Jolly boating weather

My First Mate managed to squeeze himself onto the 'Bridge'.

My First Mate managed to squeeze himself onto the ‘Bridge’.

My life, for the past few months, has been submerged in the life of Norfolk’s very own Horatio Nelson. His battles, his injuries, his affairs and his seamanship. So it was rather fitting that I was recently given the opportunity to take charge of a ship of my own.

Slightly blurry-eyed (I’d been up late listening to the Shipping Forecast), I took possession of the vessel a little after 9am. “Push the handle all the way to go forward and all the way back to reverse. Use the steering wheel just like in a car. But remember, when reversing you can only go straight. Oh and pull that handle to stop the engine. That’s it. Have a good day.”

My crew consisted of two able sea(wo)men and a First mate, none with any actual experience at sea, although the First Mate had driven a train once for a birthday present.

Nelson was a man of the people. A leader. Someone his crew looked up to and respected. This was my moment to emulate this local hero. My time to lift the spirits of my officers and lead from the front. “Off we go then,” I said hesitantly pushing the handle all the way forward. “We shail into hishtory”, I added in my best Sean Connery voice, forgetting that he was depicting a Russian submarine commander on the brink of defection. (The Hunt For Red October)

We were off. Our nautical journey aboard the good ship nameless that seats only four and has a top speed of 5mph and is referred to in the documentation as a ‘boat’. The only amenities on board are a steering wheel and a handle that makes you go forward and back. There’s also and fire extinguisher (powder) and a lifebuoy. Below deck there’s the River Yare.

Random image taken on River Yare consisting of mainly water and sky

Random image taken on River Yare consisting of mainly water and sky

I have to admit I was looking forward to the day out on the Norfolk Broads. I’d heard stories of Ice Cream Boats and frolicking otters. Not once was I told that the ‘Bridge’ on the four-seater boat was actually designed for use by Warwick Davis that and by the end of our eight-hour trip I would be contorted in such a way that I would never again struggle to put sock on while standing up.

Many years ago I drove a 2CV car. Other 2CV car drivers would wave merrily at me as we passed on the road. On the river everybody waves at everybody regardless of what they are sailing. Even people not on the river wave. The secret is to not to wave too soon. Because you are only travelling at something a little faster that walking pace, you can get into that awkward situation where you have run out of wave and have to move on to nodding or making some comment about the weather or reading out extracts from the Ancient Mariner as you drift by.

The views from the river are lovely. Kingfishers dart about, Cormorants dive and Swans play chicken by refusing to get out of the way. But one of the most welcoming sights is the riverside pub. All we need to is park up, or moor to use the correct expression. I pride myself on being a long time driver with an exceptional record when it comes to knocks and scrapes. I quickly realise that this isn’t going to help one bit.

Forgetting I can’t reverse and steer and going forward takes me away from where I want to go doesn’t help. My First Mate explains helpfully the physics behind why I can’t steer and reverse and I drive straight into the pier to prove his theory. Through a series of choice words and clever rope pulling we’re tied up and back on land. Lunch.

On the way back the weather takes a turn for the worse. The wind picks up and the grey clouds move in. Just twenty minutes from dock the heavens open and just for a moment I thought I saw an Ice Cream Boat coming out of the rain. I bet Nelson would have given his left arm for a 99.

Definitely going to do that again. Great fun. Great views and next time, all being well, great ice cream.

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A new palace for Norwich

Mash Tun , NorwichThere’s never a dull moment, or sky for that matter, in Norwich. Always something going on. Something new. Something to challenge, amuse, entertain, see, hear, eat or drink.

Last weekend’s Norwich Lanes Summer Fayre offered all of that. A taster of some of the delights of what this fine city has to offer. For me it was less about the street stalls but more of an excuse to spend some time exploring the city finding out about what’s new and happening.

One such thing is the Mash Tun. A new bar which also promises to be the home of a new Gin Palace. It opened on Thursday.

Mash Tun , NorwichFor ever I hope it will always stay
Not quite finished.
A wire hanging here
A ladder with a man with
His head in the ceiling.

One of the bar staff goes in search of a bottle opener
In some places they cheer when someone drops a glass
Here they cheer when the lights come on.
For ever I hope it will always stay
Not quite finished.

Can I borrow your glasses
Asks the guy squinting at the wine menu
Already I’m making new friends
Black Pearl and Oak Aged Saison
Someone orders the Spicy Chicken Wings with The Kernel Beer Barbecue Sauce
And for ever I hope it will always stay

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I could only be here

Sun over Whitlingham Country Park

Sun over Whitlingham Country Park

I look at the clock on my phone: 04.17. I’ve been up less than an hour and I’m standing in a field talking to a horse. It’s the first day of Summer or it will be once the sun rises in about fourteen minutes.

The horse is fascinated by my fluffy microphone windshield and my rucksack on the ground next to it. I try and explain to the horse what I’m doing in his field.

“I’ve come to record the sunrise because it’s the 21st of June, the day of the Summer Solstice and this field of yours is where, over three thousand years ago, stood a wooden henge.” It is/was Arminghill Henge and seems like a good place to be at this time on this day.

I pop my headphones on and decide the kit would be better positioned over there a bit, away from the horse. He agrees by immediately eating the grass my rucksack had been sat on.

Ten to five now and I have successfully helped the Sun to crawl onto the horizon so I pack up and head over to Whitlingham Country Park for more sound recording.

Norwich sleeps.

Whitlingham has it all. Two lakes, lots of woodland and meadows and more flora and fauna than one man can cope with. I take a clockwise route around the lake towards a distant Cuckoo, who stops Cuckooing every time I switch my recorder on.

The rear end of a mole scuttles into the undergrowth. I can hear it rustling the leaves. If it thinks I’m a predator then, like me, he’s managing to make as much noise as possible whilst trying not to make a sound. It’s me getting out of bed at 3.30 all over again.

Ruins of Trowse Newton Hall

Ruins of Trowse Newton Hall

There’s a light mist on the water like the breath of all the Canada, Egyptian and Greylag geese has been gathered up and draped over a glass table.

At the ruins of Trowse Newton Hall I rest a while. Sometimes you just have to put down your recorder and throw off your headphones and just listen. The longer you listen the more you hear. The distant train is replaced by birds which are replaced by more movement in the undergrowth. A drop of dew crashes onto a nearby leaf and all I can hear is less than a few feet away from me.

Last night I was lucky enough to see the poet Lemn Sissay perform at The Forum in Norwich. He said, “It’s important to be in the present”. I carried those words with me all morning, but eventually even those were drowned out by the nature.

I closed my eyes and let the morning engulf me. I could only be here.

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Las palabras me fallan (words fail me)

Acer Aspire E1-572You can get some great bargains on the Internet. Take the Acer Aspire E1-527 for example, a bargain on Amazon at under £500. If you speak Spanish that is. I don’t. So the setup wasn’t going to be easy.

On the first screen there are a selection of words, none of which I recognise. I click on one and get a drop down menu of other words I don’t recognise. Oh hang, that one says Jersey. This is where I wish I’d paid more attention to the voting on the Eurovision Song Contest. What’s the Spanish for United Kingdom. And English (UK not American)?

The deeper I get into the setup the harder it becomes – words evolve into sentences. Using an online translator helps a little but I’m getting frustrated with words and sentences and having to switch from Spanish/English to English/Spanish. There’s only one thing for it – Acer Online Customer Support.

I connect to the text based service straight away and exchange a few ‘hellos’ and ‘hope I can be of help’ type messages. I’m never really sure if I’m exchanging words with a human or a very clever computer.

The first ten minutes are spent with me registering the computer. “Please enter your SN”. No human ever says “SN”. “You can locate it on the label under the laptop.” I need to borrow someone else’s glasses in order to read it.

“Thank you for your SN. How can I help you today”. It is a robot isn’t it?

“I’m having trouble setting up my laptop because I don’t speak Spanish.”
“Please wait three minutes. I will check and get back to you.”

I wonder if there’s a question I can ask that would prove one way or another if I was communicating with a computer.

“Hello Richard. Please click on this link. It will help you with your problem.”
I click the link. It takes me to a page that gives clear instructions on how to load a new language into the laptop. The first thing I need to do is press the Windows key. Only I can’t as I’m stuck on a page that says ‘Vuelva a introducir su contraseña’.
“I can’t I’m stuck in the setup section. It’s in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish.”
“Please wait a moment.”

I imagine a row of computers all linked together working on my problem, the whirr of their hard drives as they search their databases for the right piece of advice.
“Hello Richard. You need to find someone who speaks Spanish to help you.”

“What? Really?”
“Yes. Really get someone who can really speak Spanish. They will help you.”

I go back to Google Translate. At least there’s a real person at the other end typing in the correct words – right?

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Fun at the coast

The great thing about living in Norfolk is that you get to visit the coast all year round and not just in the summer.

For me the autumn, winter and spring can be far more exciting and interesting – and often you have the beach to yourself!

In March last year I was out trying to capture some good sea sounds, but the wind made things rather tricky. However I did manage to capture a couple of sounds that the wind was responsible for – you can hear them on

The other great thing is that you get to see and experience some of the holiday resorts out of peak season.

Out of season some of the amusement arcades, rides and cafes close down. But there are still plenty of things to do and see and you get a taste of what life is like for the business owners when things are not so busy.

On this visit last year, for example, I popped into a cafe for a spot of lunch. I won’t say where so as not to embarrass anyone, but while I was there I heard some fantastic conversations.

On the wall of the cafe by the door there’s a clock that has two faces – one either side. An elderly couple came in and the man stopped in his tracks, looked at the clock and then at his watch. This is the following exchange:

Man: It’s bloody slow.
Owner: Is it?
Man: Two bloody minutes slow, by my watch.
Owner: Well it should be right. Is it right on this side?
Man: Yes. But it’s two minutes slow when you come in.
Owner: I got distracted when I was setting it right so I only did the one side.
Man: Well my side is two bloody minutes slow.
Woman: For pity’s sake, don’t start this again. Do you have any sausage rolls?
Owner: No. But I could do you a sausage in a bun.
Woman: Not sure about that. What do you think?
Man: I think it needs sorting. Two minutes is two minutes.

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