Angels, Monks and the Devil’s Brew

Angels, Monks and the Devil’s Brew

Learning to speak English must be difficult enough, but learning to spell it must bring even the most dedicated student out in hives. It’s just the little game we English like to play on Johnny Foreigner. Place names can be particularly bothersome. So for the uninitiated…

Leicester is Lester, Gloucester is Gloster, Chiswick is Chizik, Warwick is Warik (unless you’re Dionne) Harwich is Haridge and Norwich is Noridge (or Naaridge if you’re from round these parts).

But there is a certain consistency to the cesters, the wicks and the wiches. Not so in Norfolk – or I should say Naarfuk. Asking a Naaridge bus driver for a ticket to Costessey or Wymondham will provoke a puzzled response. You see, it’s Caassy and Windum. Confused? You will be.

We’d learned our lesson in correct enunciation by the time we caught our bus to Wymondham, a pretty parish of 15,000 souls southwest of Norwich. June was bustin’ out all over the place along the 10 mile route. We arrived to find the place bathed in sunshine but spookily empty for a hot Saturday afternoon. Perhaps everyone was at Pilates.

The main event was the famous abbey, founded in 1107. Well, it was famous until Henry VIII got his grubby hands on it. Once a thriving Benedictine priory, it only survived complete demolition by becoming the parish church – the monks were pensioned off and the last abbot became the local vicar. Nevertheless, and despite being half the length it once was, the twin-towered abbey church remains an imposing pile, rising majestically above the pine trees. Inside, the largely Norman-period nave has a fine wooden roof studded with carved angels. We sat in the pews awhile watching the roadies setting up for an evening concert. A plot for Midsomer Murders gathered momentarily in my mind in which an angel is pushed from the roof to squash a portly mezzo-soprano as she sings something seductive from Carmen. But whodunnit? If I ever get the commission, you’ll be the first to know but suffice it to say it involves a darts match and a ladies-only night in Cromer. I decided to call the episode ‘Revenge of the Fallen Angels’. As you can tell, I got rather carried away.

Wandering round, we’d never met a friendlier or more passionate bunch of volunteers. They positively gushed with enthusiasm. Without them we wouldn’t have known about the abbey’s more eclectic secrets. I cradled the hand of an angel to pray for world peace – and a lottery win. Liam stuck his finger in the monk’s hole and made a wish. Amen to that.

We were also told about the secret tunnel that allegedly led to the nearby fourteenth century Green Dragon tavern and the ancient exit still to be found in the pub. Apparently, the naughty monks were rather fond of the Devil’s brew. It might explain all that hole filling. Naturally, we had to investigate and partake of the Devil’s brew ourselves –  purely for research purposes.

 

On the Lash

On the Lash

It’s sod’s law. The warmest day of the year so far and I’m home alone. Our large south-facing windows can make the micro-loft a tad sweaty during the afternoon, so I popped out for a paper and a pint. Norwich was abuzz with shoppers in shorts, brats in caps and over-inked scallies in baggy sweatpants. A mixed bill of buskers competed for loose change but none captured the crowd more than King No-One, a young indie rock band from York on a national street tour. They were surprisingly good and received a warm hand. Judge for yourself…

I parked myself on the only free bench outside a local hostelry next to a squad of half-naked lads out on the lash – their tats and tits out for the girls. Rutting Brits are renowned for stripping off at the first hint of a sunbeam, and it isn’t always pretty.  Sadly, the hot totty next to me was more tepid than steaming. As regular readers will know, I’m a dedicated earwigger and I tuned in to the conversation while pretending to pore over the latest batch of dishonest general election promises.

How much does aircon cost to run?

Why do you care? You’re an electrician.

So? I don’t a get a special rate, you know.

You’re out on the lash every night – and you worry about the bills?

Yeah. That’s why I can’t afford the bloody aircon.

The young can be so dull. At least they didn’t bore me silly with inane chatter about the ‘beautiful game’.

After a second jar, I meandered back home for a TV dinner and an evening in front of the box. Sad, I know, but I rather enjoy my ‘me’ moments. As long as they’re not too often, you understand. The old warehouse accommodating our micro-loft is generally kept shipshape, but the foyer is a bit like a chimney and tends to suck in debris from the street – spring blossom, summer petals, autumn leaves, winter sludge and the occasional fag butt. As I waited for the lift, I looked down to see this:

At first I thought a bug had cadged a lift in a Tesco’s home delivery crate. It wasn’t wriggling so I poked it with a key. Turned out to be a false eyelash. Dropped by a one-eyed drag queen, perhaps? All quite normal for Norfolk.

 

Chateau Norfolk

Chateau Norfolk

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 City of Perspiring Dreams

The City of Perspiring Dreams

Now their kids have flown, Liam’s sister and significant other have sold their north London nest and migrated to a chocolate-box cottage with half an acre or so in rural Hertfordshire. Brother-in-law’s sixtieth birthday BBQ provided the perfect opportunity to survey the estate for the first time. It was gold stars all round from their Norwich kin, and a marvellous afternoon was had by all. I’m sure the birthday boy won’t mind me mentioning he was rather upstaged by the astonishing sight of a herd of wild deer trotting past the garden fence. They stopped and stared for just an instant before bolting off. This city slicker has never been up close and personal to a herd of anything before. Be still my racing heart. Apparently, the stag often makes himself at home on their lawn. I wonder if Bambi poo is any good for the roses?

To make the most of the weekend, we lodged overnight in Cambridge and the next day took a ramble around the famous city streets, following in the footsteps of some of the greatest thinkers of all time – Darwin, Newton, Hawking and our PhD’d niece, to name a just a few. The ‘city of perspiring dreams’ (a nickname coined by the student’s union) is truly impressive and the ancient colleges tightly packed along one side the leafy River Cam are simply stunning. But the flow of weekend tourists was overwhelming, the cyclists annoying and the price of pretty much everything inflated. In my romantic mind’s eye, I had a vision of floppy-haired scholars in straw hats punting down the river like a scene from Brideshead Revisited, but this was rather spoilt by an armada of long-lensed Koreans in baseball caps. In the end, these drinkers abandoned the thinkers and we caught the train home. And we made it to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival’s Party in the Park just before last orders.

Some snaps of the lovely Cambridge as we dodged the cyclists…

Moonlight Sonata

Moonlight Sonata

The annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival is done for another year. The festival delivers something for all ages and tastes – from the highbrow to the frivolous, the earnest to the slapstick, the traditional to the avant-garde, the well-known to the newbie, the orchestral to the bloke with a guitar – in glorious words, music, dance and acrobatics. Liam and I mostly pop along for the eclectic street performers and drinking culture. The festival marks the start of a summer season packed with designer ducks, dancing queens, technicolour floats, frilly tutus, soaring batons, bone-crunching back flips, stunning pyrotechnic wizardry and the celebration of Norfolk’s pastoral bounty. Let’s hope Mother Nature is in a bright mood for the duration.

Of all the shows sprinkled about the city during the festival, the most intriguing was the Museum of the Moon by artist Luke Jerram at the Forum. A giant moon featuring detailed NASA imagery appeared to float effortlessly above the floor. It was mesmerising. Dropped mouths just gawped up in silence, us included.

And here’s the Norwich Cathedral Choir chanting to the man in the moon, kinda medieval and mystical…

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not

I was wandering through our local library last week and came across this intriguing exhibit:

The display was made up of 18,000 forget-me-nots, one for each individual living with dementia in Norfolk. It was Dementia Awareness Week and the library was running a host of creative events for dementia sufferers and their carers.

All sickness is cruel but dementia has got to be one of the cruellest of them all, robbing the victims of their very essence while their loved-ones look on helplessly. We know dementia. Liam’s mother was a victim and died from the inevitable complications of the disease. It’s ironic that as science and wealth has let our bodies survive beyond our allotted three score and ten, our minds often can’t keep pace. But there is hope. Just as cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was, there is every chance that science will one day halt and maybe cure the disease. A healthy older age is something we all want. And while we wait for that time to come, there are some amazing people doing some amazing things to make living with dementia just a little bit easier.

The Witching Hour

The Witching Hour

Of late, boozy gigs with ancient comrades from old London Town have been as rare as ginger imams. Somehow life just gets in the way. So, one evening I fired off a text.

“Boys. It’s high time we had a coven.”

After a flurry of replies, it was game on.

I always get down to the big city a tad early – to imbibe the vibe and cast my spell over the Soho boys. I know, hopelessly deluded. Gay scene wise, Soho isn’t quite what it was. Online ‘dating’ has seen to that. Nevertheless, a few old haunts stumble on, attracting the after-school crowd. I wandered into the Duke of Wellington (or the Welly as it’s affectionately known, my spiritual home back in the day). As I headed for the bar, I spied a former squeeze in the corner of my eye. By the time I’d been served, the hairy old crow had taken flight, leaving half his pint behind. Clearly, my magic wand has lost its vigour. I wouldn’t mind but it’s over twenty years since we stepped out.

After a sherry or two with my London witches, we pitched up at a local brasserie for a bite and a long natter. We wittered on for hours about everything and nothing and by the time we were hoarse, the staff were sweeping up and stacking chairs around us. It was time to mount our broomsticks, and as befits three old sorcerers whose powers to bewitch have all but withered, we were tucked up in our beds by the stroke of midnight.

This is what we looked like twenty years ago before our allure had faded. Obviously, that’s not yer actual Taj Mahal. We were in Blackpool for a dirty weekend. And where better?

And this is what we look like now. No wonder our wands have dropped off.