Tits with Chicks

Tits with Chicks

The top floor of the old Co-op warehouse provides a bird’s eye view of the low-rise streets beyond. England is famed as a wet-weather country but the east is less damp than the rest and we are blessed with some conversation-stopping God skies. The cloudiness only helps to intensify the divine display. The micro-loft provides the ideal hide to watch birds as they feed and breed, swoop and soar. And this year, we were chuffed to offer a dry roost beneath our eaves for a pair of tits with chicks. Liam shed a little tear when the fledglings flew the nest. Bye-bye, birdies, bye-bye.

Sunset over Norwich

Despite the urban jungle around us, we’re often serenaded by early morning birdsong. Mostly it’s tweety and melodic, gently stirring us from our slumber. But not when the gulls muscle their way in. Norwich’s maritime days as a secure inland port where tasty morsels could be scavenged at the quays may be long gone but no one’s told the thuggish gulls that shriek and squawk at 5am. It’s enough to wake the dead.

 

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.

 

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.

May the Fourth Be With You

The fourth of May was local election day hereabouts. As in many rural areas, the people of Norfolk are conservative with a small ‘c’, distrustful of change and suspicious of (and sometimes hostile to) strangers. That’s why some farming folk keep it in the family and one or two get way too close to their livestock. It’s called Normal for Norfolk. Unsurprisingly, as a rainbow city marooned in a sea of blue, Norwich itself voted for a weave of red threaded with yellow. Norwich isn’t Norfolk, just like Bodrum isn’t Turkey. Apart from the liberal retirees of North Norfolk, the rest of our green and insular county voted Tory. The only crumb of comfort was the damn good thrashing meted out to the right-wing UK Independence Party which, right across the realm, lost all but one of their seats. After all, as Britain heads for Brexit high on the illusion of sovereignty, what’s the point of UKIP anyway?

Next month’s the big one – a general election – where the great British public give their verdict on the road ahead. I’ve always (foolishly) lived in the hope that common sense prevails in the end. But then I picked up the Metro, a free newspaper no better than a celebrity comic but distracting enough to read on the bus. It featured an article called ‘The Baffled of Britain’, a survey listing the things that most confuse the average citizen. Some get me scratching my head too, such as:

The offside rule in soccer

Getting out of IKEA

What women see in Benedict Cumberbatch

How Trump is president of the USA

But way up there at number 3 was…

Brexit

Gawd help us all.

East Angrier

Norfolk has its very own community television station called Mustard TV. Why Mustard? It’s a nod to Coleman’s mustard, the city’s famous hot and spicy condiment. The station is run on a wing and a prayer, and presented by those at the very start of their broadcasting careers and others at the very end. With Liam on family duties in London and me with thumbs a-twiddling, I channel-hopped onto Mustard and stumbled on ‘East Angrier’, a vox pop show for local yokels to vent their spleens. Here we go, I thought, another rant by the ignorati spitting out their fake views. But, no, I was pleasantly amused. No bigoted salvos about Johnny foreigners, Islam or Brexit. A few fine citizens had a go at Trump (that works for me) and annoying self-service tills in supermarkets (that works for me too). One Norfolk broad whinged about the number of spam emails she gets (tell me about it) and a grumpy old git reflected on the appearance of his fellow Angles…

Blokes over 30 wearing skinny jeans with the knees cut out look like bleep, bleep.

And…

Bald blokes with ponytails. What the bleep is that all about?

Clearly a man after my own heart.

And then there was the scruffy student fretting he hadn’t finished his essay on David Hockney. He was standing astride the line of blue and green glass tiles which flows down Westlegate marking the course of one of Norwich’s lost rivers – the Great Cockey. This is not to be confused with the Little Cockey which isn’t worth parting your legs for.

Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside

Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside

Wells-next-the-Sea was the venue for this year’s works outing with Jo Parfitt, my partner in crime and the force of nature who is Summertime Publishing. We love a day out at the seaside when the weather’s set fair. Getting there was a bit of adventure in itself. The first stage was a stately railway journey through the ripe fields, reedy wetlands and sleepy hamlets of North Norfolk. My sedation was only interrupted when I spotted the large station sign at Gunton. Well, it didn’t look like a G to me. The two-carriage train deposited us at Sheringham, a bucket and spade resort where undertakers and vets never go out of fashion. Then onto a little bus for a white knuckle ride along the curvy coast, through flint and stone villages with impossibly narrow streets called ‘Old Woman’s Lane’ and the like. There was little time to admire the view. I held on for dear life, wishing I’d worn Pampers.

Well-heeled Wells is a gorgeous little resort and working port surrounded by pine forests, sandbanks and saltmarshes. We lunched aboard the Albatros, a genuine Dutch cargo ship serving up fake Dutch pancakes. They were delicious. The tide must’ve been out because the boat had a distinct starboard list; I felt quite tipsy even before a drop had passed my lips. Happily, I managed to regain my sea legs after half a bottle or so. We didn’t make it down the agenda to the 2016/17 marketing strategy. We got stuck on gossip. Can’t think why.

The train back to Norwich was packed with sunburnt kiddies and lively country cousins out on the lash. The painted ladies opposite shared shots of raspberry liqueur and a Bottecelli babe squeezed into the aisle next to me. As the crowd nudged past, the shapely Norfolk broad fell off her heels and tipped her ample rack into my face.

‘My, my,’ I said. ‘A total eclipse.’ How she laughed.

Mercury Rising

Mercury Rising

Let’s face it, spring is a bit of a hit and miss affair across these islands so it pays to take full advantage when Mother Nature turns up the heat. As soon as Liam returned from family duties in London I bundled him onto a bus for the short hop to Thorpe St Andrew, a pretty riverside spot a mile or three outside town. With Roman scraps, a Scandinavian place-name and a mention in the Domesday Book, the hamlet has ancient roots. Sadly, little survives to this day. Even the church is Victorian Gothic Revival though some ruins of its medieval predecessor, destroyed by fire, still stand.

Thorpe St Andrew is where people go to feed swans and muck about in boats on a sunny day. It’s also where people like me watch people feeding swans and mucking about in boats on a sunny day – from the comfort of a riverside watering hole. So that’s what we did.

Walkers, birders and water sports devotees can catch the little ferry from Thorpe Green to the Whitlingham Country Park, gateway to the Norfolk Broads. There’s no bar there so we gave it a wide berth. Next time, we’ll charge up the hip flask first.