiar Soho haunts. It was fine.
The early August heatwave gave us hope that we might have a picnic in St James’s Park – a fun and fabulous tradition developed over many years – but, alas, the weather turned blustery so we made do with a restaurant as ‘Storm Clive’ passed overhead. We came together under the shadow of Eros on Piccadilly Circus – except of course, it’s actually a statue of Eros’ less well-known sibling, Anteros, but everyone calls it Eros anyway.
I can’t share any images of the actual birthday bash. Some of the assembled are social media shy and don’t want their images online. And who can blame them? Suffice it to say it was a joyous occasion – old friends talking old times through a jolly, drunken haze. And Clive was there in spirit.
Weather in these isles is notoriously unpredictable at the best of times but, all things considered, summer this year has been good. Just as well with all this lockdown business. June was warm and dry, July was wetter and August has been a scorcher so far. Whenever the mercury rises, out comes the BBQ, bangers and burgers. On the hottest day of the year, we popped to the shops for grill grub and, after getting home, threw open the stable door to our little porch. The heat rushed in and the fire alarm went off. We had to unscrew it from the ceiling to get it to stop.
Later that day, as I was flipping the burgers, I stepped on a wasp with my bare foot. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down too well with the wasp and the angry little bugger stung me. It was my first time. Until that painful moment, this city boy had never been stung – bitten many times, yes, but stung, no. I didn’t know how I’d react, physically. Thankfully, I didn’t go into anaphylactic shock and have to be rushed to hospital. I did, though, hop around the lawn screaming ‘ouch, ouch, ouch.’
‘Don’t be such a drama queen,’
Liam said before pouring me a large glass of medicinal white.
If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. No, not teddy bears having a picnic but a rainbow tree adorned with ribbons and messages of hope for troubling times.
Glorious weather brought out flocks of lycra’d cyclists and packs of dog walkers in sensible shoes. Everyone toed the line, distance wise, and we didn’t encounter any pond life thinking the 2 metre rule didn’t apply to them.
By the end of our stroll we’d worked up quite a thirst but, as the pubs are all shut, we made do with a glass or two in the garden afterwards. Life could be worse. We could run out of booze.
It was the calm before the storm. We flew out just before Storm Ciara barrelled across the flatlands on the Jet2 poofs and pensioners express to Gran Canaria with an all-male crew who minced up and down the aisles dishing up relentless jollity with the booze. We fitted right in and celebrated with fizz.
For our fix of winter sun this year we’d gone a bit more upmarket, staying at the Canary Garden Club, a well-appointed collection of whitewashed bungalows set in lush, beautifully-tended gardens. The sparkling pool was gorgeous though somewhat marred by the assortment of old fossils drying out in the sun. Still, it made us feel young again.
This was intended to be R&R gig and so we only ventured out once to the Yumbo Center – the epicentre of gay nightlife in Playa Del Inglés – with its trashy bars with their trashy boys flaunting their trashy bits. A likely lad emerged from the shadows and offered us Charlie, and I don’t mean my mother’s favourite fragrance from the seventies.
The gay scene has evolved down the years from the small intimate bars of my youth, partially hidden from view so as not to offend the easily offended, to cocktail cafés spilling out everywhere, in-yer-face drag shows banging out the show tunes and brash cruising establishments that do exactly what they say on the signs, and more – Sodom and Gomorrah in sequins and leather. We left it to the wide-eyed and lustful, and were in bed by midnight.
Most days we dined early and watched the sun go down over the Atlantic – just what the doctored ordered after an over-eventful year.
We arrived back at Stansted late – too late to travel back all the way to the middle of nowhere – so we’d pre-booked a budget hotel, or so I’d thought. To my surprise and total delight, Liam had upgraded us for Valentine’s. And on the train back to Norwich the next day, the guard hole-punched our tickets with a heart. Who said romance is dead?
Since we became village people, hardly a day has passed when it hasn’t rained – drizzle one day, deluge the next and endless dreary skies. Even the ducks have had enough. So at this time of year a young (and not so young) man’s fancy turns to a bit of cheap fun in the sun. Unlike the ducks, we’re flying south to Gran Canaria.
Whereas in 2019 we lodged in a bijou men-only bungalow complex for wrinkly friends of Dorothy, this time we’ve going large and going upmarket. While it would be rude not to venture to the bars at least once for our annual no nonsense in-yer-face, up-for-anything fix, I suspect the main event will be chick-lit under a parasol by day and cocoa laced with a medicinal nightcap by bedtime.