In Bury St Edmunds, obviously – or is he? The cute Suffolk market town might be the final resting place of St Edmund, ninth-century Christian king of East Anglia. Allegedly, he was cut down by a wild bunch of pillaging Danes doing what the Danes did back then.
Eventually those pillaging Danes saw the error of their wicked heathen ways, dropped to their knees, converted to the ‘One True Faith’ and hung up their horny helmets.
For his sins, Eddie the Martyr was canonised and an abbey founded in his honour by that great Dane, King Canute – he of holding-back-the-tide fame. Edmund even became England’s patron saint for a few hundred years until he was rudely upstaged and replaced by George in or around the fourteenth century. And Georgie boy wasn’t even English. But then, who can compete with a dragon slayer?
In Medieval times, a gravy train of pilgrims rolled in from all over Europe to visit Eddie’s shrine. It was a good little earner and the Abbey of St Edmund became one of the richest, largest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in all of England. Then in 1539 that old letch Henry the Eighth popped along and ‘dissolved’ the abbey (i.e. pillaged like those Danes of old) and that was the end of that.
A sunny day took us across county lines for a gander around the old holy pile. Apart from two impressive medieval gatehouses, little remains of the abbey itself, though next door is Bury St Edmunds Cathedral called – wait for it – St Edmundsbury. The Abbey’s pretty grounds are lovingly tendered by the local council and a dedicated army of volunteers; many of them could well be the descendants of those pillaging Danes who cut down the saintly king. ’Tis their penance.
All is forgiven. Nowadays, we really like the Danes.
Among the roses and the ruins, there’s a World War Two memorial to the US Airforce (or the US Army Airforce as it was known back then). The USAF was, and still is, big round these parts as East Anglia is famously flat and just a short bombing raid to the continent.
But … the current whereabouts of Edmund’s sainted bones is anyone’s guess.
Unlike many of the stately old homos of my generation, I never quite developed a taste for the torch-song trilogy of Garland, Minnelli or Bassey. And I can take or leave the new old girls on the block – the fallen Madonna, nip and tuck Cher or crazy Diana (Ross not Spencer). But, my spot is very soft for a classy dame from Surrey, a woman who first hit the streets in the year war broke out. Then, she was performing with an orchestra in the entrance hall of a Kingston-upon-Thames department store for a tin of toffee and a gold wristwatch. She was seven. Seventy four years on, she is still going strong and is currently on national tour. I am, of course, referring to the iridescent and timeless Petula Clark – child protégé, forces favourite, Hollywood starlet, Sixties pop princess, chanteuse Française and West End superstar.
Autumn was fashionably late this year but made quite an entrance when it did eventually arrive. We were battered by brolly-snapping weather as we wandered the windy streets of Ipswich in search of the Regent Theatre, East Anglia’s largest. We had a stiff double at the bar while we dried off. The drench did nothing to dampen our spirits and as we took our third row seats in the auditorium, the crowd buzzed with anticipation. Miss Clark has been treading the boards for a very long time and this was no better illustrated than by the giddy silver-haired fans who surrounded us. Every care home in Suffolk must have been drained that night. I swear I spotted a St John’s Ambulance crew on standby just in case the excitement got too much; mercifully, we were spared a medical emergency. Still, our Pet raised the blood pressure with a superb performance, giving those X Factor wannabees, a fraction of her age and a fraction of her talent a marathon for their money. From Gershwin to Lennon via Elvis and Gharls Barkley, Miss Clark stepped through her set with style, humour and remarkable agility. Naturally, ‘Downtown’ got the biggest cheer but, for me, it was ‘I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love’ that got me all dewy-eyed. You see, I’d chosen it as the soundtrack to the champagne reception at our Civil Partnership (“Ah,” I hear to cry in unison).
Come the finale of the two-hour gig, the wrinkly congregation got to their feet for the much-deserved standing ovation (though, in truth, it was more of a slow stagger than a youthful leap). Even a wheelchair-bound man in a turban found his legs, Twas a miracle from the lady who famously played Maria Von Trapp’s favourite singing nun. Hallelujah, sister.
Our tatty chattels finally made it across the high seas, landing safely at the port of Felixstowe in Suffolk. Her Maj’s Revenue and Customs eyed the consignment with cynical suspicion and decided to x-ray the boxes for contraband Turkish delight. This public service was provided at our expense, incurring a charge of £100. Isn’t this a bit like being frisked by the fuzz and paying for the privilege? The boys in blue found nothing untoward and the family silver was released. That was that, or so we naively thought.
We received word from the carriers that our precious cargo would be delivered by a 19 metre road train (their words) and if they couldn’t park within 15 metres of our new gaff we could kiss our goods goodbye (my words). When I pointed out that the medieval streets of old Norwich are characteristically narrow and that a 60 foot mega truck was a tad excessive for our modest six square metre load, they recanted and decided that a van of standard girth would suffice.
D Day arrived. The van pulled up outside and two large gentlemen swung into action, huffing and puffing as they piled the boxes into neat rows inside our new living room. The entire sweaty exercise was completed in under 30 minutes. As we unpacked each box, it was obvious that spooky hands had been fondling our family jewels. A shattered lamp emerged from one battered box. Glass fragments from the same lamp magically appeared in a different box. Hey presto. The backs of photo frames had been removed and replaced with the clips left open (the same photo frames suffered the same fate when they delivered to Turkey four years previously). Most distressingly, the base of one of our tall super-sleek speakers had been hack-sawed off and the broken thread lay discarded at the bottom of the box. Just as well we smuggled out the rechargeable marital aids in our hand luggage. Clearly, this bump and grind was much more than a bit of rough handling by a hairy docker. Who would have thought?
We made our great escape from Stalag 17 and dashed to Morrison’s Supermarket to stock up on cheap plonk, check prices and observe the local Suffolk wildlife in its natural habitat. The place was packed. It may have been a Sunday but Brits have long since abandoned praying for paying on the Sabbath. Despite many protestations to the contrary, we found prices more than comparable with Turkey, particularly meat, staples and non-food essentials. While Liam stalked the aisles for bargains, I went in search of a decent newspaper. Morrison’s sold neither the Guardian nor the Independent so I made do with the murky Murdoch’s Times. The queue was fronted by a Suzi Quatro looky-likey, all feather cut, tight ribbed vest and rock-chick tattoos. Suzi was in a heated debate with the check-out assistant, something about a pot plant. I didn’t intrude. I didn’t fancy a volley of expletives from the girl from Devil Gate Drive. We fled back to our bunker to get drunk.
We took time out from our packing, sorting and chucking (how did we manage to accumulate such a vast collection of crap in just four short years?) to have a tipple or three with the winners of the ‘Spot the Gothic Pile’ competition that I ran in March. The winning pansy fans were chosen at random from two stacks of correct answers identifying Norwich Cathedral – one for Blighty and one for Turkey. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Niki from Suffolk (Norfolk’s southern sister) and Paul from just outside Kuşadası (but originally from Suffolk) knew each other? “Fix! Fix!” I hear you cry. Believe it or not, it was a complete co-incidence – honest gov’nor.
I had simply intended to post signed copies but Niki and Paul had bolder ideas. They had a pansy summit in mind, a liquid convention on our home turf. The dastardly plot was hatched and P-Day was planned. We met at Café S Bar, an unpretentious watering hole along Bodrum’s town beach where the rainbow flag flutters in the breeze next to the flags of all nations. Ozzie, the seriously fit convivial host dispenses charm and flirtatiousness in equal doses. At the height of the summer he strips down to his speedos and plunges headlong into the bay, tackle in hand, to spear the catch of the day. It’s done more to impress the mixed mob than to put food on the table. Alas, we’ll miss the brawny burlesque this year.
We made a good-humoured bunch – me and Liam, Niki and her beau, James, Paul and his beau, Nigel and their best Blighty Pal, Kiwi Cheryll. Kiwi Cheryll is a licensed sex therapist with a fruity tale to tell (just don’t ask her about the chocky-wocky do da story). Sensible Nigel and Cheryll sipped the soft stuff while the rest of us hit the sauce. What splendid people. After a jar or two, I signed copies of the book. Sadly, by that late stage in the game my scriblings had degenerated to illegible doctor’s scrawl and I’ve no recollection of what I actually wrote. Cheryll kindly bought the very last copy in my possession – another tenner for our half-empty purse. Four hours in the making, the P-Day Landings were a fun-filled finale to an epoch of epic proportions. Have we made the right decision? We think so but, watch out, one day Jack will be back.