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September 18, 2007 > Across the pond

Across the pond

By Francis Payne

It's time for my annual visit to friends, Elaine and Mike in Norfolk.... the friends with their own boat (beautiful old house too, of course). This year, they also acquired a stunning capacious conservatory and ... a boat. "Can you swim?" asked Jenny the housekeeper. "Wouldn't get me on that boat without a life jacket ... and there's only one"

Until that moment, I had been looking forward to our expedition on the Broads (Norfolk's very popular waterways, despite the essential early start of 5 a.m. to beat the tourists. Now I began to seriously consider the fact that out of the four of us, only Mike knew anything about boats.

Anyway, there I was the following morning on board the boat with Elaine feeling slightly anxious as the only who could sail it (Mike) was on the jetty casting off.

However, once he'd leapt aboard to join us, I began to relax and appreciate the boat's compact facilities and the fabulous scenery as we made our way along the river; scenery that varied from the setting of "The African Queen" film, to the vast and chaotic centre of a yachting race. Still not quite sure whether we were supposed to be there, but it was very spectacular and jolly exciting trying to evade the competitors.

Everyone we passed was so friendly, helped no doubt by the fact that this was the first sunny weekend since March, waving and smiling as we glided past. Even a boatload of Captain Hook and pirates (a 'stag' party?) called unexpectedly polite greetings.

All was languid and peaceful.....until Mike noticed we were approaching a low bridge, made lower by the recent constant rain. All eyes, six of them, had to look out for the water level gauge (a numbered stick in the water) to help decide if we had to lower the canopy and frame - which Elaine and Mike had never done before - to avoid disaster. No pressure then! Well we did. I know they say one should do something new every day, but it didn't seem a particularly good idea as we raced against time with screws that wouldn't unscrew and framework that wouldn't lower. But we made it just in time. I suppose that's the bit that's good for you.

On our travels, we 'laid anchor' at a pretty little village that boasted a twelfth century church. "We'll have a look at that," we said before we were told by villagers it was a couple of miles away, "In that direction." After trekking across a potato field where I saw my first scarlet pimpernel flower along with lots of potatoes of course, we found the Church; unlocked in the middle of nowhere and containing the most amazing artefacts. An incredibly well preserved and beautiful twelfth century rood screen made us fear for their security, but also marvel just how trustworthy people can be.

Sailing back, we envied the impressive houses on the banks of the river, but didn't envy the fact they had to put up with a constant stream of 'sailors' gawping at them and taking photos.

Back home, Mike realised he'd got a nasty case of sunburn as he prepared the evening barbecue. Elaine had marinated the meat in a wonderful oily sauce. The flames were high. Mike was cross....and hot. The smoke was dense after the lid was put on to contain the flames. The meat was well done. But tasty!

People relaxed and chatted after the meal...until the lights went out in the splendid new conservatory. "It'll be a fuse," called Mike from his cool spot outside in the garden. It wasn't. The lights kept failing and my mind returned to the housekeeper's other cheery words the previous day; that she and gardener husband, Jock, had disturbed burglars only weeks before. Fortunately, as with the boat, all was well.

And now back in Newark, we're enjoying a late burst of sunshine. Autumn (Fall) is approaching in the evenings, but days are still Summer. Bliss!

I wish you all the joys of sunny days (you'd appreciate that remark more if you lived in Newark England, believe me!)

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