Wednesday 12 December 2007

I know I've had my chips

Driving back from Holkham in the fading light yesterday afternoon, I spotted this amusing van parked on the quayside at Somewhere-next-the-Sea. Well, I think you’ve got to admit that it’s more witty than the usual “I wish my wife was this dirty” or “Also available in white”. In fact, it shot straight into my All-Time Top Three, alongside “Singh Brothers, Builders: You’ve Tried the Cowboys, Now Try the Indians”; and the beautifully produced sign on the back of a truck I was stuck behind for an age somewhere near Reigate 20 years ago: “Motorway Maintenance: Jam Makers Since 1980”.

The fisherfolk of north Norfolk exceed their drollery quota
It also gives me an excuse to re-tell the ancient legal anecdote, doubtless copyrighted by Sir John Mortimer circa 1953, in which a man charged with a long series of unspeakable sexual offences is rendered all but inaudible by a rasping cough. The exasperated judge calls a halt to proceedings and asks the defending barrister:

“Can nothing be done for your client?”

“I fear not, M’Lud.”

“Couldn’t you get him to suck a Fisherman’s Friend?”

“M’Lud, I fear that he is in quite enough trouble already.”

Today my aunt and I buy excellent fish and chips from a shop on the quayside then drive to eat them on another quay a few miles along the coast. This is the sort of wisdom you build up over 80-odd years; if we’d eaten them straight away in Somewhere-next-the-Sea, they’d have been Too Hot and we might have burned our fingers. On the other hand, I’d have been in a rather better position to go back and apply the salt and vinegar I forgot to ask for in the shop. They didn’t offer it, and I’m pretty sure there was no salt or non-brewed condiment on the counter; perhaps the result of yet another Health Police crackdown.

We take a pleasant if slightly muddy circular walk through the salt marshes from Blakeney to Cley-next-the-Sea. This is an old squelching ground, and it brings back bittersweet memories that help to erase my regrets about my lost love of 2005. Unfortunately that’s because they are now overlain with multiple regrets about my numerous lost loves of the mid-1980s, when north Norfolk was one of my favourite spots for getting away from it all for a Good Old English Dirty Weekend. At least I was fortunate enough to live through a period when a middle-ranking executive could invite his secretary away for the weekend without facing expensive and career-endangering accusations of sexual harassment.

Cley windmill looking exactly as it did when I last photographed it in 1985; I wish the same could be said for the Bloke behind the camera

Only once did things threaten to go really horribly wrong, when a particularly beautiful young woman for whom I had booked her own room, like the perfect gentleman I am, announced that she would be “scared” on her own in the creaking old hotel (that’s old in the sense of historic and charming, by the way, not in the sense of run-down) and asked if she could share with me. Some phrase involving the Pope and bears passed my probably slightly drunken lips. Where I went wrong was in assuming that getting into a bed with a man, after carefully removing your underwear, constitutes some sort of invitation. No, no, no, no, no, as it turned out.

I lay awake for several hours wondering how this one would play in court.

Luckily for me, about six in the morning she had a comprehensive change of heart. Though this was very bad news indeed for the elderly couples in the rooms on either side, who glared at us throughout breakfast with a venom I have rarely seen replicated anywhere. Now, I reflect as I plod through the marshes, I have brilliantly managed to transform myself into one of those miserable, elderly curmudgeons, without even the benefit of a matching, boot-faced old missus to enable glaring in glorious stereo.

What was that my friend used to say about never going back to the same place twice?

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