This year, Liam and I jollied in London for our birthdays. A state of the art, hi-tech micro-room in St James’ was the perfect base for our foraging. We arrived on Remembrance Sunday and the centre of town was buzzing with blazers, badges and bling under a canopy of Christmas lights. It was fun being tourists with time on our hands to roam and drink it all in, something we rarely did when we were worker bees on the treadmill.
Talking of drinking it all in, no trip to the West End is quite the same without a jar or two in a local hostelry. As seems to be our habit these days, we ended up at Halfway to Heaven, a gay bar just off Trafalgar Square and the splendid den of iniquity where Liam first caught my roving eye 13 years ago. Quite by chance, we arrived just in time to catch their annual Remembrance Day show.
The pub was rammed with military veterans – men and women, young and old, straight, gay and everything in between, all in their Sunday best – enjoying a convivial mingle with the regulars.
Halfway to Heaven has become something of a safe and welcoming place for ex-military LGBT people. Who knew? But it was a wonder to behold. When we were at the bar ordering drinks, a middle-aged woman was chatting to the manager.
“Thank you for being so nice to my dad and his husband,”
she said, pointing at two old soldiers in the corner.
The annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival is in full swing right now, an eclectic mix of the performing arts in venues right across the city. One of the more original festival venues is the Adnams Speigeltent in Chapelfield Gardens, a replica Edwardian erection with a handy on-site beer garden to quench the thirst. Last night, we enjoyed a night at the big top with Panti Bliss, the Irish drag queen who’s become a bit of a national treasure in Ireland since her famous exposition of homophobia last year. I wrote a post about Panti’s eloquent speech and remarked at the time that it would change minds. And it has. Panti was no less eloquent last night as she revealed funny, absurd and touching titbits from her extraordinary life. Her social commentary was razor-sharp and the copious consumption of gin did nothing to blunt the edge.
Naturally, Panti has been a dedicated supporter of marriage equality in the Irish Republic. In fact, there’s a national referendum on that very subject today. Let’s hope our friends over the water do the right thing. I’m optimistic. It will mean that across these wind-swept islands, only Northern Ireland* will be holding back the tide of social progress. And a yes vote in the Republic might just shame those dusty old Presbyterians into some positive action. But did Panti get back to Dublin in time to cast her vote?
*In fact, there is no marriage equality in the Isle of Man and Channel Islands either. Except in matters of tax evasion, these off-shore tax havens always have be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era.
Mother’s inaugural royal visit to the weaver’s croft went without a hitch. She was escorted across country by my nephew and namesake, Jack Junior. I wondered if she’d be able to climb the narrow winding steps up to the attic boudoirs. I needn’t have worried. She remains a spritely 83 year and still runs for buses, despite a touch of arthritis. She had a good root around and gave her seal of approval. Fed and brandy’d, she retired for the evening with ‘Fifty Shades Darker’. We took young Jack to the bar at the Playhouse Theatre to discuss his exam results and flourishing love life. This popular watering hole by the water is always bursting with fresh-faced students and earnest artists with a dash of old homos thrown into the mix. The next morning, as Liam fixed breakfast, Mother noticed a timeworn photo of her wedding I keep in a frame on the window ledge. We looked at it together. Handsome Dad looked dapper and proud in his dress uniform and the old girl looked stunning and radiant in her classic cut wedding dress and virginal veil. “But who,” I asked “was the drag queen in the fur next to Dad?”