On our recent trip to London we strolled past the Greenwich Tavern, just outside the gates to Greenwich Park. Before it went all gastro-pub with real ales and posh nosh, it used to be a spit and fairy-dust bar called The Gloucester, with weekend drag to amuse the boozers and cruisers. I went a couple of times back in the day. It was fun.
The Gloucester of old featured in Beautiful Thing, a 1996 Channel 4 film. Shot on a rough and ready South London council estate during a heatwave, the screenplay was written by Jonathan Harvey based on his play of the same name and had a fantastic cast of newbies, many of whom have gone on to bigger things. It’s my favourite coming out tale – warm, grounded, gritty and witty – played to a soundtrack of The Mamas and the Papas. Here’s the trailer:
When we got back to the village, I dusted off the DVD and we watched it all over again for the umpteenth time. A beautiful thing indeed.
Last Christmas, our gift from the in-laws was a fancy meal in a top-notch Indian eatery in old London Town – at a time and date of our choosing. We waited ’til spring to combine our lunchtime curry with a nautical-themed long weekend, staying in Greenwich, home to the Prime Meridian – of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) fame.
Our first day was spent following the crowds along the tourist trail around the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, popping in and out of the museums. Unlike my last trip as a young whippersnapper, we didn’t make it up the hill to the Royal Observatory. Liam was crest-fallen that he didn’t get a chance to stand astride the Prime Meridian.
On day two we cruised the riverboat from Greenwich pier to Battersea Power Station, which once lit much of London but has since been redeveloped into well-appointed rabbit hutches with obscene price tags. We were hoping to look around the massive power station itself but it wasn’t to be; it’s still a work in progress. The Cinnamon Kitchen – the chic venue for our meal – more than made up for our disappointment. The nine-course taster menu was probably the best Indian food I’ve ever had. And the mango sour cocktails weren’t bad either.
Our final full day in the Smoke saw us taking in the sights, sounds and exotic smells of Borough (up)Market followed by a quick gander round Shad Thames, the uber-trendy South Bank district, and a troll along the riverside Queen’s Walk. It’s an area I know fairly well and was the venue for my jury service at Southwark Crown Court back in the day. Eventually we docked at the best-guess replica of the Golden Hind, the first English ship to circumnavigate the globe, captained by Francis Drake – hero, buccaneer, pirate, thief (delete according to taste). After all that exertion, who could refuse us a restorative tonic and gin at an old riverside inn?
I remember the days when spoof meant imitate for a laugh and spam was cheap tinned meat of dubious nutritional value popular with students. Now I’m plagued with spoof and spam telling me my PayPal and Amazon accounts have been suspended and warnings of dire consequences. The latest wheeze comes from fake couriers with their ‘pay up or else’ mantra. It’s easy to be taken in. Many of the emails look genuine enough, professionally written and with all the right branding. But some fraudsters are just a little bit thick and couldn’t pull the wool over a trained monkey. Take this one (allegedly) from the Royal Mail, a UK company.
In November 2020, quite by chance, we were asked to participate in a national COVID-19 study being run jointly by the Office for National Statistics and Oxford University. Initially this involved regular doorstep PCR tests – a tonsil-tickling, snotty choke-and-sneeze fest. After a while we were asked to provide blood samples too – a messy affair until we got the hang of the prick, squeeze and drip routine. Despite the fuss and tissue mountain, we were glad to oblige – doing our bit and all that.
In between PCR tests, we’ve also been taking regular lateral flow tests. Unlike friends, family and neighbours, so far we’ve dodged the COVID bullet. We can’t quite believe it. It’s not like we spend our days huddled under the dining table waiting for the all-clear from the Home Guard. Normal services have long been resumed and we’ve been out and about a lot – around the village, around Norwich and, particularly, around London with jostling crowds and busy (sometimes incredibly busy) public transport. Let’s face it, the London Tube is rammed much of the time.
COVID infection rates remain stubbornly high and we’re under no illusions. We’ve been lucky, very lucky. Touch wood, as they say. I’ve been hugging the entire forest.
I first posted this way back in February 2020 but then COVID-19 took centre stage and the rest, as they say…
Two years down the line and my brother-in-law will soon be on the road, walking coast to coast across Ireland. He’s bought a stout pair of walking boots, the rucksack’s fit to bursting and he’s ready to roll. I hope he’s packed a bottle of whiskey and a brolly too. He’ll need both. I know times are hard and bills are rising but if you can spare a few pennies, that would be really something. Click the image to find out how.