The Miller’s Tale

The Miller’s Tale

It was one of those warm and overcast days threatening thunderstorms that saw us at Sculthorpe Mill near the pint-sized market town of Fakenham, about 25 miles north-west of Norwich. The mill sits astride the River Wensum and there’s been a watermill on the site since the time of the Domesday Book of 1086. These days they’re pulling pints rather than grinding corn. Outside, the grounds were trickling and luscious – at this time of year, Norfolk simply glows with bounty, even when the sun struggles to poke through. Inside, the mill was as quiet as a silent order. A little background music on a low setting would have lifted the mood a notch or two.

We were in attendance for the annual general meeting with Jo Parfitt, my partner in crime and the force of nature that is Summertime Publishing. Jo brought her delicious mother along for a light bite too. Lunch was nice and we quickly whistled through the agenda to get to the gossip. By any-other-business, the sun decided to put in a late appearance and we couldn’t resist a few snaps sitting on the old mill pond wall.

After lunch, Jo dropped us in Fakenham to catch our bus back to Norwich. Fakenham was once described as ‘the most boring place on Earth’ in a travel guide. Although the quote was actually taken out of context, it’s rather stuck. Fake news for Fakenham? Perhaps, but despite a few pretty buildings, it did have a one-cow-town feel to it. Sad but true.

A Hard Act to Follow

A Hard Act to Follow

When Liam planned our ‘jolly’ down memory lane, he wasn’t to know it would be the hottest May Day holiday on record. The Sun puts a smile on everyone’s face, doesn’t it? And we smiled our way round Bankside, my favourite district of London. Back when the first Elizabeth was on the throne, old Southwark was a riot of licentiousness – playhouses, brothels and taverns – beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London’s buttoned-up elders who wagged their fingers from the other side of the Thames. This is where Will Shakespeare plied his trade among the players, the prostitutes and the drunks. That’s my kind of town.

Not that there are many ne’er-do-wells milling around these days. The area has cleaned up its act and is now home to over-priced flats, over-priced eateries, over-priced bars, world-class modern art and a working replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It certainly pulls in the crowds.

I went all thespian and began to recite the only lines I could remember from my part in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream circa 1976…

You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear

The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor,

May now perchance both quake and tremble here,

When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.

And roar I did, when Snug the Joiner became the lion in a rabbit costume smelling of mothballs and accessorised with an improvised mane. Times were hard in the seventies.

Liam decided my hammy Shakespeare was putting off the tourists and bundled me onto a riverboat and took me to a different kind of theatrical show – a little fairy dusting of trad drag.

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It was an eventful afternoon made all the more eventful by the delightful boys from the Abbey Rugby Club in Reading. They were on a ‘Monopoly board tour’ and had landed on Trafalgar Square for a queer beer. Well fancy that. And I did.

Bubble-Wrapped Barcelona

Bubble-Wrapped Barcelona

Well not actually Barcelona – Sitges, a smart resort a few miles south which has been a magnet for the A-Gays for donkey’s years, even before that bastard Franco kicked the bucket. And to continue the fine tradition, an old friend and his partner have just exited Brexit and parachuted in. We might join them, who knows? Sitges is a coastal retreat untroubled by the political hurricane currently battering Catalonia. Like expat ghettos everywhere, it’s bubble-wrapped from the tedium of real life.

My flying visit was a business trip with added benefits. My old mucker is opening a gay ‘lifestyle’ store (no sniggering at the back) and I’ve been building his website. The shop should do well given the town’s perennial appeal to likely lads looking for supplies and fancy pants to drop. That was the business bit. Getting to spend time with one of my oldest friends was the benefits bit. Unfortunately, the weather was crap at both ends of the Bay of Biscay. I went from this:

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to this:

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As it was a pac-a-mac break, I didn’t get the chance to rub shoulder pads with surgically enhanced Eurotrash or old queens with painted faces and matching poodles. Still, the food was delicious, the booze free-flowing and the gossip salacious, so it was well worth coming in from the drizzle for. Naturally, the sun came out the day after I left. This is how Sitges normally looks:

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

A Siberian cold front  – ‘The Beast from the East’ – has rolled in from Europe,  cloaking the flatlands in a thick blanket of fluffy snow drifting in the arctic breeze. Cancelled buses forced Liam to take the day off and a ‘real-feel’ of minus 11 means we’re going nowhere. And neither is anyone else judging by St Stephens roundabout, empty save for one brave soul. Come rush hour, it’s normally nose to nipple.

Thank the Lord for central heating.

Milk and Two Sugars, Please

Milk and Two Sugars, Please

This winter’s brought some lively weather to keep us from our slumber and to wake the dead in the funeral parlour next door. Unsurprisingly, the huffing and puffing of storm Eileen and her gusty sisters trying to blow our house down damaged the roof over our heads. So it was over to our property management company to contact our freeholders to contact their insurers to contact the roofers to contact the scaffolders to repair the flashing loosened by the ladies. It’s a long supply chain and, of course, we didn’t get any warning before a couple of butch men in hard hats and tool belts over woolly jumpers arrived to chuck some poles up the side of the microloft. It’s just as well I wasn’t sitting in my underwear and fluffy mules.

I should be used to chance encounters with scaffolders. Before we bought the microloft, the roof of our rented weaver’s cottage had sprung a leak. The workers turned up unannounced then too. But that was in the summer and at least I had something scanty to ogle – discretely, naturally.

And then there was the time back in the day when I had a proper job with a proper office on Kensington High Street. The building had been caged in scaffolding for repainting and repointing. There I was, busy counting beans at my proper desk, when there was a rat-a-tat-tat at the window. I looked up to see my brother-in-law beaming at me.

“Milk and two sugars, please,”

he said.

Yes, he’s a butch scaffolder. And yes, I made him a brew.

Brother-in-law back in the day with his youngest

Turkey, a Land for All Seasons

Turkey, a Land for All Seasons

I was weeding out my files recently and came across a few articles I wrote for On the Ege Magazine back in the day. Memories of glory days long past came flooding back. Sadly, the magazine is no more. So to preserve my witterings for posterity, I’ve decided to re-post them. Feel free to switch channels now. This first post features the cycle of the seasons, a national obsession for us Brits.

Turkey, a Land for All Seasons

The parade of storms that recently rolled into town was a reminder (if one was needed) that Turkey is a land enjoying proper, melodramatic seasons. Here on the Aegean coast we spend six months too hot, six months too cold and six months just about right. We first arrived in Turkey to find our new foster home bathed in a glorious Indian summer and we were lulled into a false sense of meteorological security. Within a month, the pitiless winter was upon us and we were woefully unprepared. We were mugged by a posse of violent electric storms processing over the horizon, a savage spectacle crashing ashore and trapping us inside for days. The rainbows, though, were stunning.

Turkish winters mean business. Prodigious pulses of horizontal rain cluster-bomb every crack and cranny, forcing water under every window frame and beneath every threshold. Towels are requisitioned to ebb the relentless flow. Staying warm is a challenge. Think pre-central heating childhood days when a bed was too cold to get into at night and too warm to get out of in the morning. We sprint to the loo for a morning pee, wear sexless layers and revert to copulating under cover. They don’t mention that in the guide books.

Video courtesy of Euro News. This was the now legendary flash flood that overwhelmed Bodrum in 2015. Miraculously, the old stone cottage we used to rent survived the onslaught with not so much as a dribble. 

The short, sharp winter gradually gives way to a wonderful warm renaissance. Spring in Turkey is a magical time of  year, nature-wise. The hills seem to blossom overnight with a riot of flamboyant flora blanketing the usually arid scrub. We awake from our enforced hibernation, dust down our flip-flops and freshen our speedos. Smiles get broader as trousers get shorter. It’s a brief respite before the unforgiving sun burns the landscape back to its usual two-tone hue of dull green and ochre.

As the mercury marches inevitably upwards, summer slaps us about the face like a merciless wet flannel. By August, varnish peels off window sills, the upper floor of our house becomes a fan-assisted oven and sofas radiate heat like embers from a dying grate. We move slowly, a pair of damp vampires only venturing out between the hours of sunset and dawn – except when we get the chance to mess about in boats, that is.

This too passes and falling temperatures herald our Goldilocks season – not too hot, not too cold. At last, the wilting wilts. We retake possession of our town and watch the hordes climb aboard the last flight home. Bodrum in autumn is in an easy, relaxed mood. Hassle from the press gangs reduces to bearable levels and itinerant workers join the long caravans travelling back east to their winter pastures. Beware, though. Nothing lasts. Winter waits menacingly out at sea.

Sticky Fingers and Sticky Knickers

Sticky Fingers and Sticky Knickers

When Mother Nature flicks the switch, Norfolk broads dance in the park. So it’s no surprise the summer festival season is in full swing, with tasty titbits to suit all palates.

Put the words ‘food’ and ‘drink’ together and you’ve got me hooked. So what better way to reel me in than the Norwich Food and Drink Festival? A scorcher ensured a bumper turnout, with plenty of meaty treats to whet the carnivore’s appetite. Prime Norfolk pig took top billing on the menu – pulled, sliced, rashered, minced and stuffed into sausage skins. The air was thick with a sizzling porky perfume; dedicated veggies could only drown their sorrows at the gin, vodka and wine stalls.

And then there was the eating competition between hungry locals with their I’m-the-biggest-pig-round-here demeanour. It was way too sticky to stick around so we don’t know who won, but my money was on the butch Angle at the head of the table.

As sweat dribbled down our backs and headed south into the steamy abyss, it was time to cool down with a tutti-frutti and a drop of the amber nectar. While all things East Anglian were being celebrated across the city centre, there was something of a foreign invasion in a city field.

Lads in lederhosen and wenches in dirndls were whipping up the crowds with buckets of beer and barbecued Bratwurst at the Bavarian Beerfest in Chapelfield Gardens. Brexit may well mean Brexit but nobody’s going to stop me nibbling on a German sausage. We found a shady bench, gulped the hoppy ale and tapped our feet to the thump, thump, thump of the oom-pah tunes. We hadn’t quite appreciated the strength of the heady brew. The next day it was thump, thump, thump inside our fuzzy heads.

 

Prost!