There is frost under the white sky of East Anglia, hammered into place by winds howling from Scandinavia, and never afraid to outstay a welcome. Across open land – ie, the whole region except Ipswich, Norwich and the bead string of towns around the coast – muddy puddles are frozen shiny and everything smells of cold. Runton, squarely in the middle of East Anglia, is an ice box. Happily, I am writing this in a nice jumper in the cosy Old Servant’s Quarters, amid the smell of toast crumbs and tea, with century-old radiators providing a reassuringly permanent warmth. When summer arrives, the Quarters will once again assume their primary commercial function as a romantic venue for newlyweds, but for now the Flat Earth Society are in residence as is normal off-season, their comings and goings audible from the dressing table where I am sitting. They are a friendly bunch, especially considering that, in common with all conspiracy theorists, they assume that everything is false and everyone is lying to them. No matter: they always buy me shortbread fingers when they go on food runs to Morrissons, and while I don’t think that the Earth is flat, I do know free biccies when I see them.
Until recently, another sound, or collection of sounds, could be heard from the Old Servant’s Quarters. They were as follows:
…and so on, over and over, accompanied by laughter and heated conversation. This was ‘Anton’, untroubled by talent or skill, discharging a shotgun at passing grouse. Observing the scene one morning, I leapt upon a rare opportunity to combine Purple Haze and poor marksmanship by saying ‘Excuse me, while I miss the sky’, which made Joe, his impromptu instructor, chuckle. In return, ‘Anton’ advised me to go and fuck myself. This charming countryside tableau occurred, now I come to think of it, on the last day of the grouse shooting season. That we even know what a grouse season is illustrates the extent of our assimilation into rural life, although the fact that the grouse population at Runton actually increases during it illustrates our general attitude towards countryside sports. Joe is less squeamish – he skins rabbits in front of Strictly, I am informed by Becka. We are tin pot country gentlemen, with ‘Anton’s shotgun licence not yet applied for, Joe’s defaced by a crayon, and mine employed as a bookmark in a large volume of pasta recipes by my current girlfriend. We certainly don’t look like country gentlemen. We look like armed robbers. Graham, Runton’s gamekeeper, has suggested that our aim might be improved by wearing balaclavas and leaping from the back of a Transit van before firing, and he might have a point.
‘Anton’s firearms training was a rare mid-winter meeting of he and Joe and I. We had considered working on the stable complex we bought from the Estate last year, as we’ll be able to sell it back to the Trustees when it’s done, but it involves the re-laying of cobbles and historically-appropriate installation of rooves, and we’ll only balls it up if we do it ourselves. When finished, it’ll be a riding school for summer glampers, which should be a larf. ‘Anton’ spent the winter in his adopted corner of Leeds, undertaking private electrician work for his growing clientele of untrusting Asian homeowners. Joe, Becka and their numerous children went house sitting in Suffolk. I spent it in our temporary home, where the war for Nid’s identity geared up a notch. My current girlfriend, middle class to the core and hop
ing for a weak, gender fluid son, bought him a play oven for Christmas. She has also been giving him quinoa crisps behind my back. I responded by telling him that he is the oven repair man and feeding him fish fingers and spaghetti hoops like a normal person, and he seems to be alright.
Balance is everything, however; last month at nursery he punched a fellow toddler over a disputed sandcastle, and I can’t be having that. Genetics are perhaps to blame. His paternal great grandmother once hurled a doctor down the stairs of a terraced house in Gillingham for suggesting she was unwell, demonstrating the family’s fondness for, and skill at, physical confrontation. Indeed, he will have myself and generations of scrap-happy Mile End ne’er do wells in the great pub car park in the sky cheering him on, as long as he is acting in self defence and hasn’t just kicked off for no reason. Genderless, cultureless, food intolerant, middle-class weakling or robust working class mini-geezer – either is ok. Well, not the first one, obviously, but both are preferable to him being a dick, as I’m sure we don’t need any more of those in the world.
Incidentally, for Christmas I got a job in the public sector. It wasn’t the one I wanted but I don’t have the reciept, so I’ll have to keep it. Anyway, we’ll deal with that remarkable turn of events next time.
Main: First light in Norfolk, which at this time of year is just after midday. Vapour trails left by aircraft stationed at RAF Marham, I should think.
Inset top: My dog, Archibald el Fantastique, wondering why he has been charging across fields in the rain for the past two hours.
Inset middle: Dog guarding staircase for some reason.
Inset lower: Bathroom in our house. Still needs a couple of bits done.