I spent St George's Day in Norwich, a city still celebrating a momentous event - the promotion of the Canaries to the Premiership, a move which will bring estimated spin-offs worth £50m to Norfolk. The omens for my trip were not good. The first-class carriage on the train from Liverpool Street was rather shabby, and the only food on offer from the buffet were burgers or sandwiches - no Delia Smith touches apparent there. At the station were several youths in Norwich's favourite colour (apart from green and yellow strip) - black. Goths and punks come in all versions from pushchair-operating young mums to grizzled 50-plus men with waist-length hair and cowboy hats. But the city basked in sunshine and the local paper included a 12-page bumper promotion souvenir. There's talk of new stands, new hotels, new players.
All good news for Norwich, a city still smarting from the Alan Partridge effect, pilloried as the home of Steve Coogan's cringe-making TV and radio star. Recently, locals have been even more unhappy with Fast Show star Simon Day's BBC TV series Grass, in which he plays Billy Bleach, a police informer who takes on a new identity and comes to live in north Norfolk. It seems that the accent Bleach's neighbours adopt is too "Mummerset" for words, and once again Norfolk finds itself the butt of a prolonged joke for couch potatoes.
Last month Steve Coogan apologised to people from Norwich for any offence he may have caused, but went on to say that Alan Partridge is returning. Meanwhile, a local sculptor is planning a giant statue commemorating the county's most famous chat show host, hoping to turn what could be a negative into a positive tourist attraction.
St George's Day cannot officially be celebrated in Norwich because local magistrates have turned down applications to extend drinking hours unless they are for charity events. Outside a pub in the city centre sits a handful of men with cropped hair and red and white flags, surrounded by empty glasses.
And at my hostelry, the normal standard of feeble service prevailed, with a girl on reception announcing in a loud voice "Mandy, the early arrival is here" when I dared to check in at 2pm. Having asked for a quiet room, I was, of course, given one overlooking refurbishments in progress. I end up in a grim room above noisy air-conditioning units. But then I'm only paying the full daily rate for somewhere I'll be leaving at 6pm. Later, I'm presented with a bill which has written on it "£19 reduction - complaint"! £84 seems a lot of money for a room with a view of a wall. Delia Smith's magic touch at Norwich City (where she is the major shareholder) may have to extend to embrace the hordes of new visitors the town eagerly awaits. Like most hotels, this one - The Maids Head - is clearly staffed by people who don't stay in hotels.
I am kicking off my 19-date UK tour here (full details on janetstreetporter.com, my fabulous new website) at the Arts Theatre. I lie on the bed listening to the roar of an extractor fan, feeling like someone on death row. A message from the theatre - there are technical problems. I feel sick. At 9.45pm it's all over, and what a brilliant audience Norwich has been, laughing at my jokes, supporting me through my little technical disasters, participating in my Q and A session and cheering me. All those years egging on the Canaries have given the people of Norwich supporting skills of the highest order. So bog off, Steve Coogan, how dare you continue to perpetuate the living lie that is Alan Partridge? I, for one, have nothing but praise for anyone who lives in Norfolk.
A man's world
Any visitors to Britain in the past week must have received a weird impression of how men behave in this country. Richard Desmond, millionaire publisher, announces his new link-up with our main opposition party, and then rants in board meetings about "Nazis". Respected football commentator Ron Atkinson calls a player a "nigger" live on air. Theatre director and actor Kevin Spacey walks around parks at 4am, doing nothing untoward, and Greg Dyke, the former boss of the BBC, hosts Have I Got News for You. Of course, if any prominent women were to behave like this we'd be compared to Boudicca, or Maggie Thatcher. But, as so few women are able to rise to the lofty heights achieved by Desmond and co, we are not in a position to test my theory.
As a report by the think-tank Demos demonstrated last week, the glass ceiling is, in fact, made of concrete, and women are still woefully under-represented at the upper levels of British business. Of course, it could be our failure to network, play golf, waffle on about the latest Jaguar or the Premiership, but Britain is still run by a boys' club - from the bully-boy humour of Have I Got News for You to the board members of all our leading football teams. Kevin Spacey has cleverly realised that male heterosexual behaviour falls into a certain stereotypical mould in the UK, and the best way to talk himself out of his little bit of embarrassment was to include a mandatory joke about David Beckham.
Ron Atkinson, from his horrible gold jewellery to his overweening self-confidence (in inverse proportion to his intelligence), is a role model for any successful British businessman. He is racist through and through, as his comments about African and Japanese players during previous World Cup matches demonstrate. The trouble is, Ron's opinions are considered perfectly acceptable in the circles in which he moves. The former Arsenal star Ian Wright pointed out that he, too, was the butt of endless racist remarks from the politically incorrect Atkinson, who no doubt thought he was being "witty".
I am often asked if I am a feminist, which is about as difficult a question to answer as "Are you proud to be British?". Watching the new production of David Mamet's play Oleanna at the Garrick Theatre brought home all the problems you encounter if you identify yourself as someone who sticks up for other women.
I saw the original British staging back in 1993, which starred Lia Williams as the student and David Suchet as the professor she reports for rape. Now the play stars two American film actors (Julia Stiles and Aaron Eckhart), and grinds remorselessly to a violent conclusion that is still shocking. Oleanna is a tirade against political correctness and is one of the few pieces of contemporary theatre in which people leave arguing about where Mamet's loyalties lie. Do we sympathise with the patronising professor or the manipulative, unintelligent student? Both are guilty of different crimes and both end up losers. Best of all, Mamet's writing doesn't pretend to be a snapshot of a real encounter, but a morality play unfolding in front of us. Unmissable.Reuse content