Demolishing a pigeon loft with a sledgehammer is not one of my favourite things. Neither is being up to the eyeballs in debt as a result of buying bits of a Georgian country house estate, renovating them, and selling them back to a bunch of Freemasons. My favourite things include putting four Weetabix in a bowl with full fat milk and 100ml of double cream and having them for supper, illustrating how far from perfect yesterday was. There is little opportunity for finesse when demolishing a pigeon loft with a sledgehammer; you just hit it until it collapses. We – Joe and ‘Anton’ were also on sledgehammer duty – had been doing this for an hour, sweating profusely and lost in the contemplation of brick dust and pigeon droppings from the last century, when Graham’s small pack of lurchers bounded into view.
It is unusual to see Graham’s dogs in the middle of the day at this time of year. There is little shade at Runton, and sight hounds can run themselves to heart failure conducting a prolonged pursuit across miles of open countryside under boiling summer skies. I am mindful of this with my own dog, Archibald el Fantastique, who originally belonged to Graham. He is very enthusiastic about being a dog, and will chase anything, for any distance, for any reason at all. The rule of thumb, Graham reminded us, as we leant upon our sledgehammers and squinted into the haze, is never to run a sight hound with its tongue out.
‘Why? In case he trips over it?’ said ‘Anton’, being called ‘a funny Cockney prick’ by Graham, and responding that it was a good job that Norfolk was flat or Graham’s caravan would roll off it. The debate continued in a spirited manner for some time, pivoting around words such as ‘wanker’ and ‘twat’, until my phone rang. It was Taylor Swift.
Well, it was Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, my ringtone, which replaced I Like To Move It by Reel to Real (ft the Mad Stuntman) in early 2017 when I considered it unbecoming in fatherhood. This in turn replaced Apache Indian’s Boom Shak A Lak, which had provided stalwart service since the glorious early days of polyphonic ringtones. I faithfully recorded all this in ‘The Ringtones of Our Fathers’, part of the information about myself and my side of the family I recorded for Nid when he was slumbering in his mother’s room, waiting to be born.
‘Anton’ briefly delighted us all by mentioning how much he ‘would love to attack’ Taylor Swift, further insisting that Shake It Off is a euphemism for stabbing the cat, because Swift ‘knows the fucking Bobby’*. This is plausible, I suppose. After all, the phrase ‘rock and roll’ can arguably be traced to Deep South plantation slang for having a go on a lady and Shake ‘n’ Vac, a popular carpet cleaning product, has the same name as the slang term for a half and half. I learned this from a prostitute and stalwart ally since our earliest trading days at Camden. The mechanics of a Shake ‘n’ Vac, for which you can expect to pay between £20 and £70, are easy enough to ascertain although, as I suspect I will never tire of pointing out, are unlikely to ‘put the freshness back’, in line with Shake ‘n’ Vac’s prominent television advertising.
I was pondering how strange it would be if it actually was Taylor Swift and, if you were one of her friends, would it be awkward to have Shake It Up as your ringtone. It was more likely to be Open University, as it had occurred to Joe and I over the winter that Runton would be perfect for Open University retreats, and in keeping with the intellectual/philosophical debate ethos that was the original idea for Runton. If it hadn’t been a bunch of hippies in charge of this it might have come to pass. Sadly it was a bunch of hippies, which is why, apart from Graham saying ‘How about I shoot your fucking balls off?’ to ‘Anton’ in the background, the only discourse at Runton is from Flat Earthers and chemtrail obsessives. Securing the Open University as a client would put Runton on the map. Runton wouldn’t enjoy being on the map, but it would give us credibility among, well, everybody, get us back in line for a Lottery grant and, in my case, prevent me having to hold down a stupid job up the council to bank roll my involvement.
It wasn’t the Open University. It was a Star Wars cabaret/drag act called Princess Leo, who we have booked for a wedding here in August. It could’ve been though, and that’s the main thing. We went back to sledgehammering the pigeon loft, Graham’s dogs went off to snooze under his caravan, and a tiny drama in our tiny lives, like countless other tiny dramas in countless other tiny lives, passed into history.
(NB There was a broader point to all this, but I have forgotten what it was.)
*Rhyming slang: Bobby Moore = score. Particularly noteworthy as ‘Anton’ is a Millwall fan and Bobby Moore is a legend at West Ham. ‘Anton’ is the only Millwall fan over three foot tall, whereas those of us in claret and blue are widely celebrated for our physical beauty.
Main: Nid in the back garden of our temporary house. He loves that truck. It sang things in English last year but now, having left it out all winter, it sings them in Spanish.
Top inset: Harry Blogg statue on the cliffs at Cromer. A legendary lifeboatman and quite possibly gay, which would explain why he was so fond of sailors.
Middle inset: a cow in a field. The smaller white cows are sheep.
Lower inset: the churchyard at St Mary the Virgin, Northrepps. I walk the dog through here quite often.