It was hotter than Havana the day a paddling of technicolor plastic ducks floated into town for the Grand Norwich Duck Race on the River Wensum – a plucky contest held every year for charity. As usual, the competition for the most outrageous outfit was fierce with the over-sized over-the-top bath tub toys lined up like a beauty pageant, vying for votes. My personal favourite was the pretty in pink flamingo impersonator. All style over substance, I suspected. The long luscious legs were more suitable for wading than for swimming. The ducks race along the short distance between St George’s and Fye Bridges. I say ‘race’ in the loosest sense of the word. It’s always more an aimless drift as the waters of the genteel Wensum flow at a lazy, almost stationary pace. We placed a small wager on some random duck. We didn’t win and retired to a local watering hole to drown our sorrows.
One gloriously sunny Sunday, Liam chucked me on a bus for one of our regular jollies to the small towns of Norfolk. We caught the right 5a to North Walsham, not the wrong 5a run by a totally different bus company going nowhere near North Walsham. Why two different routes with the same number? Beats me. Must be a Naarfuk thing. The right 5a bumped along twisting country lanes past spooky woods, grassy pastures and bountiful fields of glowing rapeseed. 45 minutes later, we landed in North Walsham’s market place.
According to Wikipedia, North Walsham is…
…an Anglo-Saxon settlement, and with the neighbouring village of Worstead, became very prosperous from the 12th century through the arrival of weavers from Flanders. The two settlements gave their names to the textiles they produced: ‘Walsham’ became the name of a light-weight cloth for summer wear, and ‘Worsted’ a heavier cloth. The 14th century ‘wool churches’ are a testament to the prosperity of the local mill owners.
Sadly, North Walsham’s glory days are long gone. We took one look around and got back on the bus. 45 minutes later we’d returned to Norwich, drowning our sorrows in a bottle. The bus fares were a tenner. That’s ten quid I won’t see again.
Pride season is in full swing with processions and celebrations large and small up and down the realm and around the globe. It’s a time to revel in the diversity of our rainbow world and a welcome antidote to the pollution of rising populism. We’ve been regulars at Norwich Pride but, sadly, we’ll miss it this year. So, instead, we chucked ourselves into the pride event in Great Yarmouth, a kiss-me-quick bucket and spade seaside town and port on the east coast. As a child, Liam spent many a happy holiday flying his kite along Yarmouth’s golden sands. The resort has long been down on its uppers – the advent of cheap package holidays to sunnier foreign climes saw to that. But, of late, the town been given a shot in the arm by staycationers avoiding Brexit and the construction of enormous wind farms in the North Sea.
Although understandably modest by Norwich standards (not to mention the mega parties in London and Brighton) the pride march along Marine Parade was no less joyful, camp or colourful. Even the Norfolk Fire Service got in on the act by bringing up the rear. No jokes about the fireman’s hose please.
In past years, the little nooks tucked beneath our eaves have provided a cosy des res for tits with chicks. This year, the tits have been evicted by pairs of starlings. Well, Liam tells me they’re starlings. I wouldn’t know. He’s much better acquainted with birds. And noisy buggers they are too – chirpy, chirpy, cheeping at all hours. We don’t mind really. It’s a little slice of the natural world in our urban jungle. Apparently, the males attract a mate by decorating the nest with flowers then tweeting to flirty birdies as they swoop past in a ‘hey there, gorgeous, come check out what I’ve got’ kinda way. Not so different from some men I know. Once betrothed, she moves in and redecorates. Not so different from some women I know.
Along Norwich’s hare course of fifty or so multi-coloured leporids, there are supposed to be over 160 leverets nesting in shop windows or larking about in gay abandon outside doorways. That’s what young hares are called, apparently. Well, I’ve only noticed a few here and there. So where are the other 129?
I did, however, stumble across a drove of ten of the little blighters in a department store ready to pounce from the long grass and play havoc at the Clarins counter.
The whole oversized-creatures-in-the-street theme for charity is getting out of hand. Now Manchester’s doing it with their Bee in the City trail. 101 giant, brightly-coloured worker bees can be seen buzzing about the city all summer.
Bee image courtesy of Manchester Evening News.
Last month’s prolonged heatwave, reminiscent of our Turkey days, drove us from the sticky city to the cute little towns of Bungay and Beccles, just across the county line. Norfolk and Suffolk (the north folk and the south folk) are sister shires of the old East Anglian Kingdom and a gentle rivalry still persists between them, most notably played out on the pitch when Norwich play Ipswich at the footie. Bungay is a handsome town where the pace of life is stationary. At its heart is a long-abandoned tumbledown castle. A finely-tuned imagination is needed to picture it in its former glory.
After a slow meander around the Georgian streets, we settled on a cream tea in the little café next to the Buttercross, where local farmers once displayed their produce. It was, as Liam put it,
A gay with a bun in Bungay.
Since all the town’s banks have shut down and there’s only one ATM left, Lloyds Bank have pitched a mobile branch in a car park. Given the relentless rise of internet banking, it’s anyone’s guess how long this will last. These days, I can even pay cheques into my account using my smarty pants phone.
Next on the mini tour was Beccles, five miles along the border – a more substantial town and strangely awash with banks and ATMs. Beccles is one of several riverports on the Broads, the network of rivers, streams and flooded medieval peat excavations so beloved by those who like to mess about in boats. Beccles Quay is where dedicated boating folk can pick up supplies, get a proper wash and empty the chemical loo.
In 1981, sleepy Beccles was rudely woken by a tornado, one of the 104 twisters waltzing across England and Wales and the largest recorded tornado outbreak in European history. But East Anglia isn’t Oklahoma. Hardly a roof tile was lifted and the town dropped back off to sleep. It’s been dozing ever since. After another slow wander, we found ourselves parked in a pretty beer garden to bask in the warmth and imbibe the tranquillity. I confess I got a little tiddly. Must’ve been heatstroke. Hiccup!
What better way to spend a steamy afternoon than at a traditional village fête? The community-minded folk of Poringland do it every year. The neat and tidy village, just a few miles south of Norwich, was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Porringhelanda’, though you’d never know it was old from the modern sprawl built over the ancient roots. I’ve never been to a proper village fête before. It was everything I’d imagined – dancing kiddies, face-painting, bouncy castling, good causes, competitions, arts, crafts, pulled pork, candy floss and cakes, lots of cakes – and some things I hadn’t – a podgy spiderman with love handles and visible panty line, and the campest compere since Julian Clary. All that was missing was DI Barnaby from Midsomer Murders poring over a bell ringer done-in with a cake slice behind the hoopla.
Liam bought a couple of tickets for the tombola. His prize? A pink spaghetti-strap nightie for the fuller figure. How the ladies giggled as they handed it over. Keen to get in touch with his sexy feminine side, Liam slipped it on and gave me a twirl.