Shop ’til You Drop

To misquote Mark Twain, ‘The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.’ And I hope that’s also true of the long-anticipated demise of the high street. The great shift to online shopping may have been accelerated by the pandemic but I, for one, relish the experience of grazing and browsing in the real world. And so do many others judging by the queues of masked punters we saw shuffling towards the entrances of various Norwich stores when we ventured into town. Sure, some retailers have gone to the wall while others limp on but a little imagination and a lot of fairy dust might be all it takes to stop the rot and save our city centres from becoming ghost towns. People are nothing if not inventive and fairy dust is plentiful in the retail trade.

One thing an online shop can’t provide is the conviviality of a post-shop bottle and bite. This we sought in the Lamb Inn, our favourite city centre watering hole. The delightful lady at the gate recognised us. ‘One white, one red,’ she said. She’s Spanish and I was delighted that Brexit hadn’t put her off from sticking around. What she didn’t know is I had a brand-new axe in my man bag. I’ve never gone tooled up before. I felt like a criminal. And that’s another thing you can’t get online – an offensive weapon. Well, not legally anyway. Rest assured I bought the axe to chop up firewood, not run amok. Norfolk isn’t Midsomer.

As we took our seats for the bus home, I looked through the window at the YMCA opposite. I began to wonder if ‘it’s fun to stay at the YMCA’, as suggestively sung by the Village People. I doubt it. This is Norwich not New York and these village people have long since hung up their leathers and feathers.

Out on Parole

A few more lockdown restrictions were lifted this week and we were able to enjoy a bottle or two in the garden of our local hostelry. It was pleasantly sunny to match the mood of our hosts and fellow punters. Relief all round was the order of the day.

The weather’s been unseasonably cool of late despite the spring sunshine, with a definite chill in the air. But, after over three months under house arrest, a force nine gale wouldn’t have put us off. We supped well-wrapped in thermal long johns and bubble jackets accessorised with gloves, hats and scarves. It was like après ski but without the ski.

Jack’s Diamond Jubilee

Jack’s Diamond Jubilee

Edinburgh, Scotland’s elegant capital, was on the agenda for my sixtieth birthday. Alas, with the latest lockdown it wasn’t to be. That particular jolly has been postponed until 2021 – a bit like life really. But Liam wasn’t going to let the most important celebration since the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pass without marking the occasion. Oh no. A veritable festival of delights came a-knocking.

Overture

A concert production of Hair, The Musical in a big tent in the grounds of the University of East Anglia featuring an ensemble of rising West End stars. Great show but no nudity. Just as well really. The COVID-secure tent was open to the elements so any dangly bits would have shrivelled up in the cold anyway. Not a good look.

Act One

Afternoon tea in the garden of Rosy Lee’s, Loddon’s famous bijou café. Or at least that was the plan. Mother Nature had other ideas so our hosts packed the goodies into takeaway boxes and we scoffed the lot at home instead.

Act Two

A trip to the local leisure centre to sign me up for a fitness programme to work off Act One. There wasn’t a bar so I took a rain check on that one and headed into town where there was a bar.

Act Three

The actual day was a deliciously indulgent whirlwind – so many messages, cards, calls, gifts and flowers from family and friends, including a portrait courtesy of our niece. I also received enough wine to sink the Queen Mary. The day continued with posh nosh in Norwich and a mini-tour of our favourite city watering holes. I laughed, I cried, I drank, I took calls. My head spun. I felt rather humbled, not something I experience every day.

The Finale

Lunch at our local to receive the warmest of welcomes on a cold autumnal day. Hearty fare was topped off with cake, candles, a rousing rendition of that song and the scariest face mask ever. I even got a hanging basket of pansies. Now there’s a first.

My double chin’s getting bigger!

I was exhausted with all the excitement but what a gig. Now I’ve come up for air, it’s a huge thank you to all those who made it so memorable. You know who you are. Extra special thanks have to go to Liam. Who knew he could be so devious?

Finally, I got to pick up my first free prescription, making my status as a senior citizen – and grumpy old fart – official.

Bikers’ Grove

Bikers’ Grove

We’ve all got bills to pay and everyone everywhere has been forced to adapt quickly to the new reality of these troubling times. This is as true in sleepy Loddon as it is anywhere. A case in point is Rosy Lee’s Tea Room. For many years now this tiny café has thrived on passing trade from sailors and cyclists stopping off for coffee and cake. The delightful owner, Caroline, is a bit of a local celebrity who, more than 20 years ago, floated down the River Chet, liked what she saw and stayed. But now, social distancing means the café can only accommodate one customer at a time. So what was Caroline the tea lady to do?

Extend the little secret garden she has created tucked away by Loddon Staithe*, of course. We got the call from Tom, the nice young man who renovated our cottage and sold it on to us. Would we help out? Hell, yes.

Tooled-up Tom with his broad shoulders and impressive equipment did all the butch work, constructing tables and erecting metal poles. All we really did was mow down the bramble and hold things while he wielded hammer and drill. In the meantime, Caroline kept us fed and watered. I can recommend the bacon sarnie.

Now lycra’d bikers can gather in gangs (of no more than six, of course) in a secret grove to rest and replenish with enough space to keep an eye on their fancy cycles.

Yes, that’s Liam and me with our backs to the camera. We were pleased to do our bit for a village institution.

Loddon Staithe

*A staithe is a landing stage for loading or unloading cargo boats. That ship sailed long ago round these parts. Loddon Staithe is now used by those who like to muck about in pleasure boats.

London Calling

London Calling

The tail end of August saw us in old London Town to commemorate what would have been the 59th birthday of an old friend who died unexpectedly in January this year. It was our first trip to the Smoke since lockdown and we were understandably anxious. It’s only about 100 miles from here to there but it might as well be another country.

The shiny new train wasn’t busy. We almost had the carriage to ourselves and most passengers complied with the ‘new normal’ – face mask-wise. Booking into a hotel for a couple of nights gave us the chance to test the waters. We rode the Tube and drank in familiar Soho haunts. It was fine.

The early August heatwave gave us hope that we might have a picnic in St James’s Park – a fun and fabulous tradition developed over many years – but, alas, the weather turned blustery so we made do with a restaurant as ‘Storm Clive’ passed overhead. We came together under the shadow of Eros on Piccadilly Circus – except of course, it’s actually a statue of Eros’ less well-known sibling, Anteros, but everyone calls it Eros anyway.

I can’t share any images of the actual birthday bash. Some of the assembled are social media shy and don’t want their images online. And who can blame them? Suffice it to say it was a joyous occasion – old friends talking old times through a jolly, drunken haze. And Clive was there in spirit.

Clive Smith 1961-2020