Granparents

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Every year, my dearest magical friend Craig and I have our annual day trip to the seaside.This year, as we both turned 30, we decided to ramp up the activity a little and go away for a day and a NIGHT! This meant we could travel a little further afield, and so we chose to zoom off to Norfolk. We both crawled out of heavy busy work weeks, and were in need of coffees the size of our heads at the thought of the long journey stretching out ahead of us. I picked up a car picnic of cherries, crisps and fizzy percy pig tails and soon our zip car (named Charlize!) was heading the right way from London. The journey took about 3 hours; mainly because the one road that takes you in and out of Norwich is currently being expanded. That’s great news for future visitors, but less great for people who want to drive down it now and its single carriage is packed with road works AND slow moving tractors. We also hit the tail-end of hurricane Bertha, which made for some tricksy driving conditions.

We stuck to our California road-trip specialist subjects (Craig driving, Me navigating) but this time my role extended to passing him water and also pouring crisps into his crotch (!) so he could chow down and keep one hand on the wheel. Some things you really can only do with close friends, and this is one of them. There was a reason we chose Norfolk, and that’s because it’s where Nick & I are getting married next year. Craig is (among other very exciting roles) chief of decoration, as I really don’t have the first clue and he made his music-festival-30th look so chic. So our first stop for the night was my Gran’s house, in order for Craig to recce the venue and start making some plots and plans. As soon as my Norfolk-based family hear there might be fresh meat in the vicinity, they flock down, so Craig spent the first night having an official “induction” which involved a frantic card game of Racing Demon with my cousin, aunt, uncles and gran. At 95, my gran still thrashed all 3 generations of us.

After an epic sleep (there’s definitely something in that Norfolk air) we started the day in the best possible way. Home-made ginger cake for breakfast, followed by a lesson on the spinning wheel, which Craig previously thought only existed in fairy tales.

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Then it was time to take a scamper around the grounds where Nick and I will be getting married. I won’t include too many photos because, well no-one wants too much of a spoiler before the big day surely. The sun was shining and the flora and fauna were in fine form; we’d be so lucky to get a day like that. I picked an apple that was as big as my entire face, and I reckon will be enough to fill a pie. There’s something so enchanting about this place!

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After another slice of cake, and an hour or two of my gran telling us incredible childhood and war stories; it was painful to tear ourselves away but we really did have to get a wriggle on and do what we came to do… see the sea! Also, thanks to Craig for being my stylist for the weekend. I had stupidly forgotten a spare tee-shirt so he kindly leant me his I <3 LA one which fitted a little too perfectly and is currently being held hostage. Not quite sure I am ready to give it back! The drive from Norwich to Cromer took about an hour. My gran was born in Cromer, therefore it’s a place I visited tons as a child but haven’t been to since my teens. I stuck to tradition, and we parked on the road my gran was born on (which is also handily free parking; therefore more money for tat from the tourist shops). I had a good peer at the house where my life-idol came into the world, the original name “Yerbury” is still etched into the gate, which is also my mum’s middle name in honour of it.

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Our first effort to fully de-Londonify ourselves was to head out towards Over Strand, where the beach is nestled next to miles of wild scrub. I love that Cromer has shingles and pebbles, but also soft sand and rock pools. We walked as far as we could see, stopping to scavenge for shells and to hunt for anemone. It was amazing how quickly we left the chaos of the town centre behind and were soon alone with the lapping sea and ramshackle abandoned beach huts.

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I don’t know how we manage it, but every year our day trip takes place in a different month and a different day, but whatever the weather forecast (usually beefy thunderclouds or remains of hurricane) we get tropical temperatures. As we stared out to sea, I felt the most at peace since I came home from travelling. You don’t need to get on a plane to find that sunny sweet spot when we get summers like this. The one thing I haven’t missed about UK beach offerings though, is these pests. Creepy wormy weirdos!

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After a good dose of salty air and stomping around, we headed back to dry land to explore the pier. Cromer is the only pier in the UK to still have a regular Pier Show, although we weren’t organised enough to catch it. We also discovered that the thing to do at Cromer pier is to go crabbing! Every inch of pier-side was packed with families who were hanging fishing rope off the edge, with bacon on the end to tempt crabs into the nets. The unlucky crabs are then collected in a bucket in order to show off to everyone else how many have been snagged. I wasn’t sure what the point was, so asked a local man who recoiled in horror when I asked if he ate them (Cromer is famous for it’s crab!) but these were just little nippers and he told me they catch them for fun, but they are all chucked back in the sea at the end of the day.

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By this point in the day we both had a hive-mind desire for one thing, and one thing only. A GIANT fish (and chips). We found somewhere called the No.1 Fish & Chips, so we figured that must be the best in town and we were not disappointed. We tucked into the feast whilst gazing back out to sea and with sand between our toes; which I swear improves the taste by 80% at least. It’s so special when you have a friendship that never suffers an awkward silence. Even after spending 36 hours together back-to-back, we were nattering none stop. It feels like we never run out of conversation, I guess because we are at that age were lots of big life things are happening; which need endless analysis – in between chip mouthfuls.

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After a doze in the sunshine and a stop off at the amusements and funfair, it was time to bid Cromer farewell. I was tempted by the teacups but have learnt from sickly experience that swirly-round-&-round rides do not mix well with having just eaten a giant fish dish. This has definitely been one of my favourite day trips of all time; as the town and beach were just the right amount of buzzy Vs busy; and there seemed to be an infectious good mood in the air. Almost everyone we passed smiled, said hi or just looked happy with life. This is something that is sorely missing from the London rat race sometimes! This, coupled with my gran’s endless wise sage advice and life lessons, left us both really inspired and feeling zen as we headed back to the M11. I say this every year, but I really need to do this more often. A day at the seaside felt as good as a holiday.

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If you’ve never visited Norfolk, I highly recommend it. And if you have, but never went to Cromer, then do that too! Just remember to pack your sunglasses.

Read all about or previous day trips here:

2013: Rye & Camber Sands

2012: Reculver

2011: Isle of Purbeck

2010: Eastbourne

 

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It’s less than two weeks to go before I set foot on the plane (well two planes actually) that will take me into a whole new chapter of life. I knew there was only one place I wanted to spend some of those ticking-down jobless days and that was in Norfolk with my 94 year old granny, who handily happens to be the most wise-owl and inspiring women in the world and a one of my biggest life-inspirations. Long-time Like a Skeleton Key readers will recognise this quaint countryside haven from this post. My gran’s house is a time warp where days pass blissfully filled only with eating homemade soup, reading, writing and rambling around corn fields. I’m very aware how fortunate I am to still have my gran at this age, and for her to still be so strong and well enough to be a friend and confidant at that. Even since my grandad died, which is two years ago this month, she is still determinedly enjoying life and shown incredible bravery. After 80+ years of being a couple (they met aged 13 and 15!) I can’t fathom how you adjust to being a me, not a we, but she’s doing it.

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This past week has actually provided me with some good pre-South America preparation, which I wasn’t expecting! Firstly, the hot water in the house has broken. It’s sort of there, but it comes out of the taps in fat drips rather than a flow… so for washing of any kind there is only the option of a freezing cold bird bath or (my preferred choice) just to be a bit stinky. The tap water has also been declared UNDRINKABLE by the local water provider, something about a bug in the pipes. I’m trying to force my brain to ignore the voice asking “but what about the gallons of tap water I’ve drunk every time I visited before it was declared unsafe” as I then remind myself that my gran is swiftly approaching a century old so it can’t be that bad. It’s strange to get into the habit of only drinking bottled water and remembering to not-so-much as swill my toothbrush near the tap; but it’s something that will soon become a way of life so it’s handy training. We are also eating the freshest food. It’s one of my favourite things about coming to visit! My uncle runs an organic garden, growing every vegetable you can imagine. My gran bakes a fresh loaf of bread every morning. And on Monday we had a surprise delivery of fresh brown shrimps caught in the sea that afternoon and munched on toast for our tea. That said, my gran also is a total fiend for baking (I wish Great British Bake-Off had existed a decade ago, as she’d have been the peoples champion I’m sure!) so every meal is finished off with at least one goodie. In fact, every 30 minutes I am being forcefully-offered a sweet treat and I learnt at an early age that no one says no to my gran when it comes to food. Safe to say, my skinny jeans are now weeping in the bottom of my suitcase. There will definitely be NO bikini photos for at least a month into our trip at this rate.

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The best test of bravery has been the influx of giant mutant spiders and drunk, determined wasps that have invaded my holiday. Every day I’ve been armed with a glass and a card, scooping up spiders so big their legs have stuck out the rim of the beaker and wrangling wasps so enraged I’m sure one will come back on a vengeance mission to sting me good. This has been balanced with some beautiful Norfolk nature though. It’s like the UK is determined to show me before I leave that there is plenty of impressive wildlife to be found right here thank you very much! One morning we took a stroll up the road and by chance I looked upwards and saw flash of red amongst the green canopy of leaves. Just a metre directly above us was a little robin red breast who was singing with all his might. He didn’t seem fussed by us in the least, so gave us an incredible up-close performance of his chest puffing and wistful warbling. Then today I was pottering around the potato plot when I saw my first ever Hawk Moth! What a majestic creature. I knew that we had some roaming around the UK at the moment because my sister works for a bat protection charity, and they’ve had a few phonecalls from people reporting bats that have turned out to actually be these mothzillas.

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In other creepy crawly creature encounters, my gran posted a letter on Friday. On Monday it was returned to her in the state below. A snail had been feasting on it all weekend long, on such a glue binge that it even ate the stamp. The perils of living in the countryside.

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I am so greedy when I visit my gran, I constantly question her about her childhood, the war, her friends and what my mum was like as a kid (very naughty). I can’t comprehend most of the experiences my gran has had in her life, especially at such a young age. She has a diary from 1939, when she was just nineteen and World War 2 was declared. It’s a harrowing, humbling read. She is left in charge of her younger brother who was fourteen and she talks of how he misses mummy and daddy and how hard it is to comfort him when she feels the same! The entry below ends with them trembling in the dark, clutching each other, as the air raid sirens wail. She describes how everything feels “twice as bad” at night-time. Obviously this was the same scenario the whole of the UK suffered, but there’s something about it being told to me by my precious gran that brings it so much closer to home. It certainly puts modern day woes in perspective! The best thing about the diary is her use of Jeepers Creepers, a phrase I definitely want to bring back into linguistic fashion. Oh and her incredible description of, “he had a face like a rat trap” !!

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It’s been such a tranquil week. In between the story telling, I’ve been nose deep in Questions of Travel by Michelle De Krester  which Phil kindly bought me for my birthday after reading a review in The Guardian. It’s a beautiful chunk of a hardback, so I’ve been saving it for a time when I could read it without lugging it anywhere. Also the travel topic has stolen my heart because for obvious reasons my mind is completely preoccupied with far far away lands right now. I took about 3 chapters to really get going, but now I am half way through and desperate for it not to end. The book charts the entire lives of two characters; Australian Laura and Sri Lankan Ravi, and their experiences with Geography, travel and finding their place in the world. Currently each chapter rotates between Laura and Ravi but I expect and hope their lives to collide at some point… I just don’t know when or where. De Krester has an entirely unique writing style and turn of phrase, which takes some adapting to but is very enchanting and manages to tackle everything from tragedy to humour to romance using subtle observations that many times have made me murmer agreements out loud to myself.  I am also reading The Rough Guide to First-Time Around The World which Nick bought me, as he found it useful to read before he first backpacked in Asia. It almost instantly melted away any travel anxieties I had, as it’s packed with smart and sensible answers to nearly everything I had rattled over in my brain. From packing tips to security to general stories and tales of getting the most out of your trip, I feel more like an expert every day and am chomping at the bit to get going.

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I’m also spending hour after hour trying to transfer eight months of Spanish notes into a tiny moleskin because I know that my own phrasebook based on everything I’ve learnt will be easier for me to reference and understand now than anything I could buy off the shelf. I also figured it would be good revision and whilst I’m impressing myself with how much I have learnt, it is a tedious job. It also keeps overwhelming me by just HOW MUCH there is still to learn but I’m hoping once I’m immersed in the language it will come more easily. I know how to say yo soy el jefe so maybe this is enough anyway, I mean you can’t argue with that. I think my main problem is confidence more than ability. Since I’ve been learning people say “speak some Spanish!” (or in Nicks case “do Spanish bee!”) and I feel so self conscious as I blurt out my little introduction. I need to seriously get over this, or just be permanently tipsy on rum cocktails.

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I’ve been trying to take a magic hour walk every day. Magic hour is a term that just means the last hour of sunlight in the day. Of course in Norfolk this is spectacularly pretty and also a cooler time of day, as it’s been scorchio all week. It’s definitely de-London-ing me to be walking along tracks where I don’t see a single soul. I just send explosions of birds into the sky and critters running into the hedgerow, as my footsteps take them by surprise.

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