I am at Runton and, while summer has been as fickle in Norfolk as anywhere else, I can finally see nothing but sunshine and greenery and warm unhurriedness from my position in the shade of the Restored Barn. There are at last things to do here, because as summer finally settles down, the sound of yoga mats, soya milk, pronouns and ukuleles from the South Field can only mean one thing: the middle class is here, and it wants to go glamping. In case you are unfamiliar, ‘glamping’ is a term for sitting in a tent with a rainbow flag in front of it, looking pleased with yourself. I have never understood the attraction of tents – an animal might tread on it at any moment, how do you relax? and so forth – but, that aside, their return is good news. It’s particularly good news if, like ‘Anton’ and myself, you hire out the tents which the Olivers and Lauras and their Noahs and Tillys glamp in, thus generating a tiny income for yourself. Also, it’s just nice to see people here for the first time since the Pestilence. I therefore welcome the return of the middle class who, in many ways, are just like normal people. Yes, they are physically and morally weaker, have no cultural identity of their own, are very unhappy and rarely breed because they are clearly an evolutionary dead end but, in my experience, they hire a lot of camping equipment. For that alone, they have no case to answer as far as I am concerned.
I’ve never had a heart attack, which is something. However, while wandering around the Estate just prior to re-opening I thought I could be having one when I suddenly got some nasty cramping in both legs. Having never experienced this before, I assumed it was blood clots crawling up my arterial system to kill me, but decided that there was no point making a fuss, as there was no one around and no phone signal to call anyone with, so I put my Spotify Christmas carol playlist on in case I was about to meet God and hoped for the best. In turn, this meant that I was able to get away from my audio book, Lancaster and York by Alison Weir, an account of the Wars of the Roses narrated by the same woman who does the announcements on the Docklands Light Railway, compromising the otherwise faultless literary style. At one point, for example, I thought the catastrophic ineffectiveness of the child king Henry VI was caused by a signal failure at Limehouse, when it wasn’t at all – it was caused by dynastic squabbling between leading landowning families in fifteenth century England, which is a very different thing. I had my dog with me and, stumping painfully across land nominally loyal to York during the conflict but more interested in pursuing an ancient feud with the de la Pole family in Suffolk, I reflected that if anyone was going to eat my corpse, it was only fair he had first go. Also, ‘de la Pole’ sounds like amiable Nineties jazz-rap hip-hoppers De La Soul, who would struggle to win a feud against the Clangers. I wondered briefly if that might be my last thought on earth and, if so, how history would remember me.
Archie is a semi working dog, well capable of doing his job of pursuing small game such as rabbits and hares across open land until they collapse, then standing over them with the same expression as a glamper with a rainbow flag until his owner turns up. Otherwise, he is very enthusiastic about being a dog and spends most of his leisure time going happy delighted bananas around anyone he can find. This sounds lovely, but he is no lap dog and will nip any unfamiliar limbs that are unexpectedly shoved at him. Not hard or viciously, but enough for me to keep him under close control around new people and not, for example, to let him hurtle at thirty miles an hour towards a small family of unexpected glamping outliers. To my considerable dismay, he had locked onto a small girl of about six. She remained calm and relaxed, instead of shrieking, trying to shoo him off with her arms or running away, which is the standard middle class response to unfamiliar dogs or, now I come to think of it, working class people. Archie stopped. The little girl stopped. They regarded each other, him looking down and her looking up. She shoved her hand into his face and stroked all of it, including his teeth and eyeballs. He was unfussed. I jogged closer, relieved that he wasn’t about to cause the whole estate to be closed down by savaging an infant. Perhaps, if middle class people can learn to get along with dogs, they can one day learn to get along with the rest of us? Just a thought. Anyway, dizzy with relief, I exchanged ‘Hellos’ and ‘Well, he’s never done that before’s with the family, who were enchanted with him. I didn’t want to trouble anyone by mentioning that I might be having a heart attack in my legs, so I let it go, and the girl pointed at me and said loudly ‘Daddy, that man’s dog is starving’, signalling the end of the encounter. I later learned they had been looking at Becka’s Forest School, a special place where children who are fucking intolerable go to collect pine cones in a shoe box. She seemed unsuited to it if you ask me.
And thus, life returned to the Runton Estate, the small but undeniably likeable rural shagging retreat for minor Victorian aristocracy in deepest East Anglia. Our conspiracy theorists have gone (‘…or have they?’, as I like to say every time this is mentioned, to annoy Joe) but, although I may have un-Clingfilmed my last sandwich buffet for the Flat Earth Society, yoga, both deaf and outdoor, are fully booked. We may have a bride-less bridal suite in the Old Servants’ Quarters, horseless stables by German Field and allotments full of runner beans and courgettes that everyone hates but I have survived not having a heart attack and we are, if nothing else, still here. Chin up, everyone!
Public Service Announcement: I have no idea what the thing with my legs was, cramp of some kind I should think. I find I get it if I’ve not ridden my bike for a few days. ‘Severe, unexplained pain is never normally something to worry about’, as the old saying goes.
Main: Cricket at Cromer. Always a lark.
Top inset: Wheat being harvested prior to being turned into things middle class people probably won’t be able to digest.
Middle inset: Wattle-and-daub interior of the walls in my son’s room.
Lower inset: Archie, a naturally sleek and idiotic, but not starving, dog.