British weather is notoriously changeable – from drab to sparkling, drenched to parched, cold to clammy – sometimes all in the space of a few days. Perhaps that’s why it’s a bit of a national obsession and the staple of many an awkward conversation in a lift. It pays to take full advantage when a fine weather front rolls in. And take advantage we did when balmy air blew up from the Continent to bestow a mini heatwave for Easter. We jumped on a bus and headed for a riverside pub in Thorpe St Andrew, a pretty hamlet on the outskirts of Norwich. Liam wanted ducks, I wanted wine. The wine won. The only duck we saw was on a road sign.
Meandering through the fairground masses in Chapelfield Gardens at Easter, I was stopped in my tracks by two unusual sights standing out from the candyflossed crowd, naff neon, tinny tunes and spinning tops. The first was this sign on the side of the coffee kiosk.
It’s a simple message that speaks volumes. Only the disagreeable would disagree with the sentiment even if the reality is rather more challenging. However, the second sight for sore eyes, a wood-carved totem pole, was slightly more inscrutable. Any ideas?
Yesterday, I left Liam indoors slaving over the final pre-edits of the new book and tootled into town to catch the bank holiday vibe. The crowds were drawn to the Easter parade of stalls flogging fast food with an international flavour – German bratwurst competed with Cumberland sausages, French fromage with the Great British Cheese Company, savoury Indian street food with overflowing troughs of sweet treats. It was as if Borough Market had parachuted in for the day. Naturally, I was drawn to the stall selling Turkish delight, baklava, olives and mezes. The swarthy geezer with tombstone teeth behind the counter wasn’t bad either.
In nearby Chapelfield Gardens, a travelling fair rose up above the neat borders. As I drew closer, the fatty aroma of fried onions and cheap burgers mugged the senses and my arteries hardened with every nostril-full. Distant memories flew me right back to my adolescent stirrings for the tattooed oiks who spun the waltzers, the kind of randy highwaymen who would take you round the back of the ghost train and relieve you of your pocket money (or at least, that’s what I imagined at the time).
There was a time when I would jump on every attraction with gay abandon. Alas, I am Braveheart no more. Not since my nephews dared me to hop on the Detonator at Thorpe Park a few years back and I nearly lost my lunch. Risk aversion comes with age, I suppose. These days, the rickety rackety rides seem way too Heath Robinson for my liking. For me there’s little fun left at the fair. Still, the tattooed oiks still manage to get my loins stirring.
I took up pole position outside Pret a Manger on Haymarket to sip my usual tipple, rest my gym-tortured limbs and people-watch. It was a bumper crop. School’s out and the Easter break delivered bus-loads of bumpkins and charabancs of tourists to sup, shop and promenade along Norwich’s cobbled streets. Dutch lowlanders mingled with landed gentry and the children of the corn while Chinese happy snappers brought up the rear. As I gazed into the crowd, I spotted two middle aged men wandering past the crooning busker outside Top Shop. The pair sported the neo-clone whiskers that are all the rage right now. They were also holding hands so I guessed they were more than just good friends. My, how things have changed since the secret encounters of my wonderfully misspent youth.
Haymarket Down the Years
With thanks to the late George Plunkett and his marvellous photos of old Norwich.