I’m all for people stepping out of their cars and getting on their bikes. It’s good for the body, good for the soul and even better for the environment. And pedal-power has gone into overdrive since the pandemic. With quieter roads and cleaner air, people are turning and returning to cycling in their droves. New bike sales are up and old bikes are getting a makeover after years of rusting away at the back of a shed.
The flatlands of Norfolk provide an easy ride for cyclists and there are few better places to pedal push than the highways and byways hereabouts. On sunny days, it can be the Tour de Loddon along the high street with riders top to toe in fancy kit dismounting for coffee and cake. It ain’t always pretty. Okay, we can’t all look like six-times Olympic champion Chris Hoy with his thunder thighs and buns you could butter. But if all your spare tyres are wrapped round your waist, it’s best to go easy on the lycra. It’s enough to turn the milk in my flat white.
Weather in these isles is notoriously unpredictable at the best of times but, all things considered, summer this year has been good. Just as well with all this lockdown business. June was warm and dry, July was wetter and August has been a scorcher so far. Whenever the mercury rises, out comes the BBQ, bangers and burgers. On the hottest day of the year, we popped to the shops for grill grub and, after getting home, threw open the stable door to our little porch. The heat rushed in and the fire alarm went off. We had to unscrew it from the ceiling to get it to stop.
Later that day, as I was flipping the burgers, I stepped on a wasp with my bare foot. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down too well with the wasp and the angry little bugger stung me. It was my first time. Until that painful moment, this city boy had never been stung – bitten many times, yes, but stung, no. I didn’t know how I’d react, physically. Thankfully, I didn’t go into anaphylactic shock and have to be rushed to hospital. I did, though, hop around the lawn screaming ‘ouch, ouch, ouch.’
‘Don’t be such a drama queen,’
Liam said before pouring me a large glass of medicinal white.
Country life brings with it many rewards but one of them isn’t the common or garden mole. Our small rural patch was under sustained excavation from one (or maybe more) of these pesky pests burrowing beneath our feet to mine for juicy worms. The BBQ was in serious danger of dropping down a sink hole, and whole sections of the lawn began to resemble a toy-town Peak District as the industrious mouldywarp (as moles were called in Shakespeare’s day) built little hillocks from the tunnel spoil.
Mole hills are all too common in these parts. The local graveyard is full of ’em. The dearly departed may not mind, but the alive and kicking certainly do. I’ve had dreams of Mr Mole sunning himself on a little deckchair, cocktail in one hand, worm burger in the other; the party guest who never leaves. It’s the stuff of my nightmares – Wind in the Willows it ain’t. So I counter-attacked with organic repellent and coffee grains in the hope he’d get the message and move on to greener pastures. So far so good. I may have won the battle but the war is not over.
It was a warm but rainy day for our first forage into Norwich since March’s lockdown. I must admit we felt unexpectedly anxious at the prospect of leaving the sanctuary of the village and heading into town on a bus. We girded our loins, with masks and sanitisers cocked and ready.
It was actually fine. Because of social distancing rules, bus capacity has been reduced and, as we were two of only six passengers, there was plenty of room. This didn’t stop a young couple sitting together in non-designated seats and removing their masks to chat. What is it with the young? They may feel indestructible, safe in the knowledge that the dreaded lurgy is unlikely to bring them down, but that won’t stop them super-spreading to the rest of us.
It was good to get back into the city again. Norwich was busy but not packed – almost normal. Big Issue sellers were back on the streets and most cafés and shops were open. The only thing noticeably missing were the buskers and artists who, in better times, provide a weird and wonderful addition to Norwich’s street life.
Wherever we went seemed well-organised and COVID-secure with lots of one-way systems going on. Most people complied. No one was overwhelmed with punters, though. It’s an anxious time for traders, I’m sure.
After a bit of retail therapy, we headed to the Lamb Inn for a cheeky bottle of blush and some hearty pub grub, using a handy app to order and pay. Our food and drinks were brought to our table by a delightful young waitress. It was all done efficiently and with a reassuring smile. I think this continental style table service might catch on – until winter sets in that is.
I hear bees are becoming an endangered species and if we don’t do something about it, we’re stuffed too – that is if Mother Nature doesn’t wipe us out with a nasty virus first. And who could blame her? To do my bit to placate the gods I bought a bee bomb – a collection of wildflower seeds which, when in bloom, attract bees and a host of other pollinators. I scattered the seeds over a raised bed, watered them in and forgot about it. Come June, to my delight and astonishment, the bomb had exploded into a riot of daisies, cornflowers, poppies, marigolds and many others this city boy has never heard of and couldn’t pick out in a line up. The tangled bouquet is strafed daily by squadrons of flying bugs while ants and ladybirds harvest the abundance of juicy aphids from the forest of matted stems.
Elsewhere on the farm, a curious mole poked his head above ground before thankfully moving on to greener pastures and a hedgehog emerged from the undergrowth next door to feed, oblivious to the pair of wood pigeons shagging on a gate. The love birds enjoyed it so much they came back the following afternoon for seconds. Meanwhile, larger fauna basked in the warm sunshine feeding on pink gin.