Football, as we all know, is filthy rich – a huge multi-billion pound global business and a not altogether honest one, with bungs and bribes flying about like confetti. While the beautiful game is not my cup of char, there’s no denying the considerable passion it stirs. After a few difficult years in the shade, the Norwich City Football Team – known as the Canaries – have just been promoted to the English Premier League, the richest of them all, I’m told. The city threw a party to celebrate and thousands of devoted fans pitched up to cheer the team on as the boys in yellow and green paraded through the streets in an open-top bus. It was impossible not to be swept along by the enthusiasm, lighting up a very dull day. The boost to the club’s coffers – not to mention the players’ wages – and the local economy as a whole should be substantial. Well done, lads.
Regular pansyfans may recall that Springtime Books (that’s me and my partners in crime) are working on an anthology of expat stories about Turkey. A huge thank you to those who’ve contributed so far – the book is building very nicely. We’ve already got a fabulous, diverse selection of personal tales and reflections – from Istanbul to Gaziantep, from ‘Chickens in a Buick’ to ’Finding My Tribe in Turkey’, some humorous, some touching and all capturing a personal snapshot. All this means there’s a unique book in the making.
So do keep your contributions coming in (see Turkey Anthology – What’s Your Story? for more info.) We’re about halfway there. I know many of you have some amazing personal stories to tell and, as this book is a ‘thank you to Turkey from expats past and present’, it would be particularly good to have some up-close-and-personal accounts of how Turkey and its people have affected you, touched you. Don’t worry if your idea isn’t fully-formed, just get something down on ‘paper’ and we can finesse it later.
The book is still untitled but to help visualise what it might eventually look like, I’ve got our designer to knock up a mock-up. It’s just an idea at this stage to be taken lightly but does hint at the kind of look and feel we’ll be going for.
British weather is notoriously changeable – from drab to sparkling, drenched to parched, cold to clammy – sometimes all in the space of a few days. Perhaps that’s why it’s a bit of a national obsession and the staple of many an awkward conversation in a lift. It pays to take full advantage when a fine weather front rolls in. And take advantage we did when balmy air blew up from the Continent to bestow a mini heatwave for Easter. We jumped on a bus and headed for a riverside pub in Thorpe St Andrew, a pretty hamlet on the outskirts of Norwich. Liam wanted ducks, I wanted wine. The wine won. The only duck we saw was on a road sign.
The word according to Holy Joe, the former Pope Benedict XVI, is that social change in the sixties created the cancer of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The ex-Vicar of Christ cites, among other things, “the clothing of that time” leading to “mental collapse” and “violence”. So there it is. The Church’s undoing is all down to miniskirts and loon pants – not the secrecy, the silence, the denials, the collusion or the arrogant belief that the Holy See is above the law. No, Joe, priestly kiddie fiddling and other clerical abuses were rife long before the sixties. It’s just that in a more enlightened, less deferential age, people aren’t willing to put up with it. The Catholic Church is not uniquely guilty of these sins, but it is guilty nonetheless. And that’s why the pews are empty come Sunday.
Holy Joe went on to preach that “the death of God in a society” means “the end of freedom”. The end of whose freedom, I wonder? Certainly not mine. It’s not religion per se that bothers me. I’ve no beef with faith as long as it’s not used to demonise others. No, it’s the corrosive stench of hypocrisy that hangs over it that I find offensive. God save us all from the bigots in the pulpit. And don’t get me started on the hangers, floggers and stoners out there.
We’ve just celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary – steel according to some traditions – so I bought Liam a metal whistle to use when he’s trying to bring me to heel – good luck with that one! We revelled in some style with a spot of lunch at Bishop’s – one of Norwich’s best eateries – all posh nosh and fine wine. Afterwards, we staggered up St Andrew’s Hill for digestifs at The Cosy Club – one of the city’s swankiest drinking dens – fashioned from the Victorian grandeur of the old NatWest bank on London Street. There is nothing particularly cosy about the lavish interior. More style over substance we thought.
As well as our legs-eleven anniversary, it was also thirteen years since we first met after work in a gay bar just off Trafalgar Square in old London Town. Our eyes met across the crowd of boozing suits and bewildered tourists. Liam reeled me in with a double gin. And that, as they say, was that. The number thirteen may be unlucky for some, but definitely not for me.
Sir Ian Mckellen, star of stage, screen and gay bar, turns 80 this year. To celebrate this remarkable milestone, he’s trolling round the country on a nationwide tour of theatres big and small, illustrious and humble. The boards don’t come more illustrious than the Old Vic in London or more humble than the 300-seater Maddermarket Theatre here in old Norwich Town. It was to the Maddermarket we trolled to catch his one-man show.
And what a show he put on – from Gandalf to Shakespeare via Gerard Manley Hopkins and TS Eliot, all sprinkled with intimate memoir and gossipy anecdotes – like spending the evening with your favourite uncle, the one with a racy past and funny tales to tell. Wise, witty and utterly charming, Sir Ian (or Serena as he’s affectionately known to the brethren) doesn’t hide his light or sexuality under a bushel. He’s very matter of fact about both – modest about his immense talent and a ‘so what?’ attitude about his love life. How he can drop into character, instantly recalling long, complex soliloquies from the Bard is beyond me. His campy, high-pitched Juliet was pure joy.
There are many wonderful stories about Serena but perhaps my favourite is the time he arrived in Singapore to roll out his King Lear. Man-on-man hanky-panky was (and still is) illegal in the city state where the punishment is the cane and up to two years in Sing Sing. He was being interviewed on breakfast TV and asked the host where he might find a gay bar. I suspect one or two viewers choked on their muesli.
I don’t usually plug books here in pansyland, especially those I’ve published. I try and keep work and life separate as I’m bound not to be impartial. But, I’m making an exception with our latest release – This Messy Mobile Life by the fragrant Mariam Ottimofiore. Why? Because Mariam is one of the nicest authors I’ve worked with and it’s a cracking read – full of humility and wisdom as Mariam tries to navigate through the messy multi-cultural maze that is her family life. Believe me, not all writers I rub up against are as agreeable. I bite my tongue (mostly) as the business keeps us from the workhouse.
Do your family dinners happen in more than one language? Do you celebrate Christmas and Eid? Do you and your family feel at home in more than one country? If so, then you may be a MOLA Family and yes, this multicultural, multilingual, mobile life can get a little ‘messy’.