Instagram foodies are ten a penny and routinely hated. This is understandable, because you can’t claim to really love food until you’ve wept over a Wagon Wheel on a low carb binge day. Low carb binge days are the sublimest pleasure. If they’d come along first, no one would’ve bothered inventing sex, drugs and rock and roll – and we’d all be much happier as a result. Anyway. Carb bingeing dominated the meeting with the Confederate re-enactors which you may recall was something of a hot topic the last time we spoke. It went well, or at least I assume it did, as after two minutes I was tripping balls on complimentary Hob Nobs and would’ve agreed to pretty much anything. There was little to be concerned about, however. Our Confederates were a couple of amiable heating engineers from Stockport, somewhat different from what Joe and I managed to convince ourselves we were expecting – essentially, Tammy Wynette and Deputy Dawg – and it was difficult not to like them.
As also discussed previously, sturdy British readers will be mystified by the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag. It’s a contentious issue in the States though, and considering we have Americans among the various conspiracy groups that come to Runton, and also that we need to be squeaky clean for our Lottery grant, it’s best to be on the safe side. It’s not like in Britain, when every time something happens that Guardian readers don’t like (ie, literally every time something happens at all), Brighton declares it wants to leave the UK and become a republic. (By the way, I’m not sure where the threat is with this – it should just get on with it, and give us back all our fag hags and anti depressants). No, when the Confederate south left the Union north, it caused no end of bother. That’s all history now of course, but we have twelve Confederate re-enactors re-enacting it in the East Wood, eating authentic rations as nutritional research for the University of Portsmouth. They are portraying an army close to collapse, so this means catching and eating squirrels, frying ground acorns in rancid bacon fat and making coffee from corn meal and sugar cane seeds. Grim. I have promised the squirrel scoffing mad men a table full of pizza with extra rootin’ and tootin’ when they leave, as long as there’s been no banjo music or lynching, and wish them fortitude against their oncoming peckishness.
I spiced up the Norfolk Shred* with an American Civil War playlist prior to meeting the Confederates so I’d have a bit of small talk. The mix of sentimentality and jauntiness would be ideal for soldiers, because it makes you want to shoot people. Not that I am without sentiment, I should like to point out. For example, I make a point of sniffing my dog’s legs of an evening because they smell of popcorn, and I love 30 Rock so much that I refuse to watch the last two episodes because I couldn’t bear to have seen it all. Sentiment can be a fine thing, but there is a place for it – and that place is not among endless references to rallying round this and shouting about that and Maryland, cotton and hearts the other. I’m sorry but it isn’t. It was a short playlist, and after going through it a few times I’d hear ‘protect our heritage’ from the Bonny Blue Flag as ‘protect our hair and tits’, and ‘advance the flag of Dixie’ as ‘advance the flag of Ipswich’. This last point would be fighting talk indeed among the gentle folk of Norfolk. In case you are unfamiliar, Ipswich is in Suffolk, a part of East Anglia where the feeble minded, ugly and malformed are sent to live happily among their own kind. It serves the same function as south London, which God separated from the rest of the world with the River Thames – originally, a valley full of disinfectant – and rightly so.
Horrible nineteenth century yee-hah banjo nonsense was not my only source of light conversation, mind you. I once cycled from Georgia to the outskirts of New Orleans and back up again, straight through the former Confederate heartland, for reasons I can no longer recall. It was fucking terrifying. I was treated with effortless kindness by each human I met, and murderous hated by everything else. The rattlesnakes I narrowly avoided stepping on were disconcerting enough, but the real danger came from lethal pit bull/coyote hybrids living in packs around the many abandoned farms in the region. They have an enthusiastic hatred of Cockneys, and would chase me along the dirt roads, all teeth and rabies. This was particularly disconcerting at night in the middle of nowhere, five thousand miles from the nearest pie and mash shop. After the fourth or fifth such incident, I took to chucking beef jerky behind me to distract the little bastards, and this worked so well that I assumed that’s what it was for until I saw people in Monroeville eating it voluntarily. It all sounds ridiculous, recalling it now in the comfort of the Keeper’s Cottage at Runton Hall with a flask of Nescafe Gold Blend and forty custard creams, but they were desperate times. God I hate the countryside.
(The Norfolk shredding and low carbing have come about because I want to be at my fighting weight for the 2018 cycling season. I gained sixteen pounds after the Tennyson Road Incident, in which I demonstrated solidarity with the victims of the London terrorist attacks by having a van driven into me at forty miles an hour. Actually, it was a taxi, but it still beats changing your Facebook avatar and then forgetting why, in the standard modern expression of remorse.)
*an exercise regime invented by me. It is similar to the more usual types of Shred, except that hi energy dance music is replaced with a nice Audiobook. In my case this is currently The Aquariums of Pyongyang, an account of political re-education in a labour camp run by the Workers’ Party of North Korea. It is among the most depressing things I have ever heard.
Twitter: this has a Twitter account, you know, and I make up a quarter of the follower count. It’s a riot in there!
Facebook: it has a Facebook page too, with twenty five followers – twice as many as Jesus.
Main: my dog, Archibald al-Fantastique, who smells of popcorn.
Insert top: Joe at the Compleat Angler in Norwich. The bookshelf behind him is wallpaper.
Insert middle: ‘Anton’ in cartoon format – perhaps the only one in which he is considered acceptable – drawn by Cartoon Ben at Greenwich Market, in a different life.
Insert lower: Abandoned building somewhere in rural Alabama, fourteen years ago. I rode past hundreds of these, and would often go in for a bit of a poke about. It was legit because I was on my own in a different country, often with perhaps three hours cycling between me and the nearest human being. I had one cd – Original Pirate Material by the Streets – which I listened to incessantly while cycling. At times, I started to think that I had been riding a bike forever, and that my life at home and all the people and places in it were the product of some weird daydream. Also, I was so homesick that I would go to sleep at night imagining the smell of the Northern Line – sentimentality again, you see. Still, it was an adventure alright and, despite the terror and loneliness, I retain a fondness for the people, if not the wildlife, of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and all the southern States. I saw Belle and Sebastian in a baseball stadium, watched NASCAR racing, was mistaken for a cop in downtown Montgomery and got free food in restaurants by reciting the menu in my normal speaking voice, which everyone thought was Australian. The whole thing was bananas, and I should’ve written about that instead.