Ten weeks today will be my first full day living in my new house in the fashionable Malki Chiflik district of Veliko Tarnovo.
I’ve been told by many a Brit expatriate that when I emigrate to Bulgaria I will only survive if I turn off my English head and turn on a Bulgarian one. The country that I am going to make my new home is a beautiful, interesting and friendly place but I’ve oft heard it described as being ‘a bit rough round the edges’. So if I’m really going to feel at peace there I need to accept that I won’t have access to many of the things that I have become accustomed to here in Gross Britain.
I can boast, however, that I have been training hard for the ‘big push’ when it eventually comes (with a little help from easyJet) on 25th June. I have been having Bulgarian language lessons, I have saved all my Easter eggs for the Christian Orthodox Easter on 1st May, I have been following the Bulgarian national football team’s progress (they recently beat Portugal in Lisbon … ha ha Ronaldo) and I have had an image of St George (Bulgaria’s patron saint) tattooed on my left buttock in readiness for the huge party that takes place on St George’s Day on 6th May. I’m even going to my house over there for a nearly a fortnight at the beginning of next month to have a crack at celebrating these two rakia-fuelled traditional holidays so I can hit the ground running, or more likely just hit the ground.
I’ve also been trying to get used to living without some of the things that are a part of my English lifestyle but which won’t be available in Veliko Tarnovo. Things like tomato ketchup, Coronation Street, Sunday roasts, traffic pollution, cold and grey summer days, Tesco, the British Government, cards shoved through my letter box by the gas people to say that they called during the thirty seconds that I was unable to answer the front door because I needed to go and have a wee, the Sun and the Daily Mail, people who read the Sun and the Daily Mail, Jeremy Clarkson and weak coffee. How will I ever manage without these things? Hard going, I know, but I’ve got to become much less English.
Last night I had what I considered to be my ‘Last Supper’ of Englishness. I went to see Ken Dodd on stage in Birmingham. There aren’t many things that I care about that are typically English but ooh I do love Doddy.
Ooh we do love Doddy.
I was delighted when he mentioned Bulgaria, without any prompting from me. He said he went there once but didn’t stay long because everything they said to him ended with ‘off’. I would have loved to have been sitting near enough to the stage to have been able to tell him about my plans. I could have even invited him to come and stay with me over there, as I have done with just about everybody else that I know.
His act was very entertaining. He told long rambling jokes that I have heard a million times before but all his little detours along the meandering route to the punchlines were hilarious. He talks absolute rubbish but very funny rubbish and I admire him, for that is what I aspire to but I don’t do it well enough to earn a living from it like he does.
From the start of the show to the end, five hours and twenty minutes passed by. He wasn’t on stage the whole time as there was an interval and a folly of other acts came on for twenty minutes or so to give the poor fella a breather. The other acts were a bit crap really but just the sort of thing you’d expect to see performing on the end of a pier in Blackpool or Scarborough or somewhere else beside the seaside, so that really added to the old fashioned English feel of the entertainment. There was a bloke that played 1950s rock ‘n’ roll classics on a ukulele and sang Heartbreak Hotel in a George Formby voice. A woman the size of six Karen Carpenters played the organ and sang Yesterday Once More before blowing out catchy renditions of popular old tunes from around the British Isles on her flute. And then there was a juggler but not a juggler like all the other jugglers I have seen in my life. No, this bloke kept dropping the things that he was juggling with which was something I had never seen in a juggler’s act before. I didn’t enjoy any of these turns but the vast majority of the audience did and it was the sort of stuff that Ken Dodd must have had supporting him for decades. Although very wrong, they seemed right, so I clapped them off at the end anyway.
Ken, this dear eighty-eight year old complete and utter legend of a comedian, who I have loved since I was a young kid, laughed and smiled throughout his marathon performance. Taking his final standing ovation, long after midnight, he was still smiling as he looked around at the audience and the lovely Alexandra Theatre where he had told us he had performed many times in his long career. To me, the look on his face seemed to suggest that he was taking it all in for a final time. He calls his show the Happiness Show but I’m sure the final few minutes were tinged with a little sadness behind the smile that didn’t fully disguise a look of resignation.
I’ve seen many comedians in the flesh so it was strange that it had taken fifty odd years for Doddy and me to meet in this way. I’m sure he’ll go on for a good bit longer yet but the lions’ share of his incredible working life is behind him. Much of his material had been about him and his audience being allowed out of the care home for the evening. He said that, of his famous Diddy Men, only Dicky Mint was still fit enough to work but when he did his ventriloquist act with his Dicky Mint puppet, Dicky too announced his retirement. All subtle suggestions that it wouldn’t be long until they lowered Doddy’s final final curtain.
And my life in England is very nearly behind me too, though I’m hoping for a long stretch in the Balkans … ooh missus! Last night was the last opportunity I would ever have to be entertained by this national treasure. I always knew I would get round to it eventually but I, or we, only just made it by the skin of the teeth. And I felt that by seeing him during my final weeks here I was drawing a line under my time as a resident of England to a degree that just giving up fish and chips and Ant and Dec could never match.
Last night was a wonderful night, a night that I will never forget, a milestone in my life and a night that could only have been better if Birmingham had had a pier.
Happiness. Happiness. The greatest gift that I possess.