It was one of those warm and overcast days threatening thunderstorms that saw us at Sculthorpe Mill near the pint-sized market town of Fakenham, about 25 miles north-west of Norwich. The mill sits astride the River Wensum and there’s been a watermill on the site since the time of the Domesday Book of 1086. These days they’re pulling pints rather than grinding corn. Outside, the grounds were trickling and luscious – at this time of year, Norfolk simply glows with bounty, even when the sun struggles to poke through. Inside, the mill was as quiet as a silent order. A little background music on a low setting would have lifted the mood a notch or two.
We were in attendance for the annual general meeting with Jo Parfitt, my partner in crime and the force of nature that is Summertime Publishing. Jo brought her delicious mother along for a light bite too. Lunch was nice and we quickly whistled through the agenda to get to the gossip. By any-other-business, the sun decided to put in a late appearance and we couldn’t resist a few snaps sitting on the old mill pond wall.
After lunch, Jo dropped us in Fakenham to catch our bus back to Norwich. Fakenham was once described as ‘the most boring place on Earth’ in a travel guide. Although the quote was actually taken out of context, it’s rather stuck. Fake news for Fakenham? Perhaps, but despite a few pretty buildings, it did have a one-cow-town feel to it. Sad but true.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.