In which we go to the seaside, judge a dog show and take a tough stance on treason.
I discovered the other day that if the Flat Earth Society had an end of year dinner and dance, they wouldn’t be able to play All Around The World by Lisa Stansfield at it – the phrase ‘around the world’ implies that the earth is spherical, you see. To get it past the dj, the lyric regarding Stansfield’s misplaced infant would have to be ‘I’ve been to all four corners of the world/and I can’t find my baby’, or possibly ‘I’ve been to both sides of the world/and I can’t find my baby’. This is the sort of thing we have to know at Runton Hall. It’s a shame, because All Around The World is a classic Great British Summer Event tune, and means that it will be a while before we can raise the profile of Runton with a Great British Summer Event, although for a place that would be literally invisible if it felt it could get away with it, this is not perhaps such a bad thing.
I can truthfully say without fear of contradiction that I hate the outdoors. However, I do love a Great British Summer Event. You can keep your paraolympians and your People’s FA Cup – this is the Brits at their finest, scoffing Mr Whippy ice cream in the drizzle amid exhaust fumes in a field littered with fag ends, with mid-Nineties non-Britpop belting out of a poor quality public address system in the background. Marvellous. Attraction-wise, there’s something for everyone. I always enjoy the obligatory English Civil War tent containing a history teacher struggling with a flintlock pistol, hard enough to fire in the actual English Civil War, where combatants where not constantly interrupted by bored children putting their hands up to ask why they were gay. Burger vans flying the Confederate cross among the flags of the home nations, drunk twelve year olds, fat majorettes, shire horses wearing deeley boppers – it’s tremendous stuff, and the carnivals of Norfolk, long recognised as gathering places of the rich and beautiful, are the epicentre of it all.
The customary carnival procession, a vital part of proceedings always advertised as ‘Second Only To Rio’, is little more than an excuse for everyone to drink themselves blind and hurl improprieties, with which I will not trouble you, at Carnival Queens on flat bed lorries being driven slowly through the town. I prefer the Boxing Day hangings. These aren’t, at present, actual hangings, but a custom dating back twelve centuries in which men charge into the freezing North Sea in honour of Ran, a Norse god, watched by large crowds who cheer them on with lusty cries of ‘You’re going to drown you fucking twat’. Bucket-rattlers, moving among the crowds, collect money for fireworks displays, held on New Years Day instead of Guy Fawkes Night in these parts, as Norfolk supported the Gunpowder Plot and saw no cause to celebrate its failure. I like to say that on Boxing Day they execute a young offender on the promenade in front of a jeering crowd, and throw him, still conscious, into the sea where he is torn apart by gleeful townsfolk, hence Boxing Day Hangings. I have no idea why I say this, but it provides an insight into how I might have dealt with Guy Fawkes sympathisers, had I held judicial office amid such treason.
Carnival dog shows are a thing to behold, consisting of family pets with differing levels of willingness and co-operation being lead around a small enclosure, followed by raw meat donated by a local butcher being awarded to whichever owner lives closest. The format is unchanging year after year, and no one minds, even the East Midlanders who invade Norfolk each summer and, on one occasion in Sheringham, Amelia and Jacob from Clapham, representing the Remain vote and thinking they were in Hell. At this event, the announcement of an Ipswich-based Highland Terrier ignited the ancient blood feud between the East Anglian counties, and amid a torrent of initially good natured booing, the MC was heard to say ‘I must say, I don’t fancy your chances’ to the dog’s owner, who was six, amid the kind of uproar more commonly associated with a witch burning. Happily, a Lancaster bomber flew overhead at this point, delighting all and sundry. If you should find yourself marshalling an outdoor event in the English provinces, keep one of these on hand for if things get rowdy. Everyone loves it, and if you can combine it with the Dambusters theme – well, there won’t be a safe German for miles, to say the least of it. With everyone intent on bombing Berlin, the Mundesley Carnival Dog Show was won by Labradoodle (a mix of a Labradog and a Poodle) belonging to Chloe (a mix of a Clare and an oboist), all the way from Eastcliffe Avenue, a small road within sight of the ‘arena’.
Runton Hall’s donkey fleet will be at Scarborough this season and therefore not available to carry children along sundry Norfolk beaches at low tide. This will rob me of my annual opportunity to warn parents that a startled donkey can run at seventy miles an hour and other lies, none of which are ever questioned. I told someone once that if a donkey sees a bus queue, it will automatically join it. Not so much as a raised eyebrow. I also tell their delighted offspring to look out for sharks, submarines and pirates, often washed ashore at this time of year. One of these summers we’ll have to get Joe to dress up as Blackbeard and jump out from behind the pier supports for a larf, making demands for dubloons or pieces of eight, or parrot food or wooden leg varnish or eye patch darkener. Or in a shark costume, so that midway through his spiel the theme from Jaws could sound as his ringtone, and he could say ‘Better get this, it’s the missus’, then have a conversation whereby he could inform his imaginary shark wife that ‘They’re out of surfers, love’ but that ‘they’ve got children from…’ [Addressing children] ‘Where are you from? Grimsby?’ ‘…Grimsby. Could put them in a casserole I suppose’ and all that which, if accompanied by enough pissing about, will be a larf, especially if we say it’s for Help for Heroes.
With no donkey stewarding in the offing, Joe and I will be denied the tattoo game. Originally, I wanted this to be a henna tattoo stall at Camden that patrons could unexpectedly discover did real tattoos several weeks after visiting it, but the current incarnation involves pointing out a tattoo on every parent and saying ‘Oh, I do like that, yeah, no, that’s lovely’, no matter how awful it is or fat they are. We’ve had some belters, and not just butterflies, dolphins, tribal bands and exhortations to ‘Follow your heart’, written across people more likely to follow a chip van, either. Highlights include dual Paul Wellers, contrasting Jam-era Weller with Style Council Weller, one on each calf of a savagely sunburned man from Coltishall, and a back-wide depiction of British soldiers going ashore at D Day on a bloke from Overstrand, which Joe claimed was similar to something his mum was thinking of getting.
Despite such jollity, I must reluctantly conclude that although an event like this would be remarkable indeed were it to take place at Runton Hall, it would at best ruin glamping revenue, and at worst see the glampers open a Mr Whippy restaurant in Shoreditch when they got home. Then again, if they wanted to enhance the authenticity by having exhaust fumes piped in shortly after having all the windows and doors nailed shut, I’m sure I could dig up a Bitty McLean cassingle to complete the ambience. Also, imagine the effect of a Red Arrows flypast on the Runton doomsday preppers and conspiracy theorists, jumpy about military hardware at the best of times. It would be like putting Mentos in a bottle of coke.