Category Archives: Theatre

Saturday, 9th September, 2017

Business of the day:

To the National Theatre for Follies.

We bought tickets at the announcement, just as the pre-production hype was building, mainly on the assumption that:

  • when the National do a musical,
  • when the cast is so stellar,
  • when it’s Sondheim —

— this one is going off the scale. And, counting the star-ratings given by the critics, it’s doing just that.

So, it’s the w7 to Muswell Hill, and the 43 down (in theory) to London Bridge, with a gentle amble along Thames-side, a light lunch somewhere, and arrive at the Olivier in good time. The best laid schemes …

All was going well until we hit a major snarl-up at Bank. Like that opening voice-over in Casablanca, “the others wait… and wait… and wait… and wait”. It stayed that way until the bus-driver relented, and allowed semi-legal escape by creeping along the wrong side of the pedestrian barrier. We are only at the bottom end of Moorgate. There are several options to get to the South Bank site, but here’s an opportunity to do something I’ve probably done at most a couple of times in living in London for over forty years: take the City Drain. Come to think of it, I’d reckon the last trip must have been on the 1940 rolling stock.

The Drain is something of an anomaly. It exists simply to bring the commuters from south-west London, off the Waterloo trains, across the river to the City, a distance of less than 1½ miles —something like four minutes end-to-end on a shuttle service. No intermediate stops. No possible extensions north, south, east or west. It simply exists.

So that’s the way we went.

The South Bank is redolent with snackeries, but we ended up inside the National: lattes and sandwiches. Haute cuisine, this is not.

Then to the wonder of real live theatre. Over two hours of it: no interval. And Follies enthrals. The context is a final meeting, in 1971, of the individuals who had inhabited this theatre and Weismann’s Follies between the First and Second Wars, for the theatre is to be demolished. The plot (as far as there is one), in essence, is a four-hander: two mis-matched couples retracing their lives and loves over thirty years. Lots of angst. And, at the end, the resolution is the same as before: the two couples continue to their previous lives, presumably a bit more aware of who and what they are. The twist is that Sondheim has each of them followed by a shadow of who they had been in 1941 (this production adds a shadow to each one of the cast).

Indeed this leads us to the great conundrum of the National’s revival of Follies:

Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton play the magnificent Follies in this dazzling new production. Featuring a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, it’s directed by Dominic Cooke …

Extravagant staging. Big budget stuff. Yet the show is scheduled for barely eight dozen performances in total. On the other hand, there will be one of those National Theatre Live broadcasts.

If getting to the National had been fraught, getting back to Norf Bleeding’ Lunnun was as difficult.

We grabbed the RV1 hydrogen bus from the National to Covent Garden. So far, so very good. Then came the worst idea going: switch to a 4 to Archway. This route has to be one of London’s more circuitous. Saturday afternoon and Arsenal Stadium make it very heavy going. The result was the better part of two hours gone from my life forever.

Having arrived at Highgate Hill, it might seem logical to take a 210 up to Highgate Village …

Carte du jour:

There are many nosheries in the Village. So we eliminated the pub steak-houses (two previous nights’ running was enough of that). The best pizza-and-pasta joint could provide for us, but only if we were in-and-out in the hour. So we ended up in the Café Rouge, which was amazingly empty. Presumably because all the other trough-eterias were heaving.

Beers of the day:

Café Rouge supplied an adequate Merlot, then back (down the Hill and the W5 back to the Maynard) for another taste of that ELB Jubilee. I must have been getting an addiction.

Quotes of the day:

The show-stopper of Follies:

Imelda Staunton (as Sally) winding herself up:

The sun comes up,
I think about you.
The coffee cup,
I think about you.
I want you so,
It’s like I’m losing my mind.

What amounts to the punch-line of Follies (and this seems an addition to the play-script):

Philip Quast (as Ben Stone): You’re really something else!
Janie Dee (as Phyllis Stone): Bet your ass!

Readings of the day:

Somehow, I never got into the fat Saturday papers.

My reading of the day was the programme for Follies. Yes, I bought the play-script, but have done little more than dip into it.

Ear-worm of the day:

Part paradox, part because these “behind-the-scenes” musicals have a degree of parallelism:

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Another place with “too much history”

Yesterday to Durham and The Big Meeting (133rd iteration).

The Lady in my Life and myself are there, dead in front of the microphones, and about four rows back. The last time I went was mid-1960s, and the main speaker was Harold Wilson. There were still coal-mines working then. Durham’s very last was Monkwearmouth, where the last shift was worked on 10th December 1993. The site, today, is the Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s home ground.

In 1937 George Orwell was factually stating the importance of coal:

Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of coal, directly or indirectly. For all the arts of peace coal is needed; if war breaks out it is needed all the more. In time of revolution the miner must go on working or the revolution must stop, for revolution as much as reaction needs coal. Whatever may be happening on the surface, the hacking and shovelling have got to continue without a pause, or at any rate without pausing for more than a few weeks at the most. In order that Hitler may march the goose-step, that the Pope may denounce Bolshevism, that the cricket crowds may assemble at Lords, that the poets may scratch one another’s backs, coal has got to be forthcoming. But on the whole we are not aware of it; we all know that we ‘must have coal’, but we seldom or never remember what coal-getting involves. Here am I sitting writing in front of my comfortable coal fire. It is April but I still need a fire. Once a fortnight the coal cart drives up to the door and men in leather jerkins carry the coal indoors in stout sacks smelling of tar and shoot it clanking into the coal-hole under the stairs. It is only very rarely, when I make a definite mental-effort, that I connect this coal with that far-off labour in the mines. It is just ‘coal’ — something that I have got to have; black stuff that arrives mysteriously from nowhere in particular, like manna except that you have to pay for it. You could quite easily drive a car right across the north of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road you are on the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower.

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of coal.

Eighty years on, 21st April 2017, Britain went a day without coal, while the lights stayed on.

There have been no active coal-mines, and no coal-miners in the County Palatine this quarter-century. But the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Big Meetin’, goes on, and this year was bigger and brassier than ever.

Durham has too much history for its own good. That’s an expression I have seen applied to Ireland, to the island of Cyprus and to Naples in recent times. It has degrees of truth in every case. In Durham, though, the history is close enough to touch:

… the miners who died in the many pit disasters of the Durham coalfields.

They number thousands, including 164 at Seaham in 1880 and 168 at Stanley in 1909, and are commemorated by a memorial in Durham Cathedral, a spectacular Romanesque landmark that this autumn celebrates the 25th anniversary of its designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the historic city. Next to the memorial to the victims of pit disasters is a book of remembrance that the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, was at pains to point out to me. “Here’s one 15 years of age,” he said. “J E Scott. Died at Shotton [in 1953]. This is a really poignant place.”

The Dean talked of “the big meeting”, the annual miners’ gala in July when the former mining communities pour through the city behind their colliery banners and wind their way up to the cathedral for the miners’ service. “It’s a kind of echo of the Middle Ages when people would flock into this place and believe they were part of something bigger than they were,” said the Dean.

Any rail journey takes one past acres of rough scrub that not too long ago were coal-tips. Railway yards and sidings stretch far, far further than any conceivable modern need. Few villages lack what once was (and may still be marked as) the Miners’ Welfare hall. In the streets and pubs one brushes past ageing faces and limbs, marked with the blue of coal-dust tattooed under the skin.

Scott and Scot

Yesterday, then, to Durham’s Racecourse. The site stretches past the Wear river-bank, and to its other side the massive ridge (as above):

Well yet I love thy mix’d and massive piles,
Half church of God, half castle ’gainst the Scot …

For sixty-odd years that tag has come to my mind, and mouth, every time I have seen an image or the reality of Durham’s great, looming cathedral. I somehow knew it was Walter Scott. That may be because anything so romantic had to derive from the same source that gave us swash-and-buckle, the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood and even Tony Curtis’s fictional “Yonda lies the castle of my fodder“. Precisely locating the reference isn’t quite that easy. To save others the sweat, it is found in Canto Third of Harold the Dauntless of 1817.

For contemporary tastes, Scott’s romantic world contains too much “hied me home” or

Wrinkled his brows grew, and hoary his hair

That’s unfair in this case, because the 1817 poem is prefaced by a more-cynical Scott. He deplores O tempora! O mores, as Cicero did Against Catiline: —

Ennui! — or, as our mothers call’d thee, Spleen!
To thee we owe full many a rare device;
Thine is the sheaf of painted cards, I ween,
The rolling billiard-ball, the rattling dice,
The turning-lathe for framing gimcrack nice;
The amateur’s blotch’d pallet thou mayst claim,
Retort, and air-pump, threatening frogs and mice,
(Murders disguised by philosophic name,)
And much of trifling grave, and much of buxom game.

At the moment, the imposing central tower of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham has scaffolding all round, and wears a square white cook’s bonnet.

The proceedings

When we finally came to the speechifying, even that have to be after a brass-band rendering of “The Miner’s Hymn”, Gresford:

The story behind that is told here:

Written by a former miner, Robert Saint, to commemorate the Gresford pit disaster in 1934 it has been played at mining events ever since; most notably at the famous Durham Miners’ Gala.

What is too easily forgotten is that, in the days of working pits, the attendees at the Gala would have held silence to that every year and recalled the death-toll.

My first teaching job was in a boys’ grammar school in the County Durham. Male teachers in an all-male (with one brave exception) staff-room constitute a cynical lot. So, morning break, 21st October 1966, was eerily quiet. The news was coming through of the Aberfan disaster and the immolation of Pantglas Primary school. By no coincidence, Alan Plater’s Close the Coalhouse Door (originally intended as a BBC radio play) went on stage in April 1968:

A few years back I was at the packed Richmond Theatre for Sam West’s revival (lightly trimmed by Lee Hall). The same evocative, eye-pricking power was there. All the way from Thomas Hepburn and Peter Lee.

It’s the same tradition as Abide With Me before the Cup Final. It’s very much the mood of “those no longer with us”. But for industrial workers, especially in the heaviest industries, it’s also “those taken from us because of managerial mistakes and incompetence”.

This year the Miner’s Hymn had added plangency:

Not just an Elf

There is a message here; and it’s the box that most of the speakers at the Big Meeting ticked.

Disasters like Gresford in 1934, Aberfan in 1966 and the Grenfell Tower this year are “accidents-waiting-to-happen”. They derive from decisions taken, or studiously ignored, by bureaucratic processes beyond the control of us ordinary folk. What we have to protect us, to some extent, are Health and Safety Regulations. That is, of course, if they are policed and enforced.

Even then there are arrogant twazzles who mock them:

“We could, if we wanted, accept emissions standards from India, America, and Europe. There’d be no contradiction with that,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.

“We could say, if it’s good enough in India, it’s good enough for here. There’s nothing to stop that.

“We could take it a very long way. American emission standards are fine – probably in some cases higher. 

“I accept that we’re not going to allow dangerous toys to come in from China, we don’t want to see those kind of risks. But there’s a very long way you can go.”

The MP’s comments came in the context of a discussion about trade deals with other countries following Brexit.

Said twazzle now fancies himself to chair the highly-important Treasury select committee, and stamp Asian labour practices, and US water standards on post-Brexit Britain.

Too much history? Or not enough yet?

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Dahn ter da Smoke and a Sicilian Vesper

Country-people when going to the Metropolis say they are on their way to the Smoke. [JC Hotten, 186o]

Tomorrow it’s hit the A64 for the A1. It’ll be the first time in quite a while that we’ve done it by road. Since our point of interest in Norf Lunnun is right beside the 91 bus route, and there are excellent trains (Virgin Rail permitting) from York to Kings Cross, that’s been the norm.

360_d21cd0280364a3b5cd55ce2f4a5ea346This time, though, we’re bringing back a Habitat chair and sofa, and it’s the rational way.

The real reason for doing so is this was the first major purchase we made, when we first married. That means the things are almost through their fifth decade — which counts as half-way to official antique status. When — perhaps that should be “if” — we get them home here, some restoration is needed.

Note I said “first major purchase”. The very first acquisition was a revolving bookcase, and that cost (as I recall) all of about six pounds. The Pert Young Piece has that.

On the trip I want to catch the revival of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at the Lyttelton. This will be my first viewing since one in Dublin. The reviews suggest the National Theatre production might, just might be a bit more polished than last time.

Then there are two promising exhibitions at the British Museum.

One is based on the discoveries of two drowned cities — Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus — at the mouth of the River Nile. For the last twenty years an underwater team, led by Franck Goddio, have been exploring these sites. What adds interest (at least for me) is one of the cities, Thonis-Heracleion, was a trading port, while the other, Canopus, was more of a religious site. As I understand, the main focus isn’t the Egypt of the ancient Pharoahs: it’s much more getting towards the “Hellenistic period”. In terms of Egyptian history that means it runs from the conquests of Alexander the Great into the Ptolomaic dynasty. For any passing ignoramus, after Alexander’s death, one of his generals (Ptolomy) declared himself Pharaoh; and his descendants ruled until the Romans took over in 30BC — the last of that lot was Cleopatra. Got that? Cleo was a Greek, not Shakespeare’s gipsy or Antony’s serpent of old Nile.

There’s another exhibition at the BM on Sicily, due to close in a week or so time, which I like to catch. What I know of Sicilian history comes essentially from John Julius Norwich.

iuPause there for a moment.

There’s a nicety about how that book is differentially sold. In the American market the sub-title is An Island at the Crossroads of History. That reflects the layer upon layer of different cultures over the millennia: Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, the Byzantines of the Eastern Roman Empire, Arabs from North Africa, and the Normans of Robert Guiscard (that cognomen being a distortion of the Latin for weasel). So there’s layer upon layer of different cultures. Meanwhile, for the British book-trade, John Julius is subtitled A Short History from the Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra.

One needs to read John Julius with close attention. For example (page 77 of my paperback):

King Roger II of Sicily — there was no King Roger I — was duly crowned on Christmas Day, in Palermo Cathedral.

Absolutely correct. Roger I was merely the Great Count of Sicily, brother and understrapper of the Weasel, and the subject of John Julius’s preceding half-dozen pages.

Let joy be unconfined

Beyond all that, the chief delight of a few days in London is access to a wide choice of book-sellers.

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Another day …

Yesterday, with Archbishop Ussher’s chronology and the sainted expatriate Donagh, the blog may have pleased one or two passing strangers. The Pert Young Piece, however, reckons her Canadian beaver has gone AWOL (which probably means it’s in a plastic crate in my loft).

What today, Malcolm?

Well, the Lady in My Life and I cruised across to Scarborough and  for Northern Broadsides’  She Stoops to Conquer. Note, again, the TCD connection: these things are not all three-star delights, you know — sometimes there ‘s a duty to be honoured.

All credit to the excellent Stephen Joseph Theatre: they do a good show on an open stage. O.K. the restaurant needs to be sharpened up, but beyond that, what not to be liked? I mean, what looked like a sell-out performance to the grey-hairs of the Yorkshire coast on a Thursday afternoon …

Meanwhile, I have to admit I’d need a lot of persuasion to fall into mild affection for Scarborough itself. It is very much the end of the line (and that’s the choice between Trans-Pennine Express — which, most definitely, is no express, and today ran well late — or Northern Rail irregularly poddling down to Hull. The really bad news there is you may see-saw down to Hull in a Pacer, which must qualify as one of the least successful locomotive experiments on record — an experiment 35 years on.

And then there are the pubs. There must be good pubs in Scarborough. There are several, mainly on the outskirts (see beerintheevening.com), but late October is obviously out-of-season. So one effort had Timothy Taylor Landlord on a pump (yeah!) but no proper draught actually available. Another had nothing but fizz. Shocking!

And what of today?

The main event has to be the scheduled departure of the swallows from Capistrano. The little buggers cleared off from North Yorkshire about the start of September. Still, let’s wallow in 1940s nostalgia with the Ink Spots:

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Happy as a side-bar

Regular students of John Rentoul’s “audience-participation and other eccentricities” columns will have seen his list, this Sunday, of

The top ten: Malapropisms

All the old favourites:

4. ‘The world is your lobster, my son’ Arthur Daley. Suggested by Graham Brickley. [Complete with headline photo from Minder.]

Obligatory Malcolmian aside (for once in chaste lilac):

There is a variant of that, which may be even older than George Cole, and the native habitat of which was (and, let me hope, still is) Northern Ireland:

“The world is your ox(s)ter.”

The OED puts this useful word in its place as Chiefly Eng. regional (north.), Sc.Irish English, and Manx English, and prefers the form without the intrusive “s”. I’m not sure I do.

You’ll find the term in that marvellous pub-conversation in Grace, from Joyce’s Dubliners:

“We didn’t learn that, Tom,” said Mr. Power, following Mr. M’Coy’s example, “when we went to the penny-a-week school.”

“There was many a good man went to the penny-a-week school with a sod of turf under his oxter,” said Mr. Kernan sententiously. “The old system was the best: plain honest education. None of your modern trumpery….”

“Quite right,” said Mr. Power.

“No superfluities,” said Mr. Fogarty.

So: ox(s)ter is your armpit. And a pint of plain is your only man.

Back to Rentoul

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SandbagWho also has:

5. ‘I’m as happy as a sandbag’ A friend of Alistair Gray’s. “She has an unconscious gift. She also said something was ‘a bit of a damp squid’.”

That was Ken Lee’s 1975 revue of “all the fun of the 1940s”, stringing together the “popular hits” of the British War years. As far as I know, that is the main source of the “malapropism” (which, like most of the items in Rentoul’s list, was wholly and ironically contrived).

To the mixed feelings of this TCD-man, R.B. Sheridan (a Dubliner who was removed to London in childhood) gets credit for Mrs Malaprop. Mrs Malaprop’s verbal oddities, though, are a derivation from Dogberry, the character in Much Ado About Nothing:

  • Comparisons are odorous [Act III, scene v]
  • only get the learned writer to set down our excommunication and meet me at the gaol. [Same]
  • Is our whole disassembly appeared? [Act iv, scene ii]
  • O villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this. [Same]

I’m surprised Rentoul missed the first of those.

Dogberry, of course, is also the template for all those Jobsworths who make dealing with officialdom a constant pleasure.

– — 0 O o — –

One malapropism that’s a bit too close to home for comfort involves the flustered youth, invited to dine by the arm-candy’s mother, and gushing: “Oh, thank you! I’m ravishing.”

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Farrage (from Latin: farrago — mixed fodder for cattle)

I see that Farage (according to James Forsyth) is coming over all wimpy over a Newark by-election:

Nigel Farage told me on Monday how closely he was watching the situation in Newark. He introduced the subject by saying, “there’s one other thing that could change everything”.

But Farage’s comments to me yesterday make me think that he’s unlikely to stand in Newark. He said that he’d ‘been looking at candidates’ and mused on how just one MP would make such a difference.

There then follows a convoluted comparison of the UK (2014-15) with Canada (1989—).

So, two observations:

  1. The Canadian parallel is guff to a factor of Xⁿ. History, especially political history, doesn’t replicate itself, even less so across national and temporal barriers.
  2. What is not surprising is that Farage, as he did at Eastleigh last year, looks like bottling it — he must be acutely aware he has only the single shot: fire it at Newark, and fail …

The bottom of the whole matter is that UKIP, and Farage in particular, are one-trick ponies. Once the public becomes bored with over-exposure of that trick, the circus moves on, and Farage is left diminished. On the other hand, it may well be the case that when UKIP folds (as in the medium term it must — and probably back into the Tory libertarian wing, where it properly belongs), something far nastier may emerge to take its populist, nihilist place.

Wednesday morning afterthought:

I enjoyed reading Benedict Brogan’s Morningbriefing, and comparing his views and word-choice with mine:

Good morning. He’s bottled it. That will be the snap verdict of Nigel Farage’s decision not to stand in Newark. “I’m a fighter, I’m a warrior,” he laughs on Today, dismissing the charge. Arguably, the Ukip leader has made the right calculation. As he says he is not local, and he can read the numbers as well as any of us. He also acknowledges that if he lost, “the bubble would burst”. Too right. The Tories are well entrenched in Newark, even after the harm done to the image of politics by Patrick Mercer. Ukip’s prospects, even in a by-election, are not great. It’s not really their turf. Mr Farage says that the best tactic is to select someone local who stands a chance. As Nottinghamshire man Ken Clarke said on Today, “whatever else Nigel is, he’s not an idiot”.

Meanwhile …

 The statutory Malcolmian literary analogy:

Now, a previous post introduced me to the character of “Nestor Ironside”. Captain Ironside, A Souldier, is also a character in Ben Jonson’s satire The Magnetic Lady, or Humours Reconciled.

In Act 1, scene vii of that largely-forgotten drama we have:

Sir Diaphanous Silkworm (a Courtier):

I ha’ seen him wait at Court, there, with his Maniples
Of papers, and petitions.

Mr. Practise (a lawyer):

He is one
That over-rules tho’, by his authority
Of living there; and cares for no man else:
Neglects the sacred letter of the Law;
And holds it but a dead heap,
Of civil institutions: the rest only
Of common men, and their causes, a farrago,
Or a dish made in Court; a thing of nothing …

They are speaking of Mr. Bias, a Vi-politique, or sub-secretary, soon to be lauded (ironically) by Sir Moath Interest, a Usurer, or Money-bawd, as:

Apply him to your side! or you may wear him
Here o’ your breast! Or hand him in your ear!
He’s a fit Pendant for a Ladies tip!
A Chrysolite, a Gem: the very Agate
Of State, and Politie: cut from the Quar
Of Macchiavel, a true Cornelian,
As Tacitus himself! and to be made
The brooch to any true State-cap in Europe.

The Vi-, by the way, is a shortening of “vice-“. It wasn’t only Bill Shagsper would/could coin neologisms.

Nice — if confusing — pun on Cornelian (the gemstone, the various Corneliuses of history) there. It works even better post-Jonson, because — in drama — there is the Cornelian dilemma, named after Pierre Corneille, which amounts to choosing the better of two weevils (another pun, much employed in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series).

Somewhere in all that nonsense I sense representations of the puffery and flummery that differently but alike infects

  • self-promoting, would-be Vi-politiques, such as Farage,

and

  • jobbing journos, such as the indefatigable and over-stretched James Forsyth, in search of an instant paragraph or two.

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“Very flat, Norfolk”

Thank you, Noël, dear boy … Don’t call us; we’ll call you.

Then there’s a property-page puff-piece from Max Davidson in the Torygraph:

Property in Norfolk: the perfect time to buy?

The Royal family and Bill Bryson aren’t the only people to love Norfolk: prices in the county are bouncing back

There are several oddities therein.

The main focus seems to be on North Norfolk, which is what had us salivating for insight:

Property prices are bouncing back, particularly in North Norfolk. This could be good news for ordinary home-owners. In fact, this may be the perfect time to buy, with temptingly priced properties in every price bracket.

“North Norfolk is certainly recovering quicker from the recession than the county as a whole,” says Tim Hayward of Jackson-Stops and Staff. In Burnham Market, aka Chelsea-on-Sea, transactions in the first quarter of 2013 were up by 38 per cent. In June alone, prices in the area rose by 2 per cent.

From King’s Lynn to Cromer, the green shoots of recovery are clearly visible. Buyers are drawn not by the fads of the market, but by more traditional values.

Everything you wanted to know about estate-agent talk …

Let’s take that slowly: “In Burnham Market, aka Chelsea-on-Sea, transactions in the first quarter of 2013 were up by 38 per cent.” That’s historic:

  • Why quote first-quarter of last year as if it’s the latest property news?
  • Then there are fewer than 500 dwellings in Burnham Market. Refer to zoopla.co.uk, and we find just five property sales listed for the first quarter of 2013. So what, exactly, underpins that “up by 38%” assertion?
  • Did Jackson-Stops and Staff manage to sell one-and-a-third more properties in that quarter?
  • Compared to what time-span?
  • Or, if it’s on price-achieved, how long back was the base price that has now shot up so significantly?
  • Are the properties sold in 2013 strictly comparable with those sold in that unspecified previous period?

Then there’s a geographical issue

We are regaled with two dozen paragraphs on North Norfolk (in which royal celebs get more than their proper share of gush). The final ten “points” of advice are all specific to North Norfolk. In between, unaccountably, the focus changes.

Aylsham is as near to Norwich as it is to the coast. It is in the patch of Broadland District, yet wikipedia places it in North Norfolk, and, sure, he is an honourable man. So we’ll let that pass.

But what can be said for “a converted windmill near Acle in the Norfolk Broads”? Or the sudden glissade into holiday rentals?

Decoding

Take this one:

Hindringham is not exactly Manhattan: the population hovers between 400 and 500 souls, fewer in winter. But if you treasure peace and seclusion, it offers them in spades.

Closer to 400 than 500, actually (the 2001 Census gives 431). The last village pubs, the Duke’s Head, closed in 1965, and the Red Lion, closed in 1969, are long gone. What’s left (or rather revived, thanks to a bit of communal effort) is the football club’s Pavilion.

Then there’s that weasily “fewer in winter”. Which means, in plain English, there are too many weekenders around, who stay at (first) home once the dark nights set in.

Feeling the draught

No, not the beer (though that has improved immeasurably since the Watney monopoly was broken). North Norfolk faces … north. Go for your walk at Holkham — “The combination of big skies and sandy beaches that stretch for miles and miles … seen to exquisite effect at the end of Shakespeare in Love, is irresistible.” Face out to sea. Due north — which is where that biting winter wind is coming from, the next bit of solid land is probably the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the only bit of Russia in the Western Hemisphere. [Oh, work it out for yourself!]

There’s useful advice towards the end of Max Davidson’s effort:

Don’t buy a property unless you have seen it in winter as well as summer – North Norfolk in January can be an acquired taste. 

Note well.

Note, too:

Many of the most popular leisure activities in North No[r]folk, from sailing to links golf to bird-watching, have the sea as their focus.

Especially these last few weeks:

Homeowners have been left in tears as flood waters have crept towards their homes in north Norfolk – while Cromer seafront suffered major damage from the surging sea…

At Blakeney sea water rushed up Westgate Street, Blakeney, leaving pavement and roads under inches of water…

The A149 through Salthouse totally covered with sea water.

The A149 through Salthouse totally covered with sea water.

As for that golf course at Brancaster (“One of the Top 100 in the world”, no less), it may not have a long-term future:

The Environment Agency boss revealed yesterday that he is weighing up whether to reinstate flood defences in Brancaster, Blakeney and Salthouse, after they were breached last month.

Paul Leinster, who was hauled before a committee of MPs 
following the prolonged winter floods, said his agency is questioning whether or not to try to re-establish freshwater habitats, or let the sea water through permanently…

Mr Leinster told the committee that some flood defences were still under water, but went on to say: “In other places we will have discussions with Natural England and others as to whether we are going to reinstate those flood defences, or whether we will allow the water that has now broken through to remain.”

He added: “The question has to be, do we reinstate those defences and then allow freshwater habitat to re-establish, or allow inter-tidal habitat to establish?”

Max Davidson was particularly enthusiastic:

The odd grand period house does come on the market in North Norfolk, with a suitably hefty price tag. Appletree House in Brancaster, overlooking the West Norfolk golf course, was built in the 1920s and boasts magnificent views of the sea over manicured formal gardens. It is on the market for £4.5 million with Knight Frank (knightfrank.com).

Take those last two quotations together, and it might go some way to explaining this:

Appletree

Dring! Dring!

“Yes, Mr Coward, what can we do for you this time?”
“Norfolk, old chap …”
“Hmm. Thought we dealt with that a while back. You said Norfolk was flat.”
“That was no reflection on her, unless she made it flatter.”
“Your voice takes on an acid quality whenever you mention her name.”
“I’ll never mention it again.”
“So, goodbye, Mr Coward. Always a pleasure …”

[Compare the infamous exchange between Elyot and Amanda, Act One of Private Lives.]

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