Strangers’ Hall

Strangers’ Hall

A bitter east wind blew us into Strangers’ Hall with its unassuming entrance on Charing Cross. That’s Charing Cross in Norwich not its more celebrated twin in Central London from where all distances from the city are measured.

 

Home to wealthy merchants, sheriffs and mayors during Norwich’s textile heyday, Strangers’ Hall is so called in recognition of the ‘strangers’ – asylum-seeking weavers from the Low Countries who helped make Norwich rich during the Tudor period. It was a time when the English weren’t quite so mean to economic migrants – or at least understood their value. Tucked behind the busy street, the lovingly preserved building dates right back to 1320 and is a hotchpotch of inter-linked rooms dressed to impress like a period drama – Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian. You half expect Dames Judi, Maggie and Penelope to wander through in bonnets and bodices. It’s a great way to keep out of the cold and a bargain at just a fiver.

Here are a few momentos.

Liam likes his old bowls.

And his arty through the looking glass pics.

 

 

 

Middle England or Middle America?

Middle England or Middle America?

Middle England or middle America? Imelda Staunton or Frances McDormand? Who could choose? Not us, so we did both.

First up, Imelda was finding her feet in Finding Your Feet, ably supported by a sterling cast of foot-tapping veterans. The trailer doesn’t really do justice to this winter warmer of knobs and snobs, free love and last chances. Charming, witty, a little bit sad and very, very British, I’m so glad I didn’t let the underpowered promo put me off.

And what can anyone say about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri?  I’ll leave it to Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post who wrote…

The film is as dark as they come, a pitch-black, often laceratingly funny look at human nature at its most nasty, brutish and dim-witted.

Amen to that. Frances McDormand bristles with benign menace and the film is pitilessly brilliant, blurring the lines between right and wrong. Oh, and there’s an awful lot of swearing in it too. Here’s the trailer. Best change channels now if you’re offended by the C word.

Schindler’s Lift

Schindler’s Lift

Following a boozy afternoon on the tiles, I had no memory of making it back to our hotel in East London. This is despite staggering from Soho to Piccadilly Circus to get the Tube, changing at Oxford Circus, taking the Central Line to Stratford, finding the hotel and checking in. I was thankful to wake up in the right room in the right hotel with the right person. Liam couldn’t remember anything either.

I rolled out of bed and peered through the window. The first thing I noticed was how high up we were. It was quite a view, with the London 2012 Olympic Stadium – now home to West Ham Football Club – in the foreground and the city skyline beyond. There were cranes everywhere – saluting the ever-evolving cityscape. The sky was winter bright and the sun hurt my eyes; I drew the curtains and clambered back under the duvet.

After a couple of hours’ dozing and dossing, it was time to drag our weary carcasses back home to little old Norwich to nest and rest. Easier said than done. The Schindler’s lifts were on a go slow and it took ages to get down to the first floor reception to check out. Rather than wait for another sulky lift, we decided to take the stairs to street level. What we didn’t know was that the hotel was perched on top of a high-rise car park and the stairwell just went down, down and down. Our heads thumped in sync with every step into the abyss. For some inexplicable reason, the treads were numbered with felt-tip pen.

And there were the directions just in case we lost our way. Clearly,  the cleaners didn’t make it down very often. And who could blame them?

We had an hour or so to kill before our train, so we settled on the best hangover cure – a full English in a fancy restaurant. Yes, that’s a dead tree behind Liam. Very fancy.

The Naughty Square Mile

The Naughty Square Mile

It was high time for a little naughty fun in the smoke – a chance to spend a boozy afternoon with the London landlady of our Turkey years and an old mucker of mine from way back when. First stop was the French House, an iconic Soho watering hole popular with arty types. It’s a…

…fabulous and entertaining spot to raise a glass in London, the French House truly deserves its reputation as the best known pub in the world’s naughtiest square mile. It’s no music, no machines, no television and no mobile phones rule makes it a haven for conversationalists and a firm favourite among some of the best known names in show business.

Even if they do say so themselves.

And converse we did through four bottles of their finest house plonk. Sadly, the clientele was a bit light on thespians and there was nobody famous to gawp at.

Cheers!

Next up was a Thai vegan restaurant. Imagine me doing vegan? Not when I’m sober. It was tasty enough but a bit of pricey for a plate of rice and veg sprinkled with a few cashew nuts and not at all fit for soaking up the Devil’s brew.

Finally, we fell into The Admiral Duncan, a gay bar made famous by a nail bomb which, in 1999, killed three and maimed many others. It was good to see the old place still thriving after all these years despite the advent of ‘dating’ apps which have killed off many a clip joint. It’s the Amazon effect. Why bother with the faff and expense of propping up the bar hoping for a chance liaison when you can order in with free delivery?

Admiral Duncan

Our former landlady popped to the loo to spend a penny and got more than she bargained for. Liam asked if she was alright.

Not really, no. There’s a transsexual masturbating in the ladies.

I had no words.

Tales from Hollywood

Two Hollywood stories caught my eye recently as I flicked through my newspaper and sipped my coffee in a local café. The first was the revelation that comedy actor Richard Prior and brooding macho heartthrob Marlon Brando had been lovers. Generally, I don’t go in for celebrity tittle tattle. I really don’t care who does who as long as it’s consensual and they don’t frighten the horses, but it was the statement from Richard Prior’s widow that, given enough cocaine, her husband would…

…f**k a radiator and send it flowers in the morning…

that had me spitting out my americano. What a woman. I’m not sure I would have been quite so magnanimous.

The second story was the news that British-born actor John Mahoney had died at the age of 77. John Mahoney found fame later in life as the crabby blue-collar dad in ‘Frazier’ who delighted in pricking the pretensions of his snobby sons. He was often handed the best lines and one of the best was…

Boy, things have really changed since my day. Back then, if a girl got into trouble, her family would send her away to relatives in another state and if anyone asked, just lied and said she went to Europe. Then when she came back, they’d raise the baby as a little sister. Not like today, we had morals and values back then.

I remember those values. And I see them coming round again.

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.

Can I Get, Like, a Coffee?

Can I Get, Like, a Coffee?

It’s often said that the strength of the English Language is its extraordinary ability to absorb, evolve and invent. All fine and dandy. Otherwise we’d still be grunting like Beowulf. But being old and increasingly resistant to change, there are some modern verbal twists that make me want to scream – literally.

Here are a few of my least favourite things.

Like

I like ‘like’. It’s a likeable little word with an ancient pedigree – Old Norse – handy for many a sentence. Handy that is except when it’s repeated ad nauseum by some reality TV nobody in terracotta tan and Brazilian.

“She was like, ‘you aren’t using that word correctly’, and I was like, ‘yes I am’. That’s, like, so unfair.”

No it’s not, like, so unfair. It just makes you sound, like, a bit thick.

Can I get…

Strictly speaking, it should be “may I have…” or “I’d like…” but I’m not that much of a purist. I’m okay with “can I have…” even though it’s actually a question not a request, but “can I get…”? No, no, no, it’s just ugly.

Awesome

These days everything is awesome. No it’s not. The Niagara Falls are awesome. The annual migration of wildebeest across the Serengeti is awesome. A meal at Nandos is just chicken.

So…

So, it seems anyone explaining something or telling a story – from learnéd professors on the Ten O’Clock News to the trendy young things on Graham Norton’s big red chair – begin with ‘so’. So, literally everyone’s at it. So, even Mr Norton’s TV company is called ‘So Television’.

And when asked how they feel about something, the response invariably starts with…

You know what?

No, I don’t. That’s why I’m asking, stupid.

Or they’ll say…

I can’t lie.

Which, of course, is a lie.

And then there’s ‘myself’, ‘ourselves’ and ‘yourself’. Why have people suddenly started speaking like a copper trying to talk posh in the witness box? What the hell is wrong with ‘me’, ‘us’ and ‘you’?

Postcode Lottery

A phrase used to describe the variable quality of services across the realm, used over and over again by lazy journalists. Frankly, I’m only interested in the actual postcode lottery and only then if I’ve won the twenty-five grand.

You smashed it/you nailed it/you made it your own/you blew the roof off.

The mindless verdicts delivered by talentless talent show judges to some wannabee who’s just butchered a Whitney Houston classic. Someone really should tell the tele-fodder that their pop career will be shorter than the life cycle of a fruit fly and that the only one really nailing it is Simon Cowell.

Do you want a bag at all? Do you have a Nectar card at all? Do you want a receipt at all?

What’s the ‘at all’ about? All of what? Yes, of course I want a bloody receipt – all of it. How else can I bring something back?

Calling out

Where once we used to challenge, expose, question, examine and probe, now we ‘call out’. Even Maybot (our current prime minister who may not be in Number 10 by the time this nonsense goes out) says it. And her a grammar school girl too. I blame Harvey Weinstein and the rest of the neanderthals who’ve been ‘called out’ with their knickers down.

I’ll give it 250%

Er, no you won’t. You literally can’t.

In politics, optics trump metrics

I think I first heard this techno-babble on the BBC’s Newsnight. Apparently it translates as ‘belief overcomes fact’. Nothing new there – religion has been playing that trick ever since Adam and Eve uttered the words ‘where do we come from?’ In my day, metrics were all about metres and litres and an optic was a device for measuring the hard stuff in a pub. Can I get, like, a double?

 

And last, my most disliked…

Literally

So, everyone’s gone literally crazy. It’s literally this and literally that.

“I literally jumped out of my skin.”

No you didn’t otherwise you’d be in the morgue with your vital organs hanging out – literally.

So, I’m, like, calling out this dreary repetition and misuse of, like, certain words which are, like, literally sending me, like, bonkers.

“Can I get, like, a crappafrappaccino?”

I don’t know, can you?

Here endeth the lesson from a fully paid-up member of the grumpy old farts club.