Partridgeville: The Dead Zone

Holiday time.  This year it’s England not through direct choice but more due to circumstances.  A tough year meant that all plans were thrown into flux and so the usual early booking scenario for the top apartment in the Med was hanging in rags. Call me old fashioned but I’m never getting on the package holiday bus at midnight from a Spanish airport not knowing where I’m going only to find I’m in pisshead hell with no escape.

By the time we reached July we still had nothing and so went for a couple of weeks in North Norfolk staying in what appeared to be a converted stable. I was sceptical but also know that Jen has always secured top drawer accommodation when we’ve gone away so didn’t panic too much.  She showed me the place on line and it looked great so I was happy enough.  It was secluded yet near enough to everything we needed.  It also had a games room with ‘wiff waff’ table, full-size snooker, dart board, 80’s games machine and electric organ.  It was a proper 80’s pub games room.  Just to be clear the electric organ wasn’t the draw but the tennis court and trampoline were particularly appealing to the kids

We could easily have stayed at home this year but I felt the need to spend some proper time with the kids who have suffered through all the adult shit I’ve had to deal with.  They are rightly innocent to that crap and so needed some Dad and Mum attention.

We load up the car with what seems like half the house and I attach the bike rack tightening the one major bolt to the point of exhaustion such is my trust in it and we head off.  As it’s me and I’m heading off on holiday it is raining hard.  To explain this you need to understand that I once visited a water park in Majorca in a thunderstorm where I really needed a coat and a blanket.  I’ve also hired cottages in Kent and Dorset where I’ve been forced to light the fire in August.  I’m not lucky with weather wherever I am so my expectations are low.

It’s only a three-hour journey and we arrive, in the rain at about 1600 hours.  I am now in literally in the middle of nowhere and as a Londoner I start to hyperventilate, I mean what if the Wi-Fi doesn’t work or have sufficient power to maintain my online bollocks?   I enter the building after liberating the key form a locked key case by the door and before the bag I am carrying has hit the floor I’m logging on….

The Wi-Fi doesn’t work.  Holy. Fuck.  I’m in a social media Dead Zone…. My hell, My nightmare…. I am on Devil’s Island.  Jen rightly ignores my woe and looks around the place.  It’s lovely and in reality it provides everything we need to relax without being bound to the intergoogles.

While Jen and I work out the layout and appliances the kids run off and meet the farmers dogs and disappear into the games room.

The place is really nice and feels like home and so we settle in for the chill time.

The next morning and I’m getting ratty that the Wi-Fi doesn’t work.  This is really quite pathetic on my part but shows how reliant we all are on our devices.  Of course some off you will talk a load of bollocks about how this is a good thing while you read this blog on-line.  It’s not a good thing.  We’ve evolved beyond struggling for technology particularly when you’ve paid for it in advance.

The ‘farmer’ appears at my door.  I’m disappointed to find that he has all his own teeth and isn’t wearing a jerkin with a lace up neck.  He’s not actually a farmer at all but a bloke with his own fence erecting company.  The plot I’m on hasn’t actually been a farm since 1948 which begs the question as to why it smells like a pig has shat on my face.  Ahhhh…. ‘The smell of the countryside’ as the Monster would say between explosions.

I explain my Wi-Fi trauma to Matthew the Fencer who says:

‘oi don’t know nuffink aboot thaaaat….’opefully it’ll kick in layterrr’.

He doesn’t actually sound like that but that’s what I get.  He suggests that I use 4G as if that is acceptable.  I’m about to use the traditional North London greeting of ‘Listen Cunt…’ but Jen, seeing the c-bomb is imminent, interjects with complete diplomacy pretending that we/I am here for the countryside and it’s not really that important.  I slunk off to the games room to chuck some darts while swearing a lot leaving Jen to exchange pleasantries with the Fencers wife.  Jen’s great with Yokels.  She reminds me of Captain Cook bringing news from the King to an Island of peaceful Hawaiians moments before they tore him apart.  Jen is the expert at this stuff, I am not.

We head into the local village to get an idea of what is near.  Everything I need is there except the Wi-Fi or phone signal.  It’s 1952.  The local boozer looks good and there are a couple of eateries and a shop.  I’m happy…..well, as happy as a man without Wi-Fi can be.

We load up on provisions and head back to the homestead to relax and play with the kids.

You don’t realise how stressed you are until you stop and do nothing.  The contrast between the norm and relaxation is stark.  I’m really enjoying my job at the moment and, bizarrely, am looking forward to getting back involved in it but it does take it out of you and you only notice it when you stop.

With our bearings got we take our first trip out.  It’s a barn complex which is ‘great for kids’ although I doubt it will push the buttons of the Instagram/Xbox North London kids I have sired.

We turn up and all seems ‘Holiday in England’ drab.  It’s a farm type deal with pig feeding, local low-level artwork and the like.  There’s a small circus on the site and a less than crazy golf with the easiest, gaping holes this side of the Red Light in the ‘Dam.

We meander around the place and I notice a Norfolk Cider shop which deserves my attention.

The proprietor of this shack is a tall skinny bloke with teeth that could eat an apple through a tennis racket.  They are not so much in his mouth as sticking straight out as if hammered in place by someone unable to get the required grip on the ‘nail’.  He’s doing that thing I hate, fake cheerfulness covering some deep rooted melancholia probably related to some bodies in a barn covered with a tarpaulin that he regularly visits to say ‘sorry’….

He’s alone yet singing or whistling some 70’s muzak lift tune.  I wait to see if some other jubs will enter his alcohol emporium and on cue some tattooed fuckwits enter his lair.  He’s on them like a Jaguar with flashing teeth and smothering personality.  He pouring away samples quicker than a Russian lab technician and I’m almost tempted to dive in for a free piss up but realise that cider makes me punchy and he’s ripe for some attention.

I choose to watch from afar and it’s clear that he’s an expert in playing the crowd.  He’s telling yarns of apples and 16th Century presses and the assembled lumpents are lapping it up quicker than the free samples he’s pouring down their necks.  This is the difference between London and the shires.  He’s proud of his product and won’t just say ‘cider over there’ he’s selling it even though no one is buying it.  You could argue ‘what’s the point?’…. it’s a fair argument given that he has to feed himself, donate to the local church for his sins and replace the tarpaulin regularly but the point is dedication to the craft and local product.  I admire him for that but he can stick his rancid, grubbing fingered made, bilge water right up his hoop…. It’s cloudy and appears to have bits of beak and twig floating in it.  I ain’t touching it.

We leave underwhelmed and over charged…. The full glory of the English holiday in a sentence.

The following day the weather appears average so we decide on a bike ride.  You can’t really do this shit in London directly from your own door as you might get mown down within seconds by someone without car insurance.  Every time the kids go out on a bike in London I assume that I will be opening a door to a policeman and a priest within half an hour.  Back in the day kids treated their bikes like they had cars.  It was an essential tool of the teenager. Can’t really do that now in London, too dangerous, too much hurry.

We cycle off down some country lanes and see no cars at all until we reach a village 2 miles away.  It’s a joy.  We pick up a cycle route along an old disused railway line and peddle along a route for about 5 miles.  We see no one along the way and the kids love the freedom.

The route takes you to the old station house that is now a tea room for old people.  As we arrive I notice a troupe of old men in blazers with military badges inspecting the station.  Clearly some kind of shit is going down and it’s the worst kind of shit….Local Shit.

Jen and the kids go into the station house for the necessary tea and a slice of cake.  I stay outside and lock up the bikes.  Within a minute I’m accosted by the tea woman who has left her den to tackle a problem she has seen from within.

‘What yea doing?’ she says….

‘Good afternoon, aged and toothless old local crone, I am securing my transport to this temporary fence in order to dissuade local villainy from purloining my goods’ says I….’As you can see (gestures with hand) I am using the very best lock money can buy as a means of….’

….she interrupts…

‘No one has ever locked a bicycle here before’ she says….

‘I’m not in your coven Witch…. I’m from London where these (points to bikes) would be gone in seconds unless lashed to a tree or similar large object.  Now bring the tea,  you know nothing of my world…’   She lurches off.

A lovely cuppa and a slice of carrot cake was had in the idyllic surroundings of Whitwell and Reepham station.

With an upturn in the weather to something approaching a scorcher, the next day we head to the beach.  The beach is my true hell as there are no redeeming features to it.  Sand, wind, heat, flesh…..white, white flesh.  We arrive in a small town and wind our way through the seafront shops following the massive line of traffic the ‘beach side’ car park.  We park up and everyone gives me their bags and I trudge my way along the endless road like a pale donkey climbing a Mexican mountain pass.

After about 35 minutes with no sign of a beach I suggest to Jen that the ‘beach side’ car park might be taking the piss.  She tells me to stop moaning and I point out that I can return her bag to her at any point…. We walk in silence with the kids lagging behind in the endless queue of people heading to nowhere like refugees at the Macedonian border.

And then, over the brow of a hill I see the oasis…. The beach.  We have come to the beach because Jen wants to read a book on the beach in the sun.  No one else wants the beach.  The book and the reading of it are the thing.  Jen has a peculiar vision in her head as to what kids want.  In essences she thinks they want what she wants or want to do what she did as a kid.  They don’t.  They are kids of a generation beyond ours and so need more than the simplicity of the beach.  However, the kids are prepared to have a good time.  They have music, they have books, they have inflatables and the world’s greatest Frisbee:  the ‘Aeroring’. Similarly, I am tooled up with kindle, iPod and DAB radio.  I’ve covered every eventuality.  I will artificially enjoy myself in spite of the situation.

At the cusp of the beach it is noticeable that the lame and overly nourished go for the land grab.  To be fair they have walked far enough for their twisted and swollen legs and so us, the fit, stride on another mile further up the beach to where the beautiful people are.

Now if this were a film I would now be appearing on a sand dune in a heat haze laden down with stuff…. I am Gary Cooper in ‘Beau Geste’ marching to my doom while being harangued by Jen (Sgt. Markoff) to ‘Keep Walking!!!’.  Finally, we reach an acceptable spot where I collapse in a heap in the blistering heat among the pale tattooed masses.

I make no bones about I moaning like a porn star as I’m out of my element but I put on the headphones and look for a sandwich.  It was at this point that it struck me that we had no food.  I look at Jen who has the face of someone who has also realised that it’s lunchtime and we have no food and 1 bottle of water 4 miles from the nearest shop.  One thing is for certain….. I ain’t going.  My job is to carry shit, her job is to fill the bags with the shit.  I have completed my part of the bargain, Jen has failed.

Well, I’m here now so I might as well get involved.  I strip down to shorts and flaunt my pale blue body to the assembled toothless.  Tattoos are a big part of youth culture these days but I’m surrounded by the old school tattooed.  Ham hock arms containing smudged black blobs, there is no precision in these etchings, no finesse.  It’s all gothic writing with names like ‘Amber’ or ‘Kyle’ or Hebrew script down the back.  Tattoos used to be rare now they are a standard for all ages and all sizes.

I’m lying there sweating and notice Jen looks forlorn.  I pull out the phones and through gritted teeth ask her what is wrong.

‘Nothing’ she says….

‘Why don’t you read your book, I mean, that’s why we are here…..right?’ I suggest….

‘Forgot it’ she mumbles…..

It’s a glorious moment for me.  This kind of schadenfreude never happens when Jen is involved as she’s generally faultless. I return the phones and continue to inwardly smile in glory only to fall asleep and get burnt to a crisp as Jen never warned me that white pale skin needs protection in 30 degree heat.

She controls this relationship, she probably controls the weather so I’ll keep my trap shut and will return to the shadows where I carry bags for an eternity over sand dunes and the tattooed bloated bodies of the toothless….

Next time:  The glory of ‘Greggs’ in Norwich, the great Wi-Fi reconnection, seal watching with Chas ‘n’ Dave and the house of a thousand Spiders….

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