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.
East Anglia is England’s breadbasket, a land of milk and honey, a cornucopia of plenty. From crab to duck, sugar, saffron and samphire, poultry and pigs, mustard to mint, wheat, barley and acres and acres of rapeseed that in spring turn the patchwork of fields an iridescent yellow, the flatlands provide some of the most abundant land on Earth. But you can have too much of a good thing. Back in the day, being fat was a sign of wealth and health. Skinny was the fashion of those at the bottom of the social heap, a consequence not a choice. But now, the flatlands are the fatlands; fat is the new thin.
Who am I to talk? Now I’ve reached my midriff years, I’m no longer that skinny little waif whose 26 inch waist played to packed houses in the late Seventies. Yes, my middle age spread is, well, spreading. But I’m talking about carbon hoof prints of heffer proportions and they’re attached to people half my age. It ain’t clever and it ain’t pretty. So, my fellow East Angles, if you want to outlive your parents, it’s time to go easy on the pies and the fries.
As a recent interloper to this green and pleasant corner of England, it’s not for me to suggest that the north folk of Norfolk are less blessed in the old grey matter than those in other parts of this sceptre’d isle. Those in a better position to judge such things tell me that a long history of cousin-shagging has indeed narrowed the gene pool. So this isn’t just a malicious rural myth spread by the smug metropolitan elite. It seems there was little else to do during the cold and dark winter months before the advent of commercial TV and Super Mario, not even a brass band or a male-voice choir. Even today, whenever a local yokel says or does something, well, a bit village idiot, there’s a time-honoured, well-worn phrase that trips of the lips of the spectators to the fall. With arms folded they mutter with a casual shrug, “normal for Norfolk.” This might also explain the popularity of the UK Independence Party.
A sunny spring day saw us on the top floor of a double decker cruising cross-country past gilded fields of rapeseed. We were on our way to Loddon, a picture postcard market town of 2,500 souls, ten miles outside Norwich at the headwaters of the Norfolk Broads on the River Chet. We had a taste for a speciality brew and a clotted cream fancy in the Vintage Tea Rooms at the Eighteenth Century Mill, quite the thing to do in these parts. Neat and tidy Loddon is stuffed with quaint little Georgian and Victorian buildings lining its gently winding high street and is dominated by the fifteenth century Holy Trinity Church set in a sea of tombstones. The town also features the smallest fire station I’ve ever seen with room for just a single truck and no fireman’s pole to slide down.
We made it to the Vintage Tea Rooms, only to find it locked up with the following message:
“Closed for 2014”
We got the bus back to Norwich and went to the pub instead. Every cloud…
On a recent trip down to the Smoke, Liam and I decided on a post-matinee snifter. We headed towards Trafalgar Square to the stage of our inaugural meeting, a chilly evening in the spring of 2006. The chance encounter is best described in my first book:
The rest, as they say, really is history.
As we hurried past the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, we were confronted by the biggest cock I’ve ever seen, glowing bright blue in the late afternoon sunshine. It caused quite a stir, I can tell you.
The puffed up rooster, by German sculptor, Katharina Fritsch, is the latest temporary exhibit on the empty corner plinth of the Square. The work is intended to poke fun at the vainglorious imperial statues of puffed-up men (Nelson, George IV, and generals Havelock and Napier) that surround it. There have been many fleeting displays on the podium down the years, from the daft to the inspirational, the profound to the whimsical. The reason there is no permanent statue has been an open secret for years. The plinth is reserved for an effigy of Her Maj after she drops off her throne. Given her mother’s longevity (the last Empress of India lived until she was 101), the chances are they’ll be a more temporary erections to come.
Back in Norwich, the cock of the coop theme continued.
Personally, I’d rather win a week in the Maldives but then, this is Norfolk, the nation’s bread basket and home to Bernard Matthews, king of the gobblers. It’s a funny old world.
Anyone living on these damp little islands and anyone who visits them knows that Britain is a nation of a thousand and one accents and dialects. Homespun and imported lingo twists and turns through town and county. We may live in a global village and in a mass media world where ‘Globalish’ (the cut-down version of English-light) dominates, but that hasn’t stopped many regional accents kicking against the tide. In many cases, they are thriving. English in all its variants is constantly evolving and because the language is such a magpie, words are being dropped and added, borrowed and adapted, created and extended all the time. Our cousins across the Pond might be forgiven for thinking that there are only two English accents: posh and Cockney. But even those stereotypes are changing. These days, only the Queen speaks like the Queen and the word on the street, the inner city London street, is a marvellous infusion of words, phrases and pronunciations from right across the world. Quite different from an Eastenders episode.
Unfortunately, many English dialects are truly indecipherable to an untrained ear. Pity the poor foreigner, jumping into a cab at East Midlands International Airport to be greeted by:
“Ayup me duck.”
The thick Norfolk accent, aptly named “Broad Norfolk” is no less difficult to fathom and notoriously difficult to imitate. Norwich may only be 115 miles from central London but that’s far enough away for Broad Norfolk to survive the onslaught of the insipid Estuary English, the dominant accent of southeast England (and the one Liam and I speak). There’s even an organisation, the Friends of Norfolk Dialect (FOND) which is…
…dedicated to conserving and recording Norfolk’s priceless linguistic and cultural heritage, thus keeping ‘Broad Norfolk’ alive.
Broad Naarfuk is rich in local words and phrases, some of them variants on standard English, others completely unique. A year in and Liam and I are only just beginning to look a little less baffled. Here’s a few to give you a titty-totty taste:
Want to know how all of this sounds? Take a look at this. I’ll be testing you later.
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?