Our next family do since the end of lockdown was to Liam’s lot. A fun family BBQ in rural Hertfordshire, a night or two in Cambridge and a visit to Ely, a teeny-weeny city with a vast cathedral dominating the flatlands. ‘The ship of the Fens’ can be seen for miles around, demonstrating just how important He used to be to the prince, the pauper and everyone in between. There’s been a house of God on this spot since 673.
Ely sits on a small plot of high ground at the heart of the Fens, a once expansive marsh long since tamed by dykes and ditches, and drained for agriculture. The city has a quirky feel to it and, despite being only 14 miles from Cambridge and 80 miles from London, projects an air of splendid isolation and self-sufficiency, perhaps inherited from times past when it was an island, cut off for much of the year.
Obviously, the huge church is the main event. I’m not even remotely religious but its sheer scale forces you to look up to the heavens in utter astonishment.
I’ve always said that if I was a stick of Brighton rock, you’d find the words ‘city boy’ stamped all the way though me. And if, as a city boy living in the city, I’d heard gunshot, I’d have called the old bill, no hesitation. The truth is, despite the crime and the grime on the mean streets of old London town, I never heard gunfire for real, not once. Now I’m in the middle of huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ country where men are men and birds are nervous, I’m slowly learning to embrace the back of beyond. When I hear both barrels go off in the mean fields of Norfolk, I just shrug my shoulders and chuck another log on the wood burner. Pity the poor pheasants, though.
Brisk walks are the best way to burn off all those festive calories, especially during lockdown when keep fit options are limited. Timing is everything at this time of year. The distant sun is low on the horizon and, at its height, peeps only briefly above the tree line. A midday stroll is best, crunching through the frost, bubble-wrapped against the winds that blow across the East Anglian flatlands. Then it’s back to the cottage to put all those calories back on again.
Liam and I know how lucky we are. We don’t have children to feed, educate and amuse. We don’t have elderly parents to care for. We don’t have serious physical or mental health issues. We don’t live in a flat with no outside space. We don’t have money worries. And we don’t live where COVID-19 has been most deadly – quite the contrary, in fact. Some people have all these things tied up in a bow. Yes, we know how lucky we are.
asked the driver in broad Naarfuk as we clambered into the back of the taxi. Here we go, I thought. We’re gonna have thatconversation again.
Cabbies are notorious chatterboxes, aren’t they? I think it’s in the job description. And they’ve usually got a view on absolutely everything, with opinions often slightly to the right of Attila the Hun. I knew where the conversation was heading and I didn’t fancy going round the houses so I cut straight to the chase.
“No, we’re husbands.”
“Oh, reet. Me youngest is gay too.”
It turns out our local yokel is totally unfazed by his son’s sexuality and he told us about it – loudly and proudly all the way.
“’Bin goin’ steady wiv the boyfriend for a couple of year now. I ‘ear weddin’ bells. I might get me a noo ‘at!”