I heard through the grapevine that a bottle of vino from Norfolk had been recognised as one of the best in the world. It won a platinum best in show medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017, one of the industry’s most prestigious competitions. Fancy that! The winning white, the Bacchus 2015, comes from the family-run Winbirri Vineyard on the edge of the Broads National Park. Apparently, the name Winbirri comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘win’ for wine and ‘birri’ for grape – though I suspect rough beer was the tipple of choice back in the day for those merry Angles of old swigging from their drinking horns, Beowulf-like. And so it is again, judging by the spectacular revival of indie brewers across East Anglia. These days, it’s artisan ale and hipster whiskers at every tavern. Drinking horns have yet to come back into fashion. Give it time.
English wines have been winning gongs galore for a while now. The weather’s brighter these days, it’s a global warming thing. With rising sea levels, we might as well make merry before the North Sea laps about our knees. At 14 quid a bottle, the Winbirri winner is a bit pricier than the plonk we normally guzzle but we thought we’d give it a go to see what all the fuss was about. All sold out. Sad face.
Images are courtesy of Winbirri.
The fourth of May was local election day hereabouts. As in many rural areas, the people of Norfolk are conservative with a small ‘c’, distrustful of change and suspicious of (and sometimes hostile to) strangers. That’s why some farming folk keep it in the family and one or two get way too close to their livestock. It’s called Normal for Norfolk. Unsurprisingly, as a rainbow city marooned in a sea of blue, Norwich itself voted for a weave of red threaded with yellow. Norwich isn’t Norfolk, just like Bodrum isn’t Turkey. Apart from the liberal retirees of North Norfolk, the rest of our green and insular county voted Tory. The only crumb of comfort was the damn good thrashing meted out to the right-wing UK Independence Party which, right across the realm, lost all but one of their seats. After all, as Britain heads for Brexit high on the illusion of sovereignty, what’s the point of UKIP anyway?
Next month’s the big one – a general election – where the great British public give their verdict on the road ahead. I’ve always (foolishly) lived in the hope that common sense prevails in the end. But then I picked up the Metro, a free newspaper no better than a celebrity comic but distracting enough to read on the bus. It featured an article called ‘The Baffled of Britain’, a survey listing the things that most confuse the average citizen. Some get me scratching my head too, such as:
The offside rule in soccer
Getting out of IKEA
What women see in Benedict Cumberbatch
How Trump is president of the USA
But way up there at number 3 was…
Gawd help us all.
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.
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?
A multi-coloured market is the throbbing heart of Norwich, the surrounding streets are its arteries. The daily beat is supplemented by an assortment of buskers, street entertainers and artists, all welcome to try their hand and let the discerning and not so discerning public decide who deserves a few coppers tossed in their hat. The city council encourages the trade, no licence required.
Wandering back from my daily grind at the gym, I came across several new artistic additions to the marketside streetscape.
Two People Killed Every Week
1 in 3 Women
1 in 5 Men
750,000 Children Witness Domestic Violence
Norfolk Men Say No
Norfolk Says No
If you’re knocking your partner about, get help. If you’re being knocked about by your partner, seek help. Simple but effective.
Norfolk Says No Campaign.
House-sitting and house-swapping are fantastic low cost ways of getting to stay in some amazing places. We have old friends in Turkey who live in…
…Gökcebel, a sprawling village in the foothills above Yalıkavak. Their impressive detached pile is surrounded on all sides by a well-manicured walled garden and patrolled by a trio of cats brought in from the bins. Just like its owners, the house is elegant, unpretentious and homely.*
They often exchange their village homestead for ruritanian French gites and posh Californian condos. All they ask (along with the place not being trashed, obviously) is that their soporific cats are fed and watered. Easy.
Now we’re in our new gaff, we might get in on the act. There must be people out there who wouldn’t mind laying their hat in a well-appointed micro-garret with all mod-cons minutes away from the delights of Norwich and her embarrassment of riches. Ours is a lock-up-and-leave loft, small but beautifully formed (like me). All we’d ask is that guests turn the lights out as they leave. I guess we’d have to hide the dressing-up box and battery-operated play things. Or maybe not.
Sometimes, this care-taking lark can be a tad more challenging. Take, for example, the menagerie owners in Hockwold cum Wilton (yes, that is a genuine place) who pretty much need a qualified zoo keeper to look after their duo of dairy goats (Simone and Ashia), a pack of terriers (Monty, Blossom, Scarlett and Sanya), a clutter of cats (Jarvis and KC), a brace of drakes (Flappy and Ballerina), a nest of guinea pigs (Hearty and Chubby), a clutch of chickens (including randy roosters) and a small shoal of goldfish. Sounds a bit too much like work experience at Whipsnade for my liking and besides, I’d be terrified of killing something. Still, there are no shortage of goat-herders applying for the busman’s holiday. They’re fully booked.
Thanks to Roving Jay for the heads up on this one.
*From Turkey Street, Jack and Liam’s Bodrum Tales out soon.