Norfolk has its very own community television station called Mustard TV. Why Mustard? It’s a nod to Coleman’s mustard, the city’s famous hot and spicy condiment. The station is run on a wing and a prayer, and presented by those at the very start of their broadcasting careers and others at the very end. With Liam on family duties in London and me with thumbs a-twiddling, I channel-hopped onto Mustard and stumbled on ‘East Angrier’, a vox pop show for local yokels to vent their spleens. Here we go, I thought, another rant by the ignorati spitting out their fake views. But, no, I was pleasantly amused. No bigoted salvos about Johnny foreigners, Islam or Brexit. A few fine citizens had a go at Trump (that works for me) and annoying self-service tills in supermarkets (that works for me too). One Norfolk broad whinged about the number of spam emails she gets (tell me about it) and a grumpy old git reflected on the appearance of his fellow Angles…
Blokes over 30 wearing skinny jeans with the knees cut out look like bleep, bleep.
Bald blokes with ponytails. What the bleep is that all about?
Clearly a man after my own heart.
And then there was the scruffy student fretting he hadn’t finished his essay on David Hockney. He was standing astride the line of blue and green glass tiles which flows down Westlegate marking the course of one of Norwich’s lost rivers – the Great Cockey. This is not to be confused with the Little Cockey which isn’t worth parting your legs for.
Wells-next-the-Sea was the venue for this year’s works outing with Jo Parfitt, my partner in crime and the force of nature who is Summertime Publishing. We love a day out at the seaside when the weather’s set fair. Getting there was a bit of adventure in itself. The first stage was a stately railway journey through the ripe fields, reedy wetlands and sleepy hamlets of North Norfolk. My sedation was only interrupted when I spotted the large station sign at Gunton. Well, it didn’t look like a G to me. The two-carriage train deposited us at Sheringham, a bucket and spade resort where undertakers and vets never go out of fashion. Then onto a little bus for a white knuckle ride along the curvy coast, through flint and stone villages with impossibly narrow streets called ‘Old Woman’s Lane’ and the like. There was little time to admire the view. I held on for dear life, wishing I’d worn Pampers.
Well-heeled Wells is a gorgeous little resort and working port surrounded by pine forests, sandbanks and saltmarshes. We lunched aboard the Albatros, a genuine Dutch cargo ship serving up fake Dutch pancakes. They were delicious. The tide must’ve been out because the boat had a distinct starboard list; I felt quite tipsy even before a drop had passed my lips. Happily, I managed to regain my sea legs after half a bottle or so. We didn’t make it down the agenda to the 2016/17 marketing strategy. We got stuck on gossip. Can’t think why.
The train back to Norwich was packed with sunburnt kiddies and lively country cousins out on the lash. The painted ladies opposite shared shots of raspberry liqueur and a Bottecelli babe squeezed into the aisle next to me. As the crowd nudged past, the shapely Norfolk broad fell off her heels and tipped her ample rack into my face.
‘My, my,’ I said. ‘A total eclipse.’ How she laughed.
Let’s face it, spring is a bit of a hit and miss affair across these islands so it pays to take full advantage when Mother Nature turns up the heat. As soon as Liam returned from family duties in London I bundled him onto a bus for the short hop to Thorpe St Andrew, a pretty riverside spot a mile or three outside town. With Roman scraps, a Scandinavian place-name and a mention in the Domesday Book, the hamlet has ancient roots. Sadly, little survives to this day. Even the church is Victorian Gothic Revival though some ruins of its medieval predecessor, destroyed by fire, still stand.
Thorpe St Andrew is where people go to feed swans and muck about in boats on a sunny day. It’s also where people like me watch people feeding swans and mucking about in boats on a sunny day – from the comfort of a riverside watering hole. So that’s what we did.
Walkers, birders and water sports devotees can catch the little ferry from Thorpe Green to the Whitlingham Country Park, gateway to the Norfolk Broads. There’s no bar there so we gave it a wide berth. Next time, we’ll charge up the hip flask first.
A damp and dingy Saturday afternoon saw us at the Maddermarket Theatre for an am-dram matinee courtesy of the Norwich Players. We were Maddermarket virgins and I fancied a peek at the converted Catholic chapel. A striking Sixties’ add-on foyer looked better on the outside and led us to the interior of the church, reconfigured as an Elizabethan playhouse. We took our pews for The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s loud and densely scripted account of the Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts at the end of the Seventeenth Century. I looked around the audience. Many of them could well have sailed on the Mayflower. By now, we’re used to mingling with the grey herd at Norwich’s cultural events, but the care homes of Norfolk must have been deserted that afternoon. When the over-generous use of dry ice to create the misty ambience of a midnight glade threatened to gas the first four rows, I feared some of the punters might not make it back to the coach.
Miller’s now iconic play is a story of rampant fundamentalism, ignorance and the abuse of power. Mass hysteria is whipped up to impose religious orthodoxy and settle old scores. Miller wrote the piece as an allegory of Fifties’ McCarthyism when the U.S. government hounded and blacklisted alleged communists (and socialists and liberals and anyone else who didn’t tow the party line). Sound familiar? Just take a look around the world. The play’s core message is just as relevant today as it was then. The talented thespians did well to deliver the difficult drama with conviction leaving us with the real sense of a menacing world gone completely bonkers. Sadly, the message was all lost on a few. As we queued to leave the auditorium at the end of the performance, an old Norfolk broad turned to her companion and announced:
“Didn’t understand a word of it. Not a word. Marvelous, wasn’t it?’
A gruelling morning of shopping and pushing through the madding crowds emptied us of Christmas cheer so we decided to refill it at a local hostelry. Minutes from the loft, the Coachmaker’s Arms is by far the most patronised pub in the vicinity, despite the whiff of damp and the beer flies dive-bombing the kegs of real ale lined up behind the bar. The pub was nose to nipple but we managed to squeeze onto a couple of stools to rest our weary legs. As we supped, it was impossible not to eavesdrop on the animated conversations of the punters. Our ears swivelled like bats to the sound of a couple of Norfolk broads behind us:
“Well, lets face it, you’ve cheated on him loads of times.”
“No I haven’t. That was just a bunch of lesbians.”
Normal for Norfolk?
At the tail end of summer, we took an afternoon excursion to Wroxham, gateway to the Norfolk Broads. We expected pretty and quaint with teahouses, old pubs and happy holiday-makers splashing about in boats. We were disappointed. Anything worth preserving got bull-dozed in the Seventies. The small town is entirely dominated by someone called Roy – Roy’s Supermarket, Roy’s Pharmacy, Roy’s Toys, Roy’s Garden Centre (and, no doubt, Roy’s Baby Care and Roy’s Undertakers – a company town from cradle to the grave). Even Ronald McDonald, that global corporate clown, has thrown in the towel by flogging his sweaty burgers and thin chips inside one of Roy’s gaffs. It’s probably a franchise. Far be it for me to criticise anyone who provides local employment but what’s the special deal if Roy kicks the bargain bucket?