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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
My teeth were the first casualty of the pandemic. Both my routine check-up and appointment with the hygienist were cancelled as dental surgeries up and down the land shut up shop and the nation’s drills fell silent. But dentists are now back in business – just – and I went into town for my first scale and polish of 2020. Health and safety measures were in full swing with a new check-in app, a strict one way system, sanitisers everywhere and the poor hygienist dripping in enough PPE for a trip to Mars.
It was only our second trip into Norwich since lockdown so we made the most of it, picking up a few non-essential must-haves. Face masks must now be worn in all shops and indoor shopping centres. Most folk complied, with a rich array of styles from the unimaginative to the truly outlandish. Our little black numbers were at the dull end of the spectrum. And, unlike the man who was recently caught strolling down Oxford Street in London, the masks covered the right appendage.
But I couldn’t help thinking that they gave a false sense of security as shoppers weaved through the crowd pretty much ignoring signs and social distancing.
We also took full advantage of Chancellor ‘Risky’ Rishi’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ discount scheme to jump-start the hospitality sector after the leanest of months. We lunched late but before we were shown to our table, our temperature was checked by the maître d’. Very reassuring, I thought, and the only time I’ve been pleased not to have been called hot, hot, hot.