I’ve always said that if I was a stick of Brighton rock, you’d find the words ‘city boy’ stamped all the way though me. And if, as a city boy living in the city, I’d heard gunshot, I’d have called the old bill, no hesitation. The truth is, despite the crime and the grime on the mean streets of old London town, I never heard gunfire for real, not once. Now I’m in the middle of huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ country where men are men and birds are nervous, I’m slowly learning to embrace the back of beyond. When I hear both barrels go off in the mean fields of Norfolk, I just shrug my shoulders and chuck another log on the wood burner. Pity the poor pheasants, though.
I first met Clive Smith a few weeks into our first year of secondary school. My very first memory was him doing a skit of ‘The Fenn Street Gang’ – some of you oldies may remember the seventies sitcom. He was doing all the voices, mostly female I have to say. It was hysterical. I liked him instantly. A theatrical life beckoned.
We travelled together through our teenage years – birds of a feather, you could say. And what adventures we had.
There were the incredible school trips – all the way to Russia by train then back by sea on an old Soviet rust bucket. We shared the boat with a girl’s school from Scarborough and attempted to chat up the lasses – really, who were we trying to kid?
But it was the afternoons in the front room of Clive’s home in South London I remember and treasure the most – gossiping and talking schoolboy sex to a soundtrack of Elton, 10cc, Alice Cooper and Bowie – lots of Bowie – oh, and way too much Roxy Music for my liking.
In the late seventies, Clive came to see me at work in Habitat on Chelsea’s King’s Road. He had something to tell me. ‘I’m gay,’ he announced. He’d come out to me next to a stack of trendy crockery in the middle of the shop floor. ‘No, you’re not,’ I replied. ‘I’d know if you were.’ Shows how little I did know.
For years after, Clive was always my Christmas Day guest of choice. Best thing was, veggie Clive always brought his own nut roast. How we laughed over the Coronation Street board game he brought one year. No we didn’t. It was rubbish.
Clive’s greatest attribute was his loyalty, to me certainly, even when I didn’t always deserve it. Typically, he was the first to visit me and Liam in Turkey – no mean feat out of season – and the first to drop by when we moved to the middle of nowhere in Norfolk, house-warmer in hand. It was a bottle of port. He knew us so well. He always kept in touch through time and distance. That was his talent.
I’d known Clive for nearly half a century and, for nearly half a century, we debated and argued, bitched and joked, fell out and fell in, laughed and cried, shared secrets and naughty thoughts.
We may have bickered for nearly fifty years but for nearly fifty years we also loved, more like brothers than friends. And that’s what counts in the end. So all I can now say is, ‘Missing you already.’
Clive died suddenly and without warning from a cardiac arrest on 16th January 2020. He was 58.
I heard through the grapevine that a bottle of vino from Norfolk had been recognised as one of the best in the world. It won a platinum best in show medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017, one of the industry’s most prestigious competitions. Fancy that! The winning white, the Bacchus 2015, comes from the family-run Winbirri Vineyard on the edge of the Broads National Park. Apparently, the name Winbirri comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘win’ for wine and ‘birri’ for grape – though I suspect rough beer was the tipple of choice back in the day for those merry Angles of old swigging from their drinking horns, Beowulf-like. And so it is again, judging by the spectacular revival of indie brewers across East Anglia. These days, it’s artisan ale and hipster whiskers at every tavern. Drinking horns have yet to come back into fashion. Give it time.
English wines have been winning gongs galore for a while now. The weather’s brighter these days, it’s a global warming thing. With rising sea levels, we might as well make merry before the North Sea laps about our knees. At 14 quid a bottle, the Winbirri winner is a bit pricier than the plonk we normally guzzle but we thought we’d give it a go to see what all the fuss was about. All sold out. Sad face.
Images are courtesy of Winbirri.
The fourth of May was local election day hereabouts. As in many rural areas, the people of Norfolk are conservative with a small ‘c’, distrustful of change and suspicious of (and sometimes hostile to) strangers. That’s why some farming folk keep it in the family and one or two get way too close to their livestock. It’s called Normal for Norfolk. Unsurprisingly, as a rainbow city marooned in a sea of blue, Norwich itself voted for a weave of red threaded with yellow. Norwich isn’t Norfolk, just like Bodrum isn’t Turkey. Apart from the liberal retirees of North Norfolk, the rest of our green and insular county voted Tory. The only crumb of comfort was the damn good thrashing meted out to the right-wing UK Independence Party which, right across the realm, lost all but one of their seats. After all, as Britain heads for Brexit high on the illusion of sovereignty, what’s the point of UKIP anyway?
Next month’s the big one – a general election – where the great British public give their verdict on the road ahead. I’ve always (foolishly) lived in the hope that common sense prevails in the end. But then I picked up the Metro, a free newspaper no better than a celebrity comic but distracting enough to read on the bus. It featured an article called ‘The Baffled of Britain’, a survey listing the things that most confuse the average citizen. Some get me scratching my head too, such as:
The offside rule in soccer
Getting out of IKEA
What women see in Benedict Cumberbatch
How Trump is president of the USA
But way up there at number 3 was…
Gawd help us all.
Wells-next-the-Sea was the venue for this year’s works outing with Jo Parfitt, my partner in crime and the force of nature who is Summertime Publishing. We love a day out at the seaside when the weather’s set fair. Getting there was a bit of adventure in itself. The first stage was a stately railway journey through the ripe fields, reedy wetlands and sleepy hamlets of North Norfolk. My sedation was only interrupted when I spotted the large station sign at Gunton. Well, it didn’t look like a G to me. The two-carriage train deposited us at Sheringham, a bucket and spade resort where undertakers and vets never go out of fashion. Then onto a little bus for a white knuckle ride along the curvy coast, through flint and stone villages with impossibly narrow streets called ‘Old Woman’s Lane’ and the like. There was little time to admire the view. I held on for dear life, wishing I’d worn Pampers.
Well-heeled Wells is a gorgeous little resort and working port surrounded by pine forests, sandbanks and saltmarshes. We lunched aboard the Albatros, a genuine Dutch cargo ship serving up fake Dutch pancakes. They were delicious. The tide must’ve been out because the boat had a distinct starboard list; I felt quite tipsy even before a drop had passed my lips. Happily, I managed to regain my sea legs after half a bottle or so. We didn’t make it down the agenda to the 2016/17 marketing strategy. We got stuck on gossip. Can’t think why.
The train back to Norwich was packed with sunburnt kiddies and lively country cousins out on the lash. The painted ladies opposite shared shots of raspberry liqueur and a Bottecelli babe squeezed into the aisle next to me. As the crowd nudged past, the shapely Norfolk broad fell off her heels and tipped her ample rack into my face.
‘My, my,’ I said. ‘A total eclipse.’ How she laughed.