Back to Oz

As dedicated friends of Dorothy, it’s been a long old slog along the yellow brick road back to Oz. Two years later than planned because of COVID, we finally arrived at the Emerald City (AKA Langley School) courtesy of the Funky Theatre Company. It was well worth the trip – a joyful gig packed to the rafters with energy and enthusiasm. Full marks to wardrobe for the incredible costumes. And to the set designers who gave us a stage full of richness. From the first scene to the last, the show was non-stop magic – from the young and not so young, the leads and the ensemble. It was fantastic to see so many familiar faces treading the boards and giving us their all. Who knew there was so much talent in this little corner of Norfolk?

A special shout out must go to Karen Peck, who stepped in at the last minute to play the Wicked Witch of the West. Way to go, my pretty!

Catch Me If You Can

Nearly three years down the line, we really thought we’d dodged the COVID bullet. But then our luck ran out. While in Bulgaria, we both started to develop a cough – nothing too onerous, just a tickly irritant. Better safe than sorry, we took a lateral flow test when we got home. And, yes, you guessed it, the dreaded lurgy had finally caught up with us.

We don’t know if we caught COVID before, on the way to or during our brief getaway but we were relieved that our Bulgarian hosts proved to be negative. We didn’t fancy blood on our hands.

Our symptoms were fairly mild – more man-flu than death-bed – and, for me, didn’t last long. After a few feet-up duvet days watching mind-numbing daytime telly, I was feeling much better. Sadly, for Liam, it still lingers like an unwelcome guest who won’t leave.

During our confinement, our neighbours were marvellous, with offers of help and home deliveries. Thankfully, we already had a supermarket shop booked – otherwise we might have run out of wine. Now that would have been a real emergency. Special thanks to our local innkeeper’s missus who popped by with pick-me-up McDonald’s milkshakes. You know who you are!

Go West, Young Man

We have old friends in Torquay, a palm tree-lined seaside resort in Devon. We hadn’t seen them in ages because of the pandemic, so a catch-up was well overdue. All roads lead to London, and we didn’t fancy the hassle of crossing the sprawling metropolis only to come out the other side, so we flew from Norwich International airstrip to Exeter International airstrip on a little jet – like Z-listers without the paps.

Old Exeter – Roman Isca Dumnoniorum, Saxon Execeaster – has been around a while, though at first glance you’d never know it. The Luftwaffe did a great job flattening the city in the Second World War, so you have to look closely to find ancient treasures.

Mercifully, the magnificent cathedral, founded in 1050, was spared the hellfire that destroyed pretty much everything else – a little odd considering it sticks out like a bullseye at the heart of the city. Although I’m not religious in the slightest, I do so love a gander round a holy pile.

Most of what the visitor sees is thirteenth century, and what impresses first is the awe-inspiring ceiling that soars towards the heavens. At 96 metres, it’s the longest continuous medieval stone vault in the world. It surely convinced the hovel-dwelling, unwashed illiterati of old that it was made with divine intervention – and so helped keep them on their knees.

And then there are all the elaborate tombs – mostly containing the old bones of long-dead bishops.

And the stained glass windows aren’t bad either.

While Norwich hosted T-Rexes and steppe mammoths for the summer, Exeter went for giant cutesy street dogs.

After Exeter, we spent the next couple of days hitting the sherry and chewing the cud with our old muckers at their palatial digs in Torquay. And fantastic it was too. Our hosts are a little camera shy so, instead, here’s an elegant bust of Agatha Christie, the queen of the whodunnit and the best-selling fiction writer of all time, who was born in the town.

Ten Lucky Years

A decade has now passed since we closed the door on the stone house in Bodrum for the last time and brought our four-year Turkish adventure to a sudden end. And ever since, while the world has continued its grim descent into oblivion, we’ve just carried on regardless. Our Anatolian days taught us to think differently and live differently – making do with less and being all the happier for it.

After Turkey, we pitched our tent in Norfolk, a flat and bountiful corner of old England – first in Norwich, then Chedgrave, a village few people have heard of. To begin with, we rented, trying the city on for size. Our first lodgings were a 400-year-old former weaver’s gaff in flint and brick near Norwich’s University of the Arts. We loved it, giving us a taste for city life and its student vibe. But our antique digs were cold and draughty and, even back in 2012, cost a king’s ransom to heat. Gawd knows what the bills are like now.

After a couple of years, we decided to put down roots and buy our own slice of historic Norwich – a micro-loft in a handsome converted Victorian warehouse, a writer’s garret to polish off Turkey Street, my second memoir.

At the time, our savings were still in Turkish lira earning pretty good interest. Little did we know that the lira was about to take a dive – and lucky for us, we converted to sterling just in the nick of time. Only days later Turkey’s currency dropped off a cliff, and it’s been more or less in freefall ever since. Had we hesitated it might have been the workhouse for us, not some trendy city-centre apartment.

Five years later, we fancied a quieter life, with room to breathe and a log burner to keep our tootsies toasty. We put the micro-loft on the market and it was bought by the first person to view. Quite by chance, Liam noticed a tiny 1850s worker’s cottage for sale. We came, we saw, we bought. Five months into our village life, the world was in lockdown, and our cottage was the perfect place to ride out the storm. Our luck was still in.

Truth is, we only chose Norfolk because we needed somewhere we could actually afford and that was a relatively easy commute to London: there was family stuff to deal with. But as time moved on there was no longer a need for us to stick around the sticks. For a while, we toyed with God’s Own County – Yorkshire – with its big-limbed, hunky Heathcliffs. It certainly does have its moody blue attractions among the moors and mills.

But we’re rather taken with our East Anglian hamlet, with its broad Naarfuk brogue, big skies and chirpy birds with their squawky dawn call – loud enough to wake the dead in the churchyard next door. And we may be newbie Norfolk broads but we’re definitely not the only gays in the village.

The cottage is my nineteenth address. Will I make it to twenty? And will our luck hold? Who knows? But we do have a coffin hatch just in case the Grim Reaper comes a-knocking.

We Cross the ‘T’s, Dot the ‘I’s and Put ‘U’ in the Middle

This spells out TUI (get it?) and is the not so catchy slogan from probably Europe’s largest travel company. Sadly there wasn’t much crossing and dotting going on at Norwich Airport as we waited to board our TUI flight to Tenerife. But we were in the middle – the middle of a scrum of mostly pissed-off pensioners. The normally docile grey herd, who usually do little more than tut, had turned into saga louts frothing at the mouth. The drink hadn’t helped.

Why? Because after hanging around for hours, TUI cancelled our flight – adding to the huge number of recent flights scrapped at the last minute as millions of Brits try to migrate to the sun after a couple of turbulent years due to COVID.

‘Operational issues’, is all we were told. We didn’t know if this meant a wing had dropped off the plane or some trolley dolly had broken a nail. Nor did the harassed staff at the departure gate. They valiantly did their best to calm the crowd while being drip-fed (mis)information from TUI HQ. There wasn’t much to smile about.

Eventually, TUI put us up at the Holiday Inn where we were fed and watered – because they had to. Then in the early hours of the next day, we were bussed all the way to Gatwick – yes, Gatwick, London’s second airport – a distance of around 150 miles as the crow flies.

“This better be worth it,”

Liam said.