Category Archives: Norfolk

Another op’nin

The 2001 London revival: It was superb. I had already been treated to the production on Broadway. It was already transferring to London, even before 9/11 had devastated New York theatre-attendances. So I paid real money to revisit it at the Victoria Palace

Few musicals beat that opening. But there are only half-a-dozen musicals worthy to start alongside Kiss Me, Kate —and at least one more has Cole Porter’s name over the title.

I can get something of the same thrill opening a new book for the first time.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend…

… Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. Thank you, Groucho: don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Buying, on spec, a new book by a  previously-untried, even unknown writer is itself a venture.

I pluck the book from the pile or the shelf — perhaps because the cover or the title means something to me. I flick a few pages. I either return the book whence it came, rejected, or reach for the wallet and the plastic.

I did that last Friday.

iuMy two acquisitions were Ian Sansom’s Westmorland Alone and Tom Blass, The Naked Shore.

There is a tangential connection between those two.

The first in Sansom’s series was The Norfolk Mystery. Obviously a Norfolk-born, Norfolk-bred type would be weak in the head not to snap at that. So I did, and found it wholesome — but not really much more — enough to go for the second in the series, Death in Devon.  Which I found harder going: the arch references to Arthur Mee and all those 1930s “cosy” teccies seemed to be wearing, and wearing a bit thin. Still, I went for this third one; and it went down quite nicely. If nothing else, it overcame the imminent reading-block that was sub-symptom of a winter chill.

So that was a re-visit. The “new” one was —

9781408815496Blass

The connexion with the Tom Blass is also Norfolk (which features very slightly) and East Anglia more generally.

Ir reads very well, rather disconnectedly — but this isn’t a straight narrative. Blass shifts, idiosyncratically, from space to place, topic to topic, encounter to encounter. And then will return whence he came, a hundred pages of more later. The book tends, obviously, to the gossipy. I find little wrong or objectionable about that.

Above all, The Naked Shore is delightfully filled with small and informative detail. Here’s a very early one:

In Whitby once, among the stones of the ‘Dracula’ abbey, I was struck by the starkness of the difference between the accents of a visiting family from Newcastle and those of the natives. Geordie’s origins lies with the Teutonic Angles, hence ‘gan’ — as in ‘gan down toon’, from the German gehen for ‘go’, while their Yorkshire hosts’ linguistic ancestry lay further north (arse, bairn, dollop and flit all have Norse heritage). Some fifteen hundred years after their arrival, fifty miles of English coast still reflect ancient ethnic differences, the origins of which lie on the far side of the North Sea.

Blass returns another half-dozen times to Whitby, at one stage as part of the strange  class-divides between seaside resorts, even (as page 108):

Today the middle classes that seek out the evocative beaches of North Norfolk at Holkham and Blakeney studiously avoid not-dissimilar shorelines close by.

I’ll go with that: Wells is neatly sandwiched between those two “evocative beaches” — indeed, I challenge any in-comer to know where Holkham beach ends and Wells begins. I’d put it around where the old Coastguard look-out was. By the time, heading east, one reaches the beach-huts, one definitively is in Wells. And the reason for the “social” difference (consider, too house prices)? Wells had — before blasted Beaching — a train line. And a bit further back, GER/LNER ‘tripper’ specials all the way from London’s Liverpool Street. That, and the whiff of whelks being loaded into the guard’s van lowered the tone.

Note from the above, that although may dot from topic to topic, the book comes with a useful index for playing dot-to-dot.

A comparator

61ieuy24gfl-_uy250_Yes, we’ve been in these parts quite recently.

Only a couple of years ago, Michael Pye did nicely by, and nicely out of The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We AreThat’s an equally subjective account, but organised on more orthodox — even “historical” lines. It’s a “deeper” book, in many respects a “better” book; but one more concerned with — as the title suggests — the anthropology, even sociology, of the North Sea coasts and peoples. So it is more rooted in what we used to be able to term, without apology or explanation, “the Dark Ages”.

I shall be keeping both on my shelves: not as rivals, but as complements.

 

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Filed under Britain, Detective fiction, East Anglia, fiction, History, Norfolk, reading, Wells-next-the-Sea

Aemstelredamme revisited, and a personal trauma

This weekend involves a quick flight from Leeds-Bradford “International” (yeah: better believe it) Airport to Amsterdam. Since the other end is Luchthaven Schiphol, that’s a trip from the pretentious to the ginormous.

amsterdam“Aemstelredamme” came about when the river Amstel was … err … dammed, and a passage created over it. Makes sense, huh? Once you have a bridge, some bright spark will start charging to cross over. Whereupon the Count of Holland, Flores V (whose name alone would seem more redolent for an air-freshener) issued a decree that the local bods were exempt from such an impost. This document, dated 1275, proves the existence of a settlement at that time.

By the way, the last time the Lady-in-my-Life and I dropped in, Amsterdam was hosting some mega-LGBT freak-out. There wasn’t a room to be had, this side of Nebraska (another bitter, cryptic, personal joke, as in looking for a bed in the neighbourhood of Sturgis at the wrong moment). We ended up in a palatial, marble-bathroomed, penthouse suite: doubly-nice, since we beat them down to “superior” costings.

Broads, in any definition

When I was a bright young thing at Fakenham Grammar, I was not taught the Norfolk Broads were artificial. Only later did the business of peat-extraction get raised (or excavated). I see a similar suggestion being floated how Amsterdam got those concentric canals.

In all truth, I like Amsterdam — though I seem to get to the “Low Countries” only in winter. Now — and, I beg you, don’t take this amiss — in my recollection that means the visit can have its whiffy moments. Deploy the Flores V.

Born on the North Sea littoral, and not-quite-flooded in January 1953,  I have this fellow-feeling that drains across vaguely-sea-level zones always have problems of not-quite-managing. And so can be a trifle aromatic. The same problem occurs in Venice, of course — but there nasal and optical experiences are hardly improved by characters who never feature in the tourist guides, but who can emerge, at random, blackened, in full diving kit, from the city’s necessary cess-pits. At least the Venetians are explicit (and it must be a select but secure choice of career) about it. Perhaps, as well, it is to make sure the affronted tourist doesn’t return too soon. I’m sure the excellent Donna Leon must incorporate this in one of her Commissario Brunetti teccies.

The Belgians and the Dutch, though — as in other matters  — let it all hang out, and seem to let the miasma creep up on one. Memo to self: avoid De Walletjes, though I know for certain my outspoken daughter (who arrives two hours previous to her aged parents) will make a point of inspecting, and commenting. Myself: I just don’t wanna know.

Reading
1559566044
OK: I finished Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle (for the second time): it took over a full month, and two continents. Then, in a day (actually, an extended evening), the latest Rankin. That required an hour reorganising three shelves to get this new arrival to fit. As a result, I found Fleshmarket Close has gone missing from the assembled oeuvre.

Which brings me to the crunch here.

What’s for the weekend reading?

The Economist, in the post-Trump moment, has to be a must. I feel I ought to pick up the London Review of Books if only for the Neal Ascherson essay: though the problem is an early flight, and a very limited news-outlet at LBA.

I’m suddenly very aggrieved about the missing Fleshmarket Close.

So: what next? What next? Problems! Problems!

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Filed under air travel., Economist, History, leisure travel, Norfolk, travel, Yorkshire

Where are the scuts of yesteryear?

That previous post, and the St Andrews fauna, brought to mind this:

King’s Lynn, North Wotton, Wolverton,
Dersingham! Dersingham!
Snettisham (or rather Snet’sham),
Change at Heacham …
Sedgeford, Docking,
Stanhoe, Burnham Market,
Holkham and
Wells-on-Sea!

As redolent to me as any verse of The Slow Train:

The Great Bean-counters of British Rail did for the first bit, the original Lynn & Hunstanton Railway from 1862, as late as the back-end of the 1960s. The eighteen-and-a-half miles of the West Norfolk Junction Railway had closed for passenger business in 1952, when it was still running Victorian gas-lit carriages wheezed along by antique steam locomotives. After the East Coast  Floods of 1953 there was deemed no possibility of it ever having an after-life.

There are so many “what-ifs” in that. Today, a “heritage railway” operating such rolling stock would be a national treasure. Had the original concept of a coastal loop, joining all the small resorts of the Norfolk coast, ever been realised we might today have something even better than Belgium’s Kusttram.

My memories — and I must be one of an diminishingly few who can recall, however dimly, that journey — are precise.

cover170x170Why was it necessary for the name of Dersingham to be bellowed twice? I still hear it in the fastnesses of a sleepless night, with the rising inflection on the middle syllable. Did that somehow echo down to Jon Hendricks’s pale imitation: New York, New York, a city so nice, they had to name it twice?

Snettisham is, if at all, known for the astounding hoard of gold torcs first ploughed up, then properly excavated, over a quarter of a century. Now starring at the British Museum and Norwich’s Castle Museum.

Then there were the bunnies.

Wolferton was, and is, something of a railway oddity.  I speak not of the incongruity, Wolverton, that is the tight curve on the old LMS line through Milton Keynes. Instead I recall the elaborate mock-Tudor confection that the Lynn & Hunstanton Railway devised to serve Sandringham House. To us lesser-breeds, endured to standing on open platforms in the northeast winds that make Norfolk in winter and early spring a place of cold comfort, Wolverton was a place of mystery and wonder. The station was always immaculate, the canopies white with recent paint — why did a place so small, so remote, deserve or demand such an extended shelter? —, planters and flower beds in abundance. Was there — there surely had to be — a majestic royal privy, the bluest of bloods alone for the relief thereof?

wolferton_station_9

As the train huffed-and-puffed north out of this stately pleasure-dome, the embankments became sandy and rabbit-infested. And I mean dozens of the little buggers.

Since the Heacham-Wells link died in 1952, my memory must pre-date that. The rabbits were despatched between 1953 and 1955 by farmers wilfully introducing of Myxomatosis.

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Filed under History, Norfolk, railways, social class, travel

Fissiparous revisited

Well, if was OK for Larkin and Toads, why not here?

Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.

After this General Election, were the Tories to “win” (or, as happened in 2010, were the Cabinet Secretary to spatchcock them a “win”), the Big Event would not longer be the “deficit”. It would be “Europe”.

In our local politics we are urged to remember that Farage’s Kippers (4.3% of the vote, 38 seats) — not Manfred Weber’s EDD (29.4% of the vote, 221 seats) — “won” the 2014 European Parliamentary Elections. Clearly, as in 1938, things European are still “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing”.

Wars and rumours of wars

Yet, assuming that Tory Election “win”, “Europe” is the coming crisis —”Europe” being a shorthand for the fissiparous state of the Tory Party. And, yes (since you didn’t ask), I have today been reading Ian Traynor in The Guardian:

For more than two years, Cameron has regularly demanded changes to the EU, requested that concessions be made so he can repatriate powers from Brussels, win the referendum and keep the UK in. But he has yet to tell the other 27 heads of government what he wants.

“We need more concrete British demands,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European council and former Polish prime minister, told the Guardian three weeks ago. Tusk organises and chairs EU summits and will have a key mediation role over the British issue, which he describes as one of his top three dossiers. He said he wanted to help solve the British problem in a “limited and rational way”, but in effect ruled out a renegotiation of the Lisbon treaty to accommodate the British.

Reopening the treaty has long been Cameron’s main demand, although he has also been told authoritatively that it will not happen. “No one thinks he’s credible,” said Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform thinktank. “Cameron wants to have his cake and eat it.”

The whole of that piece is a recognition that, for Cameron and the Tories, “Europe” is code for the unbridgeable divide which John Major suffered with his “bastards”. Then it was the Maastricht rebels. The headbanger tendency has been self-denying and quiet in recent months, but, after 7th May, will be liberated and reinvigorated. It could be Eurosceptic two-thirds of the parliamentary Tory benches. Exactly a year ago Matthew d’Ancona had this:

In moments of exasperation, the PM has been heard to say that he would rather form another Coalition after the next election than win a small majority and, in practice, govern in a daily modified coalition with [Peter] Bone and his gang of hardcore Eurosceptic backbenchers (“Bonie’s Cronies”, as I have heard them described). 

In any case, if Cameron wins with a majority of any sort, or negotiates a second coalition that includes the fulfilment of his pledge to hold a referendum before the end of 2017, the Conservative Party’s energies will be utterly absorbed by Europe, as never before, for up to 18 months.

Conservatives and “National Conservatives”?

When I was observing those divisive amoeba, the North Norfolk MP was Eddie Gooch. At each General Election he had a single opponent, a “National Liberal”. This strange sub-species of Tories now needs explanation: since I can’t be bothered, try wikipedia. They were a lingering residue of the 1931 split in the Liberal Party. There was also a “National Labour” party (those who went with Ramsay MacDonald into the 1931 coalition) until after the 1945 Election.

The question has to be: would a commitment to (or against) #Brexit be as devastating to Tory “unity” as was 1931 to the other two parties? Cameron, as a prisoner of the rampant Eurosceptic right, the faction howled on by the Murdoch scandal-sheets, would likely lead to some constituency associations so alienated they resigned, or were suspended. If Cameron were able to stave off the “Better off out” loopies, the obvious beneficiary would be the Farageistes.

On the other hand, none of these fissiparous tendencies are neutered by a Tory defeat in this General Election. Cameron would be out, gone, the designated fall-guy. Inflexible rigour would be the order the day. [Isn’t it odd that “ideology”, however warped and homeopathically diluted, is now the norm on the right?]

TheScapegoat

If all we hear about the selection of Tory parliamentary candidates is anywhere near the reality, the next leader will be further right — a hardliner, such as Liam Fox (always sniffing round the parliamentary henhouse) or Theresa May, or a trimmer, such as Boris Johnson (the original arse on which everything has sat except a man).

Watch this dividing space: it could be fun.

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Filed under Boris Johnson, Britain, broken society, EU referendum, Europe, Guardian, History, Murdoch, Norfolk, politics, Tories.

Myth? Ah, magna!

Properly, a myth is:

A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation, aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon.

This being England, we have to reinvent, recycle, relaunch our national myths serially. Something happens once, it is an occasion; we then have a celebration, and after that it’s a regular tradition. We’re stuck with that process, else the tourists pass us by for somewhere with more “history”.

This year’s come-all-ye is Magna Carta.

There will be a full-on bun-fight at Runnymede on 15th June to endorse the whole she-bang.

And it’s all load of hooey.

There was a document sealed at Runnymede that day: it was the list of demands by the rebels. So it is properly the Articles of the Barons, which they had cobbled together at Bury St Edmunds the previous year. Not surprisingly, it is largely a narrow and self-interested agenda, and certainly nothing to hail as the root of “our freedoms”.

The Archbishop, Stephen Langton, took this away, and compared it with the Charter of Liberties which was Henry I Beauclerc’s declaration of what he thought were his obligations. Langton then codified a document, had it engrossed, and it was then sealed by the King and his rebels at Windsor on 19th June.

Even as a peace treaty between king and his barons, it fell apart when Pope Innocent III, as King John’s feudal overlord (a claim John was happy to accept for the nonce), promptly abrogated it.

The Charter’s afterlife

This is far more interesting than the events of 1215.

 

First of all, the Charter was resurrected by William Marshall, the power in the land as guardian of the ten-year-old Henry III. Successive re-writes in 1216 and 1217 made further concessions to the insurgent barons. Since, at the same time, another Charter “of the Forests” was being endorsed, we got the magna carta libertatum, “the great charter of liberties”, though the “liberties” were mainly to be taken and exploited by the feudal lords.

In 1225 the successors to William Marshall, in the name of King Henry, not quite come of age, needed funds to defend the remaining territory in Poitou and Gascony. In exchange for £40,000 of agreed taxation, Henry III re-issued both the Charter of 1217 and the Charter of the Forests of his “own spontaneous and free will”.

Again in 1253, with the main feudal conflicts still bubbling, Henry III had to endorse the Charters again, as a way of accessing funds. By then the barons were pushing their luck, and in 1258 the Simon de Montfort faction seized power, and pressed for yet more royal concessions in the Provisions of Oxford. If anything, this is the basis of the Common Law of England. The Provisions would also be renounced by the King, prompting the Second Baron’s War, which finally put the baronage back in its box.

1_articleimage

And that would be the big end of it, except Magna Carta became a meme for wannabe “libertarians” (a term, and originally a derisory one, invented by William Belsham in — significantly — 1789). In particular it was something of a rallying-cry for the Parliamentarian faction against the early Stuart kings. If one individual is held responsible for this resuscitation, it is Sir Edward Coke (above):

The principle that taxes were only to be granted in Parliament was not simply an accepted convention but was enshrined in law, for by an Act of 1352, which Coke described as ‘worthy to be writ in letters of gold’, the king was expressly forbidden to raise loans against the wishes of his subjects, as this would infringe their liberties and turn them into slaves. These liberties were protected by Magna Carta, and by an Act of 1370, which declared that all laws contrary to Magna Carta were void.

This, clearly, is not merely native Norfolk cussedness, but a bit of educated self-interest. [There is, by the way, a neat summary of Coke here.]

However, out of all this came the Petition of Right of 1628. Although the Petition of Right claims to derive from early precedents, and — see Clause III — specifically from Magna Carta, it is historically a far more significant, if less dramatic document.

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The map empties

Charles Greenhough, for geograph.org, may have scooped the pool for the the most boring Ordnance Survey Grid Square with TG0645:

TG0645

His comment:

If my map reading is correct this square has a triangle of land at low tide with side approx 50 metres. The only features were two orange buoys a few yards off shore and they do not count because they are on the water. So I believe I have photographed all the land in the grid square in this photo. There is a grid square in the Midlands with one contour line and an HT electricity line crossing one corner which people have claimed is the most boring, but TQ0645 only has a few hundred thousand pieces of gravel, no contours and no electricity, and should take the prize.

The location is Salthouse, on the North Norfolk coast, none too far from my own natal origin. Add a mid-January grey sky to the leaden North Sea, and you have normal for that part of Norfolk.

Another feature of the maps of East Anglia are the expanses marked “disused airfield”. I remember RAF Bircham Newton (last heard of as used by the Construction Industry Training Board), RAF Coltishall and RAF Watton (both used as detention centres), RAF North Creake (where the control tower is a B&B), RAF Langham (like so many, returned to farming), RAF West Raynham, which was where — as a Sea Scout —I first swam in fresh water (and is now housing) …

One that survived for a while was RAF Sculthorpe, in the late-1950s the largest USAAF  facility in Europe, operating RB-45 nuclear bombers.

Now we hear the Americans are pulling out of Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth, all further south and west.

The Yankee occupation of East Anglia (1942-2015) is coming to its logical conclusion. No more “Overpaid, over-sexed, over here”.

The map will show more disused airfields, each filling — no doubt — with red-brick speculative housing, lorry parks and warehousing. Very boring, especially compared to the whiff of  aviation fuel, the accents of Georgia and the Mid-West complaining of warm English beer, produce escaped from the commissary into a country recovering from post-war rationing, the flashing fishtails of Chevrolets, the noise of tactical nukes passing overhead, or the glimpse of a U-2 spy-plane.

And there is that persistent myth, which Prestwick will always deny, that Elvis Presley did a flying visit through Mildenhall.

That would be worthy of a marker on the map.

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Filed under History, Norfolk, United States, Wells-next-the-Sea

A bit of a Conn

Blues

I came across Greenwich. I didn’t know what it was. I do now.

It’s one of those local lifestyle glossies (emphasis on “style” rather than “life”), full of local wannabe celebs in formal poses at social do’s. It a collection of snippets and “articles”, including the usual retrospective from donkeys’ yonks ago. The editorial is mere wrap-around for the ads — property porn, luxury goods, the kinds of cars that would cost ordinary folk a mortgage bigger than their home.

But Greenwich is über-glossy, über-everything, because it hails from Greenwich, Connecticut. Which is where those Wall Street bankers hang out. Much of the content should be read as a monument to bad taste and “more money than sense”.

For a North Norfolk lad (see previous), the real stomach-turner was this:

Stewkey

 

Now, I’ve just been buying Farrow & Ball for two rooms. I know, with a shiver, what these paints cost. I hate to think what “minus an arm-and-a-leg” is, converted into dollars.

Farrow and Ball, to my shlock-horror, do have a paint colo(u)r in their range, number 281, called “Stiffkey Blue”. Quite where you would actually use it, and for how long before reality struck, and you painted the thing a quieter tone, … well, that’s a very Greenwich sort of issue.

So, I say to Nathan Tavares, the author of that piece: “You don’t know what you are talking about”.

For a start that’s not a “messenger bag”. It’s an old-school satchel. Even in poncy colo(u)rs, you should get a decent one for less than thirty dollars, sales tax included. Paying six times that going price tells me all I want to know about Greenwich, CT.

But the killer is “Stiffkey Blue”.

StiffkeyThe correct term, Sarah Cole, is “Stewkey Blues“. They are the distinctively-blue shells of the local cockles. I’ve always assumed they took their colour from the layer of mud that’s never too far below the surface of those marshes. And you’d need to tramp across Stiffkey Greens to the West Sand before you could dig for your Stewkey Blues.

As for fantasy of “wind-tossed waves off the English coast”, Nathan Tavares … where have you been? We don’t do Mediterranean blues in Norfolk: the North Sea tends, like the Limpopo River, to a grey-green, greasy at the best of times. Put that on your Farrow & Ball colo(u)r card, and smoke it.

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