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.
All masked up, Liam and I jumped on the bus to Norwich to take a gander at In Memoriam by artist Luke Jerram, flapping about in Chapelfield Gardens. The installation premiered in Belgium and is now on tour across Europe. Made up of bed sheets arranged in the form of a red cross, In Memoriam is a tribute to all those health and care workers who risk their own lives caring for the sick during the COVID-19 pandemic. We meandered through the forest of sheets in grateful silence. Lest we forget.
We wear face masks when required – on public transport and elsewhere – not because we want to. No one wants to. We wear them because it helps protect us and those around us. That’s the socially responsible thing to do, the civilised thing to do. We don’t think wearing them is any more of an infringement of our civil liberties than, say, wearing a seat belt or stopping at a red light. So my message to those ignorant refuseniks who think they’re striking a blow for freedom, don’t be a twat, wear a bloody mask.
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.
My teeth were the first casualty of the pandemic. Both my routine check-up and appointment with the hygienist were cancelled as dental surgeries up and down the land shut up shop and the nation’s drills fell silent. But dentists are now back in business – just – and I went into town for my first scale and polish of 2020. Health and safety measures were in full swing with a new check-in app, a strict one way system, sanitisers everywhere and the poor hygienist dripping in enough PPE for a trip to Mars.
It was only our second trip into Norwich since lockdown so we made the most of it, picking up a few non-essential must-haves. Face masks must now be worn in all shops and indoor shopping centres. Most folk complied, with a rich array of styles from the unimaginative to the truly outlandish. Our little black numbers were at the dull end of the spectrum. And, unlike the man who was recently caught strolling down Oxford Street in London, the masks covered the right appendage.
But I couldn’t help thinking that they gave a false sense of security as shoppers weaved through the crowd pretty much ignoring signs and social distancing.
We also took full advantage of Chancellor ‘Risky’ Rishi’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ discount scheme to jump-start the hospitality sector after the leanest of months. We lunched late but before we were shown to our table, our temperature was checked by the maître d’. Very reassuring, I thought, and the only time I’ve been pleased not to have been called hot, hot, hot.
Weather in these isles is notoriously unpredictable at the best of times but, all things considered, summer this year has been good. Just as well with all this lockdown business. June was warm and dry, July was wetter and August has been a scorcher so far. Whenever the mercury rises, out comes the BBQ, bangers and burgers. On the hottest day of the year, we popped to the shops for grill grub and, after getting home, threw open the stable door to our little porch. The heat rushed in and the fire alarm went off. We had to unscrew it from the ceiling to get it to stop.
Later that day, as I was flipping the burgers, I stepped on a wasp with my bare foot. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down too well with the wasp and the angry little bugger stung me. It was my first time. Until that painful moment, this city boy had never been stung – bitten many times, yes, but stung, no. I didn’t know how I’d react, physically. Thankfully, I didn’t go into anaphylactic shock and have to be rushed to hospital. I did, though, hop around the lawn screaming ‘ouch, ouch, ouch.’
‘Don’t be such a drama queen,’
Liam said before pouring me a large glass of medicinal white.