Middle England or Middle America?

Middle England or Middle America?

Middle England or middle America? Imelda Staunton or Frances McDormand? Who could choose? Not us, so we did both.

First up, Imelda was finding her feet in Finding Your Feet, ably supported by a sterling cast of foot-tapping veterans. The trailer doesn’t really do justice to this winter warmer of knobs and snobs, free love and last chances. Charming, witty, a little bit sad and very, very British, I’m so glad I didn’t let the underpowered promo put me off.

And what can anyone say about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri?  I’ll leave it to Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post who wrote…

The film is as dark as they come, a pitch-black, often laceratingly funny look at human nature at its most nasty, brutish and dim-witted.

Amen to that. Frances McDormand bristles with benign menace and the film is pitilessly brilliant, blurring the lines between right and wrong. Oh, and there’s an awful lot of swearing in it too. Here’s the trailer. Best change channels now if you’re offended by the C word.

What a Gay Day

Freedom to MarryYesterday, the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage in all 50 states and America joined a select group of nations that have introduced marriage equality. The map I’ve featured from Freedom to Marry illustrates the situation around the world before the Yankee vote. In these damp little islands of ours, only Northern Ireland is holding back the tide, Canute-like. The fire and brimstone lot who dominate the Northern Ireland Assembly are in good company – kiddie fiddling priests, the British National Party, Ex-Soviet republics and religious fundamentalists of all persuasions who fine, flog and hang. The dusty old Ulstermen will lose the fight in the end. It’s inevitable. Reason and sanity are against them. Today, the streets of London are paved with gold sequins. It’s London Pride, a grand celebration of everything that’s been achieved. Doubtless, black cab drivers will cuss and bemused tourists will think they’ve landed in Oz. Sadly, we can’t be there to join the party.

Evolution

I’ve always worked, even in the loosest sense of the word. When my dear old dad popped his clogs way too early, my mother lost her husband, her livelihood and her home in one fatal blow. I resolved not be a burden and dropped out of sixth form college to get a job. I was seventeen.

My first brush with gainful employment was at a meat importing company near Smithfield Market in the City of London. It was a tedious gig and some days it sent me to sleep – literally. In those days, I was far too fond of sowing my wild oats. My employers were very forgiving but we both knew it wasn’t a marriage made in bovine heaven.

Next up, flogging light bulbs to the rich and famous in Habitat, a trendy home store on London’s infamous King’s Road (well, it was infamous back in the day). Felicity Kendall was always sweet and Lionel Blair was always vile. My partner in crime was an eccentric old Chelsea girl who had the look of Margaret Lockwood and drove a battered Citroen 2CV. As a pretty boy with a wandering eye, I collected phone numbers on credit card slips and tripped the light fantastic. They were the heady days of a deliciously misspent youth: ‘Days on the tills and nights on the tiles…’ as I wrote in Perking the Pansies (that’s my first book by the way. Not a bad read so they say). Eventually, I abandoned the Lighting Department for the counting house and rose to the rank of Chief Cashier. Cooking the books took all of half a day and I soon tired of flicking the abacus and twiddling my thumbs.

A life in the New World beckoned. I threw caution to the wind and boarded a Freddie Laker flight to the good old U.S of A – a one-way ticket to the land of the free and the promiscuous. I planned to stay and wallow but after a few months spreading the love in Washington DC, I became homesick. Before long I was flying back across the Pond to a land being ravaged by rampant Thatcherism. Imagine if I had I stayed the course. I could be a Yankee citizen with an irritating mid-Atlantic accent and a completely different tale to bore you with.

The Iron Lady would have approved of my next position – credit controller at Citibank, trying to extract cash from the cashless. It was a soulless task. As a bleeding-heart liberal, my face was never going to fit and I jumped ship before I went under. Besides, it was time for me to grow up and get a mortgage. I got a proper job with a pension attached at the council. This wasn’t any old council, mind. Oh no, we’re talking the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a beneficent parish with the richest real estate on the planet and enough reserves to bail out Greece. More through luck than judgement, I crawled up the career ladder and become quite important with a fat budget and a hundred people to boss about. But then I met Liam and he turned my head with dreams of hazy, lazy days in the sun. I was seduced. We liquidated our assets, upped sticks and lived the dream for a time. It was the best thing I ever did, and we did it for as long as we could.

And now we’re back on home turf. Why? Well, you’ll have to read the sequel to find out. We soon looked for ways to pass the long samey days, anything to avoid the empty calories of daytime TV. Quite by chance, Turkey turned me into a writer and new skills bring new opportunities. What are they? Find out more in a day or so…

Bewitched

The CrucibleMaddermarket Theatre Blue PlaqueA damp and dingy Saturday afternoon saw us at the Maddermarket Theatre for an am-dram matinee courtesy of the Norwich Players. We were Maddermarket virgins and I fancied a peek at the converted Catholic chapel. A striking Sixties’ add-on foyer looked better on the outside and led us to the interior of the church, reconfigured as an Elizabethan playhouse. We took our pews for The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s loud and densely scripted account of the Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts at the end of the Seventeenth Century. I looked around the audience. Many of them could well have sailed on the Mayflower. By now, we’re used to mingling with the grey herd at Norwich’s cultural events, but the care homes of Norfolk must have been deserted that afternoon. When the over-generous use of dry ice to create the misty ambience of a midnight glade threatened to gas the first four rows, I feared some of the punters might not make it back to the coach.

Maddermarket Theatre

Miller’s now iconic play is a story of rampant fundamentalism, ignorance and the abuse of power. Mass hysteria is whipped up to impose religious orthodoxy and settle old scores. Miller wrote the piece as an allegory of Fifties’ McCarthyism when the U.S. government hounded and blacklisted alleged communists (and socialists and liberals and anyone else who didn’t tow the party line). Sound familiar? Just take a look around the world. The play’s core message is just as relevant today as it was then. The talented thespians did well to deliver the difficult drama with conviction leaving us with the real sense of a menacing world gone completely bonkers. Sadly, the message was all lost on a few. As we queued to leave the auditorium at the end of the performance, an old Norfolk broad turned to her companion and announced:

“Didn’t understand a word of it. Not a word. Marvelous, wasn’t it?’

Sizzling Summer Reads

This writing lark has provided an unexpected bonus: I get asked to review books and they are sent to me for free. It’s mostly (but not always) a fun and diverting pastime. It also forces me away from the keyboard: I tend to read a few chapters at a time over an Americano in a local coffee shop. Now that spring is upon us (here’s hoping) and thoughts turn to a welcome break in a faraway land, you might be looking for the perfect holiday read. You could do a lot worse than these titles. You’ll be relieved to know that I’m not plugging my own work this time.

Sleeping People Lie – Jae De Wylde

Sleeping People LieA chance meeting, a stolen glance, a skipped beat and the birth of a fine romance? Well, not exactly. There are no roses round the door in this gripping trans-Atlantic tryst of passion, intrigue, obsession, and deception. Sleeping People Lie is a splendid affair of the fixated heart with a bitter-chocolate twist. A box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray it ain’t. Where will it end? That would be giving the game away. Jae De Wylde’s second book is a corker (and her first book was pretty good too). The lady’s going far. Fabulous!

Impossibly Glamorous – Charles Ayres

impossibly glamorousCharles Ayres has a white knuckle tale to tell and he tells it with wit and panache in his romping autobiography, ‘Impossibly Glamorous.’ From the moment Charles dropped out of the womb he was different and being different in Eighties Mid-West USA was no walk in the prairie. The MENSA-brained boy from Kansas country found the Bible Belt wanting and went in search of eastern spice. Draped in a second-hand fake fur he used like a comfort blanket, Charles turned on his heels, hitched up his skirt, rode out of town and lay down his sequined saddle bag in the Land of the Rising Sun. It was not all glitter and glitz. Much of the time it was a broken-hearted obstacle course of depression and hand-to-mouth living. By his own admission, Charles has not been the best judge of matters of the heart and he brushes aside one red flag after another with a camp, dismissive wave. Fortunately, there’s an eclectic cast of extras to haul him up from the emotional abyss, including my personal favourites, “the Ladies of the Commonweath.” MTV during its glory days provides a vibrant soundtrack to the adventures and mishaps. As a Tokyo radio translator and TV personality, a dazzling pantheon of stars passed through his hands and Charles deliciously name-drops his way through his extraordinary saga. In the end, though, a diet of oriental fame brought little fortune and there’s no glamour in penury. Through it all, Charles’ humour, humanity, candour, unquenchable thirst for life and rare insight into the slings and arrows, cut through the crap like a blazing shooting star. Charles Ayres is impossibly glamorous and can light up my party anytime.

An Inconvenient Posting – Laura J Stephens

An inconvenient postingWhen husband, David, received the job offer of a lifetime to head up his company’s office in Houston, Texas, it could not have come at a worse time for Laura. Their young children were settled and thriving in the home that she cherished, she was close to launching her own career as a counsellor and her parents had moved nearby to enable them to spend quality time with their grandchildren while they still could. To say Laura was conflicted would be a sweeping understatement. But, her love and loyalty for her high flying husband meant that she was determined to do the right thing even when her heart was screaming “no”. Besides, exchanging the grey and dripping skies of England for the endless horizons of Texas had its attractions. How bad could it be? ‘An Inconvenient Posting’ is an agonisingly candid and raw account of loss and transition. Dark and broody but revelational and comic at the same time, this book will resonate with anyone who has found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Did Laura live the American dream? You best read the book to find out.

Forced to Fly – Jo Parfitt

Forced to FlyI read the first publication of `Forced to Fly’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. As well as 20 brand new anecdotes from a range of expat writers (including me) and bloggers, this second edition also includes a thoughtful new chapter on emotional resilience, a hot topic these transient days. This funny and forceful anthology is the definitive must-read reference for all novice and experienced expats. Slip it into your hand luggage as you board your flight to paradise. Forearmed is forewarned.

Shaikh-Down – David Gee

shaikh-downDecadent western mores slap stifling medieval manners around the face and lose. Nothing could have prepared Cass and Eddy for what was to come when they dumped their unwanted pasts at check-in and headed for the oasis. Follow them as they struggle to keep their heads above water (and on their shoulders). An (almost) bloodless coup upsets the expat apple cart of decadent days and raunchy nights, forcing the lotus eaters to hitch up their skirts and scramble for the border. A delicious, laugh-out-loud, randy romp through the myopic and bawdy world of Gulf expatriate life set against the chilling winds of change.

Going Local in Gran Canaria – Matthew Hirtes

going local in gran canariaGoing Local in Gran Canaria is the definitive guide for visitors and expats alike, covering all aspects of life in this semi-tropical Atlantic semi-paradise. The book is packed to the rafters with well-researched facts and fun, sites and scenes, eats and treats, must-dos and don’t-dos, both on and off the well-beaten track. The entire package is delivered in a witty and erudite style from someone in the know, as is to be expected from a seasoned journalist of Matthew Hirtes’ calibre. Amusing anecdotes weave through the book. I particularly like the notion that nasty General Franco exiled gay soldiers to the island which may explain Gran Canaria’s perennial appeal to the gay community. I’ve been a regular visitor for over 25 years so maybe there’s some truth in this fanciful tale. Whether dipping in for a hint or two or reading cover-to-cover, this book should be in everyone’s Canarian suitcase.

Sunshine Soup – Jo Parfitt

sunshine soupI found it impossible not to be drawn in to this book. The characters are strikingly drawn and developed, the plot is compelling and the sights and sounds of Dubai form an evocative backdrop to a hugely enjoyable story of loss, intrigue and redemption. I found the story of Maya (the book’s main character) very believable and for me that makes this novel appealing. And yes, there is an actual recipe for Sunshine Soup at the end of the book, along with 19 others – a nice touch.

Bitten by Spain – Deborah Fletcher

bitten by spainI was bitten by ‘Bitten by Spain.’ Once in a while you read a book that makes you laugh out loud. I loved it. The author moved from her ever so sensible existence in the UK to build a new life in Spain and she describes her adventures, warts and all, with an amusing, easy-to-read style. The fact that her dogs, cat and parrots joined the fray added some real pathos and when the menagerie is augmented by an assortment of wild birds, feral animals and creepy-crawlies the final mix is hilarious. I was struck by Deborah’s pluck (she was often alone because her husband was often back in the UK working) and there are some tender and thought-provoking moments along with the humour.  It really is a lovely read and the kind of book you can dip in and out of (the chapters are a bit like bite-sized set pieces). I actually read it in one long sitting accompanied by a good bottle of Rioja.

The Okçular Book ProjectThe Okçular Book Project – Alan Fenn

Last but not least…

‘Okçular Village – a Guide’ and ‘Backways & Trackways.’ I whole-heartedly recommend these books because income from sales is spent on environmental and community projects in the village of Okçular, near Dalyan in Turkey.

Pot, Poofs and the Good Book

The wise people of the Yankee state of Washington have voted in a referendum to legalise both same sex marriage and the recreational use of marijuana. Perhaps the Good Book was right all along.

Leviticus 20:13: ‘A man who lays with another man should be stoned.’

Who knew?