It is July in rural Norfolk, and the Runton Estate is beautiful. Sunshine bathes the fields and chequers the architecture. It is hot, but not too hot. Sebastopol the Peacock hoots from everywhere, and people are even flying kites, something I assumed was just an urban myth. Occasionally, a light aircraft trundles across the sky from a nearby airfield and is waved at by those on terra firma, where everything smells of picnics and Zoom lollies and strawberries and tiny sticky faces. Everyone is happy and looks lovely, even those I know for a fact are quite ugly and miserable. Even in the petting zoo, where Joe hands out lambs and piglets to enthralled glampers, the animals’ impulse to attack everything that isn’t a) feeding them or b) food has mellowed for the duration. Elsewhere, the clumps of woodland scattered across the estate are leafy, alive and heavy with colour, and full of Forest School dinosaur hunts, sketching expeditions and adventure of every kind, under the supervision of Becka and her limitless tolerance of the young and loud. This is Runton at its best.
Recently, Becka organised a woodland Pirate Day. Incidentally, this nothing to do with Talk Like A Pirate Day which, along with cosplay and zombie fixations, illustrates that middle class people aren’t really operating under the same pressures as the rest of us. No, this was a standard issue ‘dress up and shriek’ event for toddlers, and it enabled my current girlfriend to, not for the first time, make Nid a pirate outfit from curtain rings and maternity underwear and send him into the fray looking quite the tiny Blackbeard. In keeping with the theme, I had suggested that we get him drunk on rum and send him to the West Indies to steal someone else’s pirate outfit instead, but this was vetoed by my current girlfriend, whose idea of a terror campaign on the High Seas would be to hunt ships full of treasure, board them, and ask if they need anything from Waitrose. That said, it was nice to hang out with the glampers, something I don’t do as often as I feel I should, because technically only Joe and Becka are recognised by the shapeshifting lizards of the Board of Trustees as staff. ‘Anton’ and I occupy a twilight world between estate management and general helper-outery, for which we are unpaid but allowed to generate our own income as long it is to the furtherance of the Estate – hence why we run a tent hire business from Joe and Becka’s old yurt. Still, the most exciting thing about Pirate Day was what was going on in the East Field, just behind Pirate Day: an Open University lecture on Greco-Roman Stoicism.
This is exciting because – well, for a start, stoic philosophy is exciting in itself. It is hard not to look kindly upon a philosophy that actively prepares you for a baffling life among idiots, and it is the only thing preventing me from joyously slaughtering everyone in my awful job up the council with axes. Stoic philosophy would state that it is only an awful job because I perceive it to be an awful job, and furthermore that life is an endless ‘now’ full of events you cannot hope to control, and that in seeking to do so you just piss yourself off. It was also the point of the last entry, although I forgot about that while writing it, as I wanted to demonstrate a link between the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius and the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. At heart, stoicism is entirely concerned with ‘shaking it off’ – indeed, the central message is, surely, that the playas gonna play play play play play and the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, and I am sure Marcus Aurelius would’ve have said exactly that had he been a popular country singer from Pennsylvania and not a second century Roman Emperor embroiled in a vicious war with rebelling German tribes. If Marcus Aurelius wasn’t ‘dancing on his own’ and making the moves up as he went I don’t know who was, although he would probably have had you thrown to some lions – or, if no lions were available, lots and lots of cats – for saying so.
Anyway, it shows that we can attract bona fide academia to Runton, rather than bunches of Flat Earthers and such, and although it was just a one-off thing for the time being, it is an important development. Last weekend I said ‘If the moon landings are real, why didn’t they find any Clangers?’ to a Flat Earther, and they put in a complaint about it, although we don’t have a complaints procedure, so it went to Joe, who upheld my point. As I think I may have said before, conspiracy theorists, like all people claiming to be all leftfield and free-thinking and what not, are just basically uptight and paranoid. On a summer afternoon in fragrant Norfolk woodland, I would far rather listen to an Open University philosophy lecture among hordes of pirate toddlers, given half a chance.
Main – folk singers at a crab festival on the Norfolk Coast.
Top – Nid’s reaction to folk singers at a crab festival on the Norfolk Coast. It is the only time I have seen him angry.
Middle – the Old Servants’ Quarters, Runton Hall.
Lower – The Iron Lady, one of my bikes. I use this for clattering around the Runton estate, and also in my role as a mobile barber. It is, incidentally, a copy of the bikes British paratroops were issued with prior to jumping into occupied France immediately prior to D Day. Larks.