Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

A Siberian cold front  – ‘The Beast from the East’ – has rolled in from Europe,  cloaking the flatlands in a thick blanket of fluffy snow drifting in the arctic breeze. Cancelled buses forced Liam to take the day off and a ‘real-feel’ of minus 11 means we’re going nowhere. And neither is anyone else judging by St Stephens roundabout, empty save for one brave soul. Come rush hour, it’s normally nose to nipple.

Thank the Lord for central heating.

Come on Baby, Do the Loco-motion with Me

Come on Baby, Do the Loco-motion with Me

With low eastern skies the colour of Milk of Magnesia, I’ve been pining for the hazy days of last summer when we were giants of the steam age, quite a result for a hobbit like me. It was the hottest August bank holiday in years when we rode the Dinky toy Bure Valley Railway to…

…experience a nostalgic trip by steam on Norfolk’s longest narrow gauge railway which runs between the historic market town of Aylsham and bustling town of Wroxham, at the heart of the Norfolk Broads…

… as it says in the blurb. We choo-choo’d past lush, glowing pastures. Our green and pleasant flatland had never seemed quite so green or quite so pleasant. For the spotty trainspotters among you, here are a few snaps to put you in the picture.

And, as per, Liam had to do the silly arty video. It’s enough to make you travel sick. No, really, it is.

Ours was to be a two-centre beano, or so I’d been promised. At the end of the line, Liam had intended to press gang me onto a double-decker pleasure boat to cruise the Norfolk Broads. For the uninitiated, the Broads are a network of flooded medieval peat excavations popular with those who like to mess about in boats. As much as I love a landscape of reed-beds, grazing marshes, rare wildlife and wet woodland, it was the on-board bar which really drew me in. Sadly, the rest of Norfolk had the same idea and we couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money. We settled for a bottle by the Bure instead. Daffy, the nosey duck wasn’t too impressed by the vintage. I don’t blame him.

Cheers!

Norwich, a Story

Norwich, a Story

Ladies and gents, give it up for the fine city of Norwich as seen through the creative lens of BAFTA-winning film maker Rob Whitworth and starring the Norman cathedral, for centuries the largest building in East Anglia. These days I’m guessing that honour goes to the terminal building at Stansted Airport.

What a Bang!

What a Bang!

When we first moved into the micro-loft we tarted up the bathroom and fitted a fancy new shower screen. But East Anglian water is so hard it almost hurts – calcifying kettles quicker than Medusa’s stare –  and I soon tired of the elbow grease needed to keep the fancy shower screen fancy. So we replaced it with an easy-wash shower curtain in electric blue. Sorted.

But what to do with the fancy shower screen? There’s not a lot of storage in the micro-loft (the clue’s in the micro) so we decided to ask the Council to take it away. In the meantime, we just slid it under our bed and forgot all about it.

Twelve months on and we returned to the micro-loft one afternoon to find the entire bedroom floor covered in glass fragments. It didn’t compute at first. You know, those times when you just can’t believe your eyes? Then the penny dropped – the fancy shower screen. It had exploded – everywhere. The biggest bang our bed had experienced in years. And the effect was almost artistic – the kind of thing that wins the Turner Prize.

It took hours to sweep up and I put my back out in the process.

The moral of this explosive story? Simple. Don’t store a fancy shower screen under your bed.

Magical Mystery Tour

We boarded the bus.

Where’s he taking me? A little rural retreat with ancient beams and hearty fare, deep in the flatlands?

We boarded the train.

We must be going to Diss, a pretty little market town with fine Georgian architecture.

Where’s Diss? Near Dat, as the in-joke goes.


Diss came and went.

Liam bundled me off at Ipswich and we headed for the Marina.

Fancy a drink?

Ipswich Quay

Well, I don’t need asking twice but why Ipswich?

This is why.

It was an inspired birthday treat – a complete surprise. Marc Almond in his torch song years is right up my street and his ‘Tenement Symphony’ album is one of my favourites of all time. Marc was in fine voice, supported by a full ensemble – strings, guitars, percussion, keyboards, brass, backing vocalists – a quality set and a rich wall of sound. New songs, old songs, a couple of Dusty Springfield classics (‘the sixties have been very good to me,’ he said) and a bit of Northern Soul chucked in at the end to get you to your feet. Just brilliant.

We polished off the evening in a very pleasant watering hole near our hotel, full of fun and fantastic punters. This was one of them:

Thank you, scary lady, for letting me take your photo and thank you, Liam, for my magical mystery tour.

So, ladies and gents, I give you my favourite Almond track from my favourite Almond album superbly delivered on a memorable night – ‘the Days of Pearly Spencer’. It’s a song I first heard one balmy evening in a gay bar in old Ibiza Town. It was 1991. But that’s another story.

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.