Between Watton in Norfolk and Brandon on the (shudder) border with Suffolk is No Man’s Land.
Well; land for no man, woman, child or whatever — unless you have the Ministry of Defence’s approval.
This is the Battle Area, one of the many restricted zones the MoD keeps in its steely clutches. And, in its generosity, rents out for filming.
The story so far
In the late ’60s Malcolm was promoted to a “post of responsibility” in Bury St Edmunds. For a short while, he commuted from his parents’ place in Watton on a daily basis. The shortest route was through the Battle Area. Mornings were easy: the military don’t drag themselves out of bed that early. Returning in the evening was more problematic. Head for the gates: if they were open, carry on. Else, go round the long way.
Now, the carburateur on a Lambretta was never the strongest point of that iconic design. So, a canny rider needed two things:
- a couple of clean spark plugs; and
- a knowledge of how to clear the well and the jets of the carburateur itself.
Malcolm recalls one happy night, near Ayr, on the way to a CND demo, he had to replace the throttle spring with one from a clip-top ball-point. It:
- was an instant tutorial in the workings of a simple carburateur; and
- worked for at least another eighteen months (though was a bit hard on the wrist at full throttle).
All of which means that Malcolm was accustomed, from time to time, to pull into the side of the road, extract any tools from under the seat, and set to work. Nine times out of ten, almost instant success.
One of those tenth occasions, involving a lengthier delay, found Malcolm down on his knees, cursing and swearing. Suddenly, he became aware that, above his head, artillery shells were demonstrating parabolas. Not a comfortable moment. Never has a Lambretta carburateur been so swiftly re-assembled. Never has the kick-start been applied with such energy.
Success! She fired up!
Head-down (a pathetic gesture when the top-speed of clapped-out Li150 hit barely 40 mph, with an impressive speed-wobble at that), Malcolm sped along the track, north-eastwards to safety. At the Thompson exit the barrier was down.
At this space in time Malcolm would like to see himself heroically executing a neat side-slide underneath, and accelerating away. That’s what happens in the movies. More likely he walked the machine round or underneath. Either way, perspiration spurted as the thump-thump echoed in the distance.
Soon afterwards an outbreak of foot-and-mouth allowed the MoD to shut those gates for ever.
All of that is prefatory to:
A World War II veteran has been buried in the churchyard of a deserted Norfolk village which is used by soldiers as a military training area.
William Hancock, 85, was the first person to be buried in Tottington near Thetford for more than 50 years.
And good for him
Three other memories:
1: Just south of Watton, on the fringe of the Battle Area, is one of the most iconic pubs in East Anglia: The Chequers in Thompson (above).
It used to be the epitome of the rural local, where the landlord knew how to keep good beer, and patronised his regulars. The more knowledgeable fliers from RAF Watton, and their senior officers, would drive past the Flying Fish at Carbrooke (not a bad pub in itself until it became exclusively a Watney’s fizz joint) to reach this watering-hole. Now The Chequers has extended its horizons to feed and bed the tourists: and why not?
2: Saturday lunchtime was the time to be there. Immediately inside the door was a low beam. Newbies would instantly identify themselves by the echo of cracking skulls (Malcolm remembers the moment with pain). Please assure Malcolm that initiation persists.
3: Malcolm still feels warm that, before anti-Clarksonian guilt possessed us, he was whisked there and at considerable speed in an all-white, drop-head Bentley Continental. And wouldn’t have missed it.