There’s so much to celebrate in the UK in the summer and I feel particularly lucky to be living in North Norfolk. Last night, strolling down to the beach to watch the sunset an excited family from Cambridge were taking photos of a seal lazily floating on its back. Earlier in the year we did an extraordinary walk from Sea Palling to Great Yarmouth along the beach all the way.
As you get closer to Horsey Gap you start to see seals. We were quite chuffed at seeing ten lying on the tideline until we realised that the strange rock formations up ahead were also seals, packed liked sardines, hundreds of them, heaving themselves into and out of the sea, hissing, barking and emitting such appalling smells in their constant state of fish-fuelled excitement that by the time we approached Winterton we had to desperately seek refuge on the path running behind the dunes.
Friday mornings I walk along the beach with my yoga mat for a 7am yoga class on the pier. If you look closely in the photo below you can see me doing a dodgy tree pose on the far right-hand side.
On my way to yoga yesterday, as I went past the cliff slopes where the Bagot goats spend the summer keeping the vegetation in order, I witnessed quite a bit of goat argy bargy as horns clashed and kids bleated. They are a lovely sight and Delilah Bagot, the spokesgoat, is getting quite a lot of media attention and even has her own facebook page:
We’ve had peregrines nesting on Cromer Church tower this year – all three chicks fledged recently and it’s now a common sight to see crowds looking up with state-of-the-art binoculars and scopes. I’ve been going to the NWT nature reserve at Cley Marshes more often now I live at this end of the coast and was rewarded recently by the sound of a booming bittern. I’ve always wanted to hear this and it certainly lived up to expectations. It absolutely does sound like someone blowing across the top of a milk-bottle! What a great mating call!
A few weekends ago I was in Leeds with fellow poet Heidi Williamson for the UK’s first ever Prose Poetry Symposium. It was such an energising event and included the launch of the Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry which I’m very proud to be in as it includes so many fabulous poets. On the Sunday morning we had time for an amble through Leeds and came across a Kitty Café. I’ve never been a great fan of Hello Kitty and was bemused that my usually very sensible friend was bouncing up and down like a six-year-old. When Heidi could finally speak again she explained that the café was not a vehicle for a Japanese animation, but for a cat rescue organisation. You pay a fee to go in, find a comfy place to sit, order your food, and then realise that the whole café is full of scratching posts, hammocks, ledges, catnip toys, catflaps and is actually a temporary home to thirty-three cats and kittens!
Back in Norfolk and yet another trip to Great Yarmouth, a place I’ve become very fond of over the years. It’s a fascinating mix of history, quirkiness, urban grit and the great British seaside in all its Kiss-Me-Quick glory. We decided to forego the End of the Pier show in Cromer this summer and experience the Yarmouth Hippodrome Summer Spectacular instead. The Hippodrome was built by George Gilbert in 1903. It’s Britain’s only surviving circus building and one of only four in the world to have a water feature. Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini performed there, Lillie Langtry sang there and Lloyd George held political rallies there. In wartime it was used as a military shooting range. Peter Jay (of Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers) bought the building, alongside others in Great Yarmouth, in the 1970s and restored the water feature in 1981 (the wooden floor of the circus sinks dramatically to reveal a circular water tank and spouting fountains…)
I loved the fact that all the young women selling candyfloss and programmes and showing you to your seat transform into the circus dancers in the first half and the syncopated swimming troupe in the second. The guy with the American accent selling popcorn turned out to be one of the extraordinarily athletic Chicago All Stars. In the interval performers from all over the world put on their black crew gear and help to erect the scaffold for the aerial display. It’s a real team effort!
After the show we went backstage to the Circus Museum where many of the performers were milling around, relaxing on sofas, although the Finnish trapeze artist seemed happy to spend her free time walking up and down a fellow acrobat’s back as he lay supine. The Circus Museum features some of Peter Jay’s equipment and tour posters as well as a hoard of memorabilia which was found just lying around when Jay bought the building, including a programme, printed on silk, for the first ever show at the Hippodrome. Some of the memorabilia is stored in the old stables where the animals were kept.
Another Great Yarmouth gem worth visiting is the Lydia Eva, the last steam drifter in the world. You’ll find her on the South Quay. She was the last boat to be built at the King’s Lynn Slipway Co in West Lynn as the local shipbuilders were on strike. Named after owner Harry Eastick’s daughter, the boat was launched in June 1930 and has been lovingly restored. If you want to know more about the Great Yarmouth herring industry then the Time and Tide Museum is the place to go – leave time for a visit to the Silver Darlings Café!
Summer wouldn’t be summer without a reading list and I’ve been revisiting the classics this year, inspired by visits to two wonderful writers’ houses during our week’s holiday in Hastings. First stop was Lamb House in Rye where Henry James lived from 1897 until 1914. He wrote many of his most famous works here, including my particular favourite, The Turn of the Screw. If you look closely at the photo on the left you might see a shadowy figure doing a little light haunting… Joan Aitken’s book The Haunting of Lamb House is a supernatural tale featuring both Henry James and his friend friend E F Benson who lived there from 1914 onwards and who also wrote ghost stories. Benson’s celebrated Mapp and Lucia stories are set in “Tilling” which was modelled on Rye. Mapp and Lucia’s home, “Mallards” is, of course, Lamb House. Rumer Godden, one of my favourite writers when I was a child, lived there from 1967 to 1974. Her book, A Kindle of Kittens, is set in Rye. I particularly adored Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, the story of two Japanese dolls and how their new owner, Nona, a homesick little girl, decides to build them a Japanese house. I’m sure my love of all things Japanese stems from learning, along with Nona, what the dolls might like to be surrounded with to lessen their homesickness.
Our second writer’s residence was Monk’s House, Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s country retreat in Rodmell. We walked along the banks of the Ouse from Lewes to Rodmell and it was hard not to imagine Virginia, on that fateful day in 1941, setting off from the house and walking into the Ouse, pockets full of stones.
The house is utterly charming and the Woolfs clearly thought so too, despite the lack of home comforts. Leonard said that he thought their daily life was closer to Chaucer’s than that of modern man! Woolf was writing her seminal feminist essay A Room of One’s Own as her bedroom was being built at Monk’s House. It had no internal links to the main house and was full of artworks by her sister, Vanessa Bell, and her niece, Angelica Garnett.
In the garden is the Writing Lodge, where Virginia wrote many of her novels and articles, even sleeping there on fine summer nights. The house was a magnet for the Bloomsbury Group with T S Eliot, Maynard Keynes, E M Forster, Duncan Grant and many others spending time here and dubbing it Bloomsbury on Sea!
As well as revisiting some of the books in my classics collection I’ve also set myself a project which I’m calling The Paris Project. I’m trying to read every book I can with the word Paris in the title. I’ve come across some great ones so far. I would recommend The Paris Wife by Paula McLain which is about how Hadley Richardson (the first of Hemingway’s four wives) and Ernest Hemingway adapt to life in Paris as impoverished Americans in the 1920s. If you like a bit of time travelling then pick up futurist adventure Paris Adrift by E J Swift – a really intriguing read. One Evening in Paris by Nicolas Barreau is a wee bit farfetched but it’s set around a cinema and is a bit of a paean to all those romantic city-obsessed Woody Allen films so you can forgive its foibles!
And, of course, I’ve been reading plenty of poetry books – there have been so many good ones recently. I’ve particularly enjoyed Witch by Rebecca Tamas, Threat by Julia Webb, The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus, Everyone Knows I am a Haunting by Shivanee Ramlochan, Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, and King of a Rainy Country by Matthew Sweeney. The last is particularly close to my heart. Matthew and his partner, fellow poet Mary Noonan, were in Paris at the same time as me in 2016 and staying very close by. This collection of prose poems was Matthew’s response to Baudelaire’s Le Spleen de Paris. It’s a magical read but also a sad one as Matthew died soon after completing it.
So, look out for the quirky, wherever you are, it’s what makes life interesting. I’ll leave you with a final image from a shop in Great Yarmouth which was in the process of closing down…