Tag Archives: Norfolk

East Anglia, Rebellion, Revolution, Sedition and Defence

Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.” – John Adams (Second President of the United States)

After four nights it was time to leave our luxury caravan holiday home and return to Grimsby so after we had cleaned up and made sure everything was spick-and-span I took a last look around to make sure we had left it in good order before locking the door and moving on.

I had really enjoyed it here in Great Yarmouth and I was already looking forward to my next cheap caravan holiday in Whitley Bay in Northumbria the following month.

We had a full day ahead of us now so whilst in East Anglia we planned a day which took in both eastern counties of Suffolk and Norfolk.

My pal wanted to drive into Yarmouth but I didn’t agree that this was such a great idea through the morning rush hour traffic so after visit to McDonalds for breakfast buns we abandoned that part of the plan and drove directly west which was generally against the flow of traffic making its tedious way into the bottle-neck town.

Framlington Castle Suffolk

We drove now to the Suffolk town of Framlington which is a small, rather unremarkable place except for the fact that it has an impressive medieval castle with imposing walls and towers which was once the home of the Dukes of Norfolk who were forever scheming and stirring up rebellious trouble in Tudor England.

It is a good castle, not the best, it reminded me of Richmond in Yorkshire, there are no internal buildings left, all long since demolished but there is an impressive stone wall and 360° walk around the top of the castle walls and defences from which there are fine views of the town and the surrounding countryside.

After stopping briefly for a drink in a nearby pub where my pal almost caused a riot by asking the local drinkers what made them different from Norfolk people we moved on directly back to Norfolk and the town of Thetford which is only just across the border in the neighbouring county.

Framlington Casle Door Suffolk

Thetford also has a castle but we weren’t looking for that today, instead we were interested in the two most famous things about the town – The revolutionary philosopher Thomas Paine and the television comedy programme, Dad’s Army which was filmed around these parts.

Captain Mainwang Thetford Norfolk

We looked first for the riverside statue of Captain Mainwaring, the officer in command of Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard and found it which will mean nothing to readers from outside the UK but which is one of the most successful sit-com programmes from the BBC in the last fifty years. I had a row with my pal here because he seems to be incapable of taking a straight photograph, always excusing himself with the explanation that what he is doing is art. Every picture on a slant as though I was standing on the side of a hill.

We found the hotel where the cast of the TV series used to stay when filming and then the ‘Dad’s Army’ museum which was sadly closed today but only make me promise myself that I would plan a return visit to this very fine town.

Bell Hotel Thetford Norfolk Dad's Army

As we wandered around the attractive town centre we came eventually to the statue of Thomas Paine, the most famous son of Thetford and arguably of Norfolk and all of East Anglia, perhaps even of all of England.

Paine was a radical revolutionary, a sort of proto-Marxist, a latter day Leveller, a real trouble maker, an all round (excuse the pun) pain in the ass to the establishment of late eighteenth century England and he didn’t come from London or Bristol, not even Ipswich or Norwich but from sleepy little Thetford.

He published a pamphlet called Agrarian Justice exploring the origins of property, openly challenged the concept of monarchy, introduced the idea of a guaranteed minimum income, supported the abolition of slavery and questioned the very concept of Christianity, as a consequence of which only six people attended his funeral.

How wonderful it is that history often delivers theses delicious little curve-balls and reminds me that I am privileged to live in the greatest country in the modern World.

Paine supported both the American Revolution (one of the Founding Fathers no less) and the French Revolution and his most important work was The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law.  In 1792 he was elected to the French National Convention.  The Girondists regarded him as an ally, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, as an enemy and eventually he was arrested but escaped the guillotine and was allowed to travel to the USA

The Declaration is included in the beginning of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and Fifth (1958) and is still current. Inspired by the  philosophers of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Rousseau, the Declaration was a core statement of the values of the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and Worldwide.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is considered so significant that it is considered to be as important as Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights and inspired in large part the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That I suggest is a fairly important legacy and it is rather smug to sit here and think that an Englishmen shaped the American Revolution and the Constitution of the USA except of course we now have Donald Trump and poor Thomas Paine in his grave somewhere in the state of New York is probably on a permanent Hotpoint spin-cycle

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East Anglia, Great Yarmouth and Not Many Holiday Memories

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The following morning the weather was surprisingly spectacular for mid May with a big burning sun in the sky and my plan was to see more of Norfolk and to stir up some dormant memories.

We started with the town of Great Yarmouth and I have to report that as we entered the town I didn’t even feel a twitch of nostalgia and I have concluded since that Great Yarmouth was probably not on my Dad’s holiday itinerary most likely because there were amusements and attractions and involved handing over cash.

My dad wasn’t mean it was just that he was careful with money and he wasn’t going to waste it in penny arcades when we could all visit a church for free.

I confess that I have inherited this from him and I too will go to great lengths to avoid such places, those that children are drawn to like bees to nectar but which I cannot wait to pass through as quickly as I possibly can. I especially dislike those pointless children’s rides that do nothing in particular and cost a disproportionate amount of money to the pleasure they seem to provide. I hate them outside supermarkets and in shopping malls and if I were Prime Minister the first thing that I would do is pass a law to make them illegal.

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We began the visit at the site of the old docks where there is a National Trust Museum called the Elizabethan House on what is now called the ‘Historic South Quay’ a name change that is representative of the lengths towns and cities will go to these days to make them sound more interesting and it seems to work because adding the description historic or quarter to a previously run-down area seems to successfully drag the visitors in.

Anyway, it was quite a good museum, quite small really with rooms restored to show how people lived in two important historic times – the Stuarts and the Victorians. It didn’t take long to walk around and I am glad that I didn’t have to pay to go in on account of the fact that my pal is a member of the National Trust and he sneaked me in using his wife’s membership card.

The best feature in the house was the conspiracy room where it is alleged that during the English Civil War the leaders of the Parliamentarians, including Oliver Cromwell himself, met one day and agreed on regicide and pre-determined the fate of King Charles I and there is even a copy of a signed document to prove it.

Across the road from the Museum was a fishing boat museum with free entry, my dad would have liked that and so did I so we made our way to the gang plank entry.

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This was the Lydia Eva the last working steam drifter that is seaworthy and working out of Great Yarmouth.  Now a tourist attraction, not a working boat.  A drifter was a fishing boat that steamed out to the fishing grounds and then turned off the diesel engine, lofted a sail and simply drifted through the a shoal of silver darlings and scooped them up. Simple. Eighty years ago it used to fish for herring in the North Sea but without modern day regulations and quotas and massive over-fishing the Lydia Eva and a fleet of similar boats the fishing industry in Great Yarmouth shot itself in both feet and within just a few years these efficient trawlers had landed so much herring, it is estimated at two million fish a year, that there was simply none left.

It is a similar story to the town where I live, the once great fishing port of Grimsby which was once recognised as the largest and busiest fishing port in the world. The wealth and population growth of the town was also based on the North Sea herring fishery but this collapsed in the middle of the twentieth century and so the ships diversified to distant water grounds fishing targeting instead for cod in the seas around Iceland.  The concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the Cod Wars eventually put these fishing grounds off limit destroyed the fishing industry in the town.  To this day the people of Grimsby don’t particularly care for cod and have a preference for haddock which they consider to be a superior fish.

Large Cod

Consequently the docks are a rather sad and forlorn place now, abandoned and decrepit, as though everyone left the place one afternoon and left it in a time warp of crumbling buildings, pot holed roads, streets of empty houses, redundant warehouses and a giant ice making factory which is now a listed building that no one cares for as it is slowly demolished by the passing of time

It is a sad story and it is said that many men who survived perishing in a watery grave at sea came home without jobs and drowned instead in beer.

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Anyway, back to Great Yarmouth.  Today the Lydia Eva wasn’t at all busy so I was fortunate enough to enjoy a personal guided tour by an ex-fisherman and sailing enthusiast called Malcolm who escorted me around the ship and introduced me to every single rivet in the boat. It was a very fine vessel, sleek and elegant and with more curves than Marilyn Monroe. It was so good that although it was a free visit when I left I felt compelled to leave a contribution.

We had almost finished with Great Yarmouth now and had an appointment in the nearby city of Norwich but there was an hour or so to spare so we found a pub called ‘Allen’s Bar’ which was run not by Allen but by a man called Gareth who just happened to originate from a town quite close to the birthplace of my Welsh pal so we spent an easy hour down memory lane before moving on.

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East Anglia – Norfolk and Suffolk

East Anglia, Holiday Memories

A year ago my pal introduced me to the experience of modern caravanning.

I took quite a lot of persuading.  I stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no pleasure in it whatsoever.

To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a ten-year-old child but I remember thinking that I never really wanted to do it ever again.  Caravans as I remember them simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem in England, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.  So they were either pizza oven hot in the day or Arctic freezer cold at night.

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation because it had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.

A year ago my pal took me to a caravan park in Borth in Mid-Wales and I agreed to go with him because I remembered going there on family holidays fifty years ago when I was about ten years old.

I was delighted to discover that this place was indeed a part of my never-to-be-forgotten childhood and somewhere that I had spent a week or two with my family.

As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me.  In Wales, in Borth they took us to the seaside for a holiday in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp and the smell of calor gas for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining.

This year he persuaded me to go again, not to Borth in Wales this time but to East Anglia and to Norfolk where I also remembered going on family holidays fifty years ago.

We set off early on a Monday morning and after stopping for breakfast in Kings Lynn made our way directly to the North Sea Coast of Norfolk and the small seaside village of Walcott-on-Sea.

The memories returned as soon as we arrived.  They stuck to me like Velcro, so sticky that I had to brush them away like cobwebs from my face.

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We found it straight away – Seaview Crescent – it was a crescent sure enough and every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms.  Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean (he was an old man and dad used to call him Mr Has-Been – well, he thought it was funny) was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence that it would still be there and they wouldn’t lose their deposit.

I liked it there, we slept on blue blow up li-lo beds in the sun room as the wind whistled around the gables at night, there was a big open green space which was safe so long as you didn’t go near the edge and fall over the cliff, where we played football and cricket and flew cheap plastic kites that raced against the clouds in the North Sea wind.

An interesting fact about Walcott is that this is the only place in Norfolk where the road runs adjacent to the sea and it is possible to stop the car and look out over the sea defenses that were put in place after the great flood of 1953 that washed half of the village away and out to sea.  They are not especially attractive it has to be said, a great sweeping landscape of Soviet style concrete but the North Sea can be harsh so the defences have to be strong!

I remembered this place immediately and after we had stopped for a while we carried on to the nearby village of Happisburgh (pronounced locally as Haysborough).

My sister Lindsay had challenged me to find a flint and cob built church where we had had our picture taken in about 1965 or thereabouts and I wasn’t confident about this because there are over three hundred churches in Norfolk but like Indiana Jones or Howard Carter I found it straight away and some more memories washed over me like North Sea surf in a storm.

It had been a good day so far and it got even better when we arrived at Cherry Tree Holiday Park just a couple of miles or so outside of Great Yarmouth because we had been allocated a Gold Star Superior holiday home and after we had moved in and settled down we congratulated each other on our extreme good fortune and enjoyed a first evening in the late sunshine in Norfolk.

Travels in Spain, Guadamar After The Storm

I visited Guardamar del Seguera in November last year and was delighted to find traditional fishermen’s houses built close to the sea with tiled balconies and coloured shutters, ‘listed‘ buildings and a historical community with a close and obvious affinity with the sea.

What a good job that I saw this proud ex-fishing community when I did because when I went back this time, just four months later it was almost unrecognisable, nearly gone, the victim of changing coastal dynamics, the battering ram of the sea and a wild Mediterranean Storm on 12th December 2016 when twenty foot high waves crashed into the decaying properties and did massive amounts of damage, washing away walls, tearing down terraces, breaking beams, trashing tiles and crushing concrete.

The Casas de Babilonia are a string of houses built in the 1930’s perilously close to the beach and the sea and over the years the advancing Mediterranean has nibbled away at the fragile infrastructure and undermined the inadequate foundations.

The owners seek State aid in dealing with the storm damage and providing protection for the future but the houses are now retrospectively declared to be illegal builds that contravene the Spanish Coastal Law (ley de costas 1988) that defines a public domain area along the coast and a further zone beyond that where special restrictions apply to private ownership.

The aim of the law is to make the whole length of the coastline accessible to the public and to defend the coast against erosion and excessive urbanisation and the Casas de Babilonia are in the front line of the debate because the front of these properties presents a barrier to public access.

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Not that we noticed because there was a promenade all along the front and in front of that a wide caramel coloured sandy beach without any restrictions to the public.  Call me cynical but it seems like an official ploy to deny responsibility or funding because putting things right here is going to cost a fortune and may well be completely unaffordable.

Anyway, as it happens, this may all well be academic because the December storms and the wrecking ball of the sea began a demolition process that may now be impossible to reverse and even though the owners have vowed to raise the money required for new defences it seems to me that this is hopelessly optimistic and within only a short time these ‘listed‘ buildings will surely give way to the inevitability of the awesome power of the sea.

Today, these special properties represent a breakwater against the Mediterranean, without them, the water will penetrate further inland and take away even more of the land.

These are some pictures of the storm damage…

In a way this reminded me of seaside holidays when I was a boy and we used to go to a cottage at Seaview Crescent at Walcott on Sea in Norfolk.

It was a crescent sure enough and every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms.  Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean (he was an old man and dad used to call him Mr has-been – well, he thought it was funny) was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence.

As King Canute demonstrated fighting the tides and the power of the sea is ultimately completely pointless…

The storm did more damage than demolish the historic houses and a walk a along the beach showed just how much sand had been gnawed away, cruelly stripped by the rip-tides and abducted out somewhere into the Mediterranean.  A three foot high shelf is evidence of how far the beach has dropped and how much void there is for the sea to fill.

In just four months I could see that there is much less breakwater between the water and the sand dunes and now the sand is decorated with debris from the storm.

And Guardamar has other natural problems to deal with as well.  At the back of the beach is a linear park of palms and cactus and succulents and these are withering away and dying back as they struggle to fight some sort of pest or disease which one by one is killing the trees and plants that (I am told) once provided a stunning green park for visitors to wander amongst.  Such a shame.  A warning of just how ‘temporary’ life can be on Planet Earth!

Not anymore however because these are all now fenced off with warning signs of Paseo Prohibito!

 

Travel Memories – Family Holidays

Until last year I had not been on a proper holiday in the United Kingdom since 1986 when I went to Wales in a self-catering chalet near Caernarfon and it rained so much that the wooden chalet leaked and it was so cold and damp that I gave up after four days, returned home and vowed never to do it again.

Since then I have spent my summer holidays on Mediterranean beaches where the sun is guaranteed, the beer is always cold and ladies wear fewer clothes.  It wasn’t always like this of course.

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.  To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was totally absurd, I knew of people who had been to France or Spain of course (or said that they had) but I always regarded them as slightly eccentric and certainly unusual.  As for going further than Europe we might as well have made plans to go to the moon!

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In the 1950s about twenty-five million people went on holiday in England as life returned to normal after the war.  Most people went by train but we were lucky because grandad had a car, an Austin 10 four-door saloon, shiny black with bug eye lights, a starting handle, pop out indicators and an interior that had the delicious smell of worn out leather upholstery, which meant that we could travel in comfort and style.  Although there were not nearly so many cars on the road in the 1950s this didn’t mean that getting to the seaside was any easier.

There were no motorways or bypasses and a journey from Leicester to the north Norfolk coast involved driving through every town and bottleneck on the way which meant sitting around in traffic jams for hours and worrying about the engine overheating.  Well, I didn’t worry obviously but I’m sure the driver did.  Just getting to the coast could take the whole day and usually involved stopping off along the route at some point for a rest and a picnic.

Grandad would find a quiet road to turn off into and then when there was a convenient grass verge or farm gate he would pull up and the adults would spread a blanket on the ground and we would all sit down and eat sandwiches and Battenberg cake and they would drink stewed tea from a thermos flask and I would have a bottle of orange juice.

I seem to remember that one of the favourite places to go on holiday at that time was Mundesley which is about ten miles south of Cromer where there were good sandy beaches and lots of caravans.

I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no fun in it whatsoever.

In 2000 the National Statistics Office estimated that British families took 4,240,000 towed caravan holidays a year year; how sad is that?  To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a six-year-old child but I certainly wouldn’t choose to do it now when I am ten times older.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach however and even if it was blowing a gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.

As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is even too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

It was rather like being submerged in liquid nitrogen and whilst swimmers in Australia were worrying about sharks we were busy avoiding bits of iceberg that had broken off in the Arctic Ocean.  I can remember one holiday at Walcote, Norfolk, in about 1965 when it was so cold that there was a penguin on the beach!  That is seriously true and I can only imagine that it had escaped from a nearby zoo or aquarium.

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After the paddle in the sea we would cover ourselves up in a towel and making sure we didn’t reveal our private parts struggled to remove the sopping wet bathing costume and get back to our more sensible woolly jumpers.  Then we would have a picnic consisting of cheese and sand sandwiches and more stewed tea from a thermos flask.

If the sun did ever come out we used to get really badly burnt because when I was a boy sunscreen was for softies and we would regularly compete to see how much damage we could do to our bodies by turning them a vivid scarlet and then waiting for the moment that we would start to shed the damaged skin off.  After a day or two completely unprotected on the beach it was a challenge to see just how big a patch of barbequed epidermis could be removed from the shoulders in one piece and the competition between us was to remove a complete layer of skin in one massive peel, a bit like stripping wallpaper, which would leave you looking like the victim of a nuclear accident.

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We didn’t always go to Norfolk and we didn’t always stay in caravans.  If we went on holiday with Mum’s parents who lived in London we would get a train to Herne Bay or Margate in north Kent and stay at a holiday camp in a chalet which was just about one step up from a caravan.

Actually my grandparents were probably some of the first people that I knew who went abroad for their holidays when in the mid 1960s they went to Benidorm and came back with gifts of flamenco dancers and bullfighters and I can remember thinking how marvellous that sort of travel must be.  I went to Benidorm myself in 1975 and although the sun shone most of the time I think on reflection I probably preferred Mundesley and Herne Bay.

I Spy At The Seaside

Beach holidays in the fifties and sixties were gloriously simple.  We would spend hours playing beach cricket on the hard sand, investigating rock pools and collecting crabs and small fish in little nets and keeping them for the day in little gaily coloured metal buckets before returning them to the sea at the end of the day.  There were proper metal spades as well with wooden handles that were much better for digging holes and making sand castles than the plastic things that replaced them a few years later.  Inflatable beach balls and rubber rings, plastic windmills on sticks and kites that were no more than a piece of cloth (later plastic), two sticks and a length of string that took abnormal amounts of patience to get into the air and then the aeronautical skills of the Wright brothers to keep them up there.

I remember beach shops before they were replaced by amusement arcades with loads of cheap junk and beach games, cricket sets, lilos, buckets and spades, rubber balls and saucy seaside postcards.  I can remember dad and his friend Stan looking through them and laughing and as I got older and more aware trying to appear disinterested but sneaking a look when I thought no one was watching.

For a treat there was fish and chips a couple of nights a week but this was in the days before MacDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken so most of the catering and the eating was done in the caravan or the chalet or if we were really unlucky in the dining room of the holiday camp.  I think that this is what put me off school dinners later in life.  I once worked in a holiday camp kitchen, at Butlins on Barry Island in 1973 and based on what I saw believe me you really don’t want to eat in a holiday camp restaurant because it isn’t Masterchef I can assure you.

Later, after dad learned to drive, we used to go to Cornwall and Devon and North Wales, to the Nalgo holiday camp at Croyde Bay and the Hoseasons holiday village at Borth, near Aberystwyth.  The last time I went on the family holiday like that was in 1971 to Llandudno and by my own confession I was a complete pain in the arse to everybody and I don’t remember being invited ever again.

In 1976 I went to Sorrento in Italy and nothing has ever persuaded me to go back to British holidays in preference to travelling in Europe.

Do you have any family holiday memories to share?