I am writing this during only my fourth visit to Runton Hall Estate of 2020, in the Old Servant’s Quarters, now an un-booked wedding venue and bridal suite. During my last visit, in May, ‘Anton’ and I had to send opportunistic glampers back to Croydon with cries of ‘You’ve only got to stay at home for a few weeks – you’re not Anne fucking Frank’ and sundry other observations. Now, though, the Estate is silent except for the screech and bark of unidentifiable wildlife and, if it wasn’t for the periodic discharging of shotguns indicating that somewhere Graham is awake, I could be the last person on earth.
Some miles away amid the Norfolk Broads, a QPR fan is making sure that alpacas are being cuddled properly in land adjoining a residential home for the terminally ill. Happily, they always are being adequately cuddled, because alpacas are easy to care for, even alpacas that used to live in the petting zoo at Runton, who are absolute dicks. All petting zoo animals are absolute dicks, as you can discover for yourself by being near them a millisecond after they stop being endlessly fed by visitors and go into a violent panic because they think that a) they are starving and b) they are starving because of you. The QPR fan is Joe. He is not currently required at Runton, or indeed anywhere else except now and again among the residential home alpacas. He can’t even escape from his numerous children at home by nipping down to see QPR because Loftus Road, where they play, is deserted, due to the Pestilence. It has been a difficult 2020 for Joe.
The New Den, where Millwall play, is also deserted – not because of COVID 19, but because someone has told them that West Ham are coming, and no-one in New Cross, Bermondsey or Deptford is brave enough to leave their house. Two hundred miles away, however, one Millwall fan – an electrician – does feel safe enough to venture out. In an area of Leeds he describes as ‘well Basra’, ‘Anton’, earns not enough money to live by repairing elderly household appliances on behalf of his untrusting local client base. Last summer he laid the wiring for the new stable block at Runton, designed to spearhead the Estate’s confident swagger into the third decade of the twenty first century. Now he mends toasters for people ‘don’t know what Argos is’. The stable block has yet to hear a single clip or revenue-generating clop. This is a shame because, as he points out, if we’d managed to get some horses, at least we could’ve eaten them.
As for myself, also part of the fancifully-named Runton Park Estate Management Team, I can be found in a cottage on the Norfolk coast having conversations with my son that, at teatime on Mondays and Fridays, often go like this:
‘Did you have jammy dodgers at Nan’s today?’
‘Is that what Nan told you to say?’
‘So how many jammy dodgers didn’t you have at Nan’s?’
Asked one Lockdown morning by my current girlfriend what he wanted in his packed lunch for nursery, he said ‘Tell the man I’ll have a chicken chow mein’, providing one of the more remarkable moments of recent weeks. I told her not to argue and get one delivered to the nursery pronto as he sounded pretty pissed off, but after spirited debate he got a cheese sandwich with crisps in it instead.
I have missed Runton a great deal. I miss the Flat Earth Society and their ability to believe almost literally anything, and the various other conspiracy theorists, who I imagine are quite busy at the moment what with one thing and another. I miss the deaf yoga and Forest School scavenger hunts. In particular, I miss the glampers, fresh out of gentrified and therefore Labour-voting London boroughs with their pronouns and genders and food intolerences and little rainbow flags. In March, the rainbow flag symbolised the triumph of gay culture over oppression but, now that November is upon us, is more likely to be a sign that you are middle class, fond of the National Health Service, and either generally pretty fucking pleased with yourself, or own a child with access to crayons. They must’ve had a field day during the great liberal middle class coming out party sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite black people being around for some time now, their dignity as a race traditionally featured somewhere below concerns over plastic drinking straws, gender neutral toilet provision and declining bumble bee numbers in the liberal middle class socio-political landscape until mid-summer, and I attribute the subsequent shift from telling us that we live in a post racial society to saying that actually, on second thoughts, we don’t, to their realisation that black people exist at all. The white liberal is the worst enemy to America, and the worst enemy to the black man as Malcolm X said. He is not wrong, no matter the decade or location, although the liberal middle class would doubtless tell him off for not being black properly.
While the wider world whirls about, the localised net economic result of the Pestilence is that I no longer have an income. My stupid job up the council petered out without incident once we all had to work from home, although I continue to administer to my former colleagues as their Union representative. It is a worrying time, but there is always hope. Well, now I come to think of it, there isn’t, but I am reminded of a friend of my old dear’s who she described as having ‘retired, then gone disabled’ and who now checks face masks at Morrissons. Social distancing guidelines are easy to observe in the countryside, which Norfolk invented; where I live you are more likely to be within two metres of an owl than a human being. Despite this, Norfolk has proved itself equal to a pandemic which, according to the latest Government figures, has killed every single person in the world. I witnessed him in action recently when my L A Dodgers mask malfunctioned while popping in for Gold Blend. I must say, he looked entirely able bodied to me, so I am not sure what this disability of his is. I should have asked him, I suppose. Anyway, the elastic had come out of one side and, while attempting to mend it, he said ‘it was too bendy to go into the hole’ which I pointed out was the story of my life and, because we are British, we laughed for about twenty minutes.
Main: The countryside. Point your phone in any direction and it looks like this.
Inset top: My old desk up the council, post COVID. Note ‘This station is not to be used’ sticker. Usually, this means that social distancing guidelines are being observed, but in this case indicates that my desk is being left untouched as a shrine.
Inset middle: Carrot from the food hub I volunteered in the in early stages of the pandemic. Looks like old legs and a small, uncircumsised penis, causing hoots of delight among my fellow volunteers.
Inset lower: Son in back garden during the summer Lockdown.