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…
Gawd help us all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What better way to celebrate our ‘salt’ wedding anniversary than a trip to the seaside for a dirty weekend? We were chauffeured to Gorleston-on-sea in decadent style by a pair of old Norwich rascals (you know who you are), necking fizz all the way in the back of their Mercedes Benz. Our luxurious room with a sea view came courtesy of my sister and the celebratory bottle of red on the Cliff Hotel terrace came courtesy of Liam.
Just a little bit
Just a little bit more
And a little bit more
Mother Nature, a contrary old bag round these parts, was in a bright mood for a change so we were all set for fun on the sand and frolics in the boudoir. The rest I leave to your vivid imagination.
Gorleston Beach from the Cliff Hotel
The North Sea at Gorleston
Liam Brennan at Gorleston
Jack Scott on Gorleston Beach
Alas, we were four months too late to catch a performance of ‘Sindaz’ the adult panto, giving a whole new meaning to the line, ‘he’s behind you’.
So we squandered a few quid in the penny arcade instead. And what did we get for our coppers? A cuddly toy, obviously. We called him Gallstone.
17 miles west of Norwich in Norfolk’s rural heartlands lies the sleepy market town of Hingham, home to just under 2,500 country cousins. Not much happens in Hingham. The sun rises, the sun sets and the seasons turn. That’s about it. The town’s main claim to fame is as the ancestral seat of two famous Yankee clans – the Lincolns (as in Abraham) and the Gilmans (as in Nicholas Gilman, signatory to the US Constitution). But that was a long, long time ago. Now, heavy-eyed Hingham has woken up to a newsflash. Nothing scandalous, you understand. If anything salacious is going on, it’s kept firmly behind the neat net curtains. It wouldn’t do to frighten the horses. No, I’m delighted to say the local doctors’ surgery has come eighth in a national poll of GP practices commissioned by NHS England. That’s 8th out of 7,709. It got the hacks from the county rag rushing in for a photo call. And, yes, that’s my Liam second from the right. He wore his best pale pink shirt for the occasion.
A round of applause, please.
The image is courtesy of the Eastern Daily Press and you can read their article here.
Last year, while dining with an old friend at the Assembly House, Norwich’s delicious Georgian gem, we stumbled upon the making of ’45 Years’ starring Sixties starlets, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney. I caught the ravishing Ms Rampling rushing past in a dressing gown as I emerged from the little boy’s room. It was quite a shock, I can tell you. So when the film recently came to town, we went to see what we had inadvertently gatecrashed. I’m so glad we did. Filmed entirely in Norfolk and around Norwich, 45 Years tells the story of long-buried secrets disinterred with devastating consequences just days before a 45th wedding anniversary. Atmospheric and suffocating, comforting certainties are chipped away to reveal a marriage un-fulfilled. Norfolk’s low wintry skies, normally big and uplifting, only add to the bleak claustrophobia. Both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney are superb.
45 Years is a very British film. There are no Hollywood moments, no overwrought emotions, no final redemption, just the stoicism of a seemingly rock solid relationship in silent crisis. Classy and brilliant.