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.
“Ar ya brothers?”
asked the driver in broad Naarfuk as we clambered into the back of the taxi. Here we go, I thought. We’re gonna have that conversation 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!”
So much for my petty prejudices.
As we’re the only gays in the village, Liam, in his infinite wisdom, thought it would be fun to get better acquainted with our new parish. I thought pub crawl. He thought picnic and a gentle stroll along the river Chet. Now, anyone who knows me, even ever so slightly, knows I don’t hike, roam, ramble, trek or yomp. Still, I thought, what’s the worst that could happen?
Having hunted and gathered our provisions – a meal deal at the Co-op – we ambled across the pretty graveyard of Loddon’s fifteenth century Holy Trinity Church in search of the leafy gate to one of the many Broads walks which make up the Wherryman’s Way. As we passed the rows of lopsided headstones, we were serenaded by squawking rooks. It was an ominous sign.
The trail guided us through a tunnel of wild foliage, across babbling brooks and along country lanes to a riverside clearing called Pyes Mill. The mill’s long gone but it’s a pleasant spot with picnic tables, a barbecue grill and a place to shelter from the rain. We munched on our lunch watching the holiday boats slowly chug along the still waters of the river.
Fully replenished, we embarked on stage two of our great expedition – across a marshy field populated by bugs and a small herd of black cows grazing on the lush grass, tails flapping about to shoo away the flies. We’re both city boys and the only cows we normally see are sliced up at the Tesco’s meat counter so we kept well clear as we tip-toed around the puddles and shit.
Suddenly, a white-faced beast with pendulous udders and a mad cow look in her eyes emerged from the brush heading towards us, mooing in earnest. We stopped. She stopped. We stared her out. She stared us out. Guess who blinked first? Knowing the game was up, we turned round and started slowly retracing our steps. She followed. We quickened our pace. She quickened hers. Then she charged, picking up quite a speed, udders sloshing from side to side. We ran. Yes, we ran. It wasn’t our finest hour and thank the Lord there was no one around to video the pathetic sight of two old poofs fleeing from one ton of angry beef hell-bent on making mincemeat of us. It could have gone viral. Liam even considered chucking himself in the Chet to escape. Having seen us off, she trundled back into the bush.
Returning to Pyes Mill, we glanced back at our nemesis. She was being closely followed by a cute little brown calf. That was why the old cow was so pissed off. She was protecting the veal. Pity they didn’t mention that in the guidebook. I knew we should have gone to the pub.