We’ve all got bills to pay and everyone everywhere has been forced to adapt quickly to the new reality of these troubling times. This is as true in sleepy Loddon as it is anywhere. A case in point is Rosy Lee’s Tea Room. For many years now this tiny café has thrived on passing trade from sailors and cyclists stopping off for coffee and cake. The delightful owner, Caroline, is a bit of a local celebrity who, more than 20 years ago, floated down the River Chet, liked what she saw and stayed. But now, social distancing means the café can only accommodate one customer at a time. So what was Caroline the tea lady to do?
Extend the little secret garden she has created tucked away by Loddon Staithe*, of course. We got the call from Tom, the nice young man who renovated our cottage and sold it on to us. Would we help out? Hell, yes.
Tooled-up Tom with his broad shoulders and impressive equipment did all the butch work, constructing tables and erecting metal poles. All we really did was mow down the bramble and hold things while he wielded hammer and drill. In the meantime, Caroline kept us fed and watered. I can recommend the bacon sarnie.
Now lycra’d bikers can gather in gangs (of no more than six, of course) in a secret grove to rest and replenish with enough space to keep an eye on their fancy cycles.
Yes, that’s Liam and me with our backs to the camera. We were pleased to do our bit for a village institution.
*A staithe is a landing stage for loading or unloading cargo boats. That ship sailed long ago round these parts. Loddon Staithe is now used by those who like to muck about in pleasure boats.
Despite a charming and traditional appearance, Loddon Village comes with all mod cons – well, almost. A decent mobile phone signal would be nice. So imagine our surprise when we stumbled on this classic thirties Austin Seven in the church car park.
A few days on, feet up and glasses clinked, we settled down to watch the newly rebooted ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ on the telly box. Imagine our surprise when we spotted this classic Austin Seven taking centre stage.
Must be a rural thing.
All Creatures Great and Small is based on the books of the British country vet Alf Wight, writing as James Herriot. The hugely popular original series was made by the BBC and ran from the seventies all the way through to the noughties, so the Channel Five remake has a lot to live up to. So far so good – classy and timeless, just like the cars. And it wouldn’t be the same without James Herriot’s arm up a cow.
I’m all for people stepping out of their cars and getting on their bikes. It’s good for the body, good for the soul and even better for the environment. And pedal-power has gone into overdrive since the pandemic. With quieter roads and cleaner air, people are turning and returning to cycling in their droves. New bike sales are up and old bikes are getting a makeover after years of rusting away at the back of a shed.
The flatlands of Norfolk provide an easy ride for cyclists and there are few better places to pedal push than the highways and byways hereabouts. On sunny days, it can be the Tour de Loddon along the high street with riders top to toe in fancy kit dismounting for coffee and cake. It ain’t always pretty. Okay, we can’t all look like six-times Olympic champion Chris Hoy with his thunder thighs and buns you could butter. But if all your spare tyres are wrapped round your waist, it’s best to go easy on the lycra. It’s enough to turn the milk in my flat white.
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.
I cannot lie. I was so relieved when off licences were added to the list of essential retailers. A dry lockdown would be way beyond the pale ale and, thankfully, local shops are well-stocked with the hard stuff, helping to tranquilise us through the coronavirus crisis.
We’re creatures of habit, Liam and I. And touring the village watering holes for a few bevvies is one of them. We call it doing our bit for the local economy. As they’re all shut up for the time being, we get our fix by cracking open a bottle and joining in the White Horse virtual pub quiz on Facebook every Monday at 8pm. It’s not quite the same as the real thing and it’s too easy to cheat – not that we do, of course – but it’s as good as it gets right now.
Simon, Chedgrave’s very own jolly landlord, is doing his bit to keep community peckers up and the virtual quiz really helps. He also does a nice line in colourful shirts to brighten up the dullest of days – always a talking point. Sartorially, though, he’s got a long way to go before he can compete with the nation’s all-time favourite pub landlady – bottle-blond, chain-smoker, Bet Lynch (AKA Julie Goodyear). Bet’s signature look was leopard skin. She covered everything in it, even her chest exerciser.
Brassy Bet’s tenure behind the bar at the Rovers Return on Coronation Street may be long over but you can catch her glory days weekday afternoons on ITV3. That’s what I do.