Exploring East Anglia by Train

Leaving Sheringham Station- Julian Osley/Licensed under CC
Leaving Sheringham Station- Julian Osley/Licensed under CC

I cannot be the only person who feels an affinity with trains and their visceral rhythm: the way they mirror a heartbeat forcing an outward swoosh and pulse of blood along arterial trunk lines, journeying outwards through venous and capillary branch lines before making a return. They take you straight to the old heart of a place too, unlike airports which are marooned in city badlands and keep lonely company with UPS depots, giant storage units and skeins of service roads.

Enter a place via its airport and you could be anywhere in the world, working your way through layers of corporate and border-control sameness, designed to keep you docile and corralled- preventing passengers from beginning a relationship with their destination until they have been processed. As a contrast, arriving via train offers an immediate sense of place: think of India with its track-side chai sellers as bright hordes of travellers clamour past and onto the carriages; there’s Paris and her plain white tile-work, art nouveau entrances and Métropolitain signs suspended between ornate, curvy wrought iron ‘muguet’ lampposts or the Victorian might of Britain’s Industrial Revolution powering the building of ornate cavernous stations and smaller branch-line ones, laced with filigree metalwork and constructed from bricks that tell a geological story. There is the boom time Art Deco of New York City or its opposite- a mid-western request stop where travellers hop on and off into emptiness composed of little more than a criss cross of tracks near a feed lot, factory complex or a siding alongside a two-road town. We know that once upon a time, the train’s arrival here carried great impart and crowds gathered to meet it. Nowadays there is little to greet the herald of its whistle.

Trains connect us to the land and to each other. We cannot bypass the bits we seek to avoid and neither are we are distanced from them: the rise and fall of the landscape, miles and miles of fields with only the occasional low contour veering upwards; the back-ends of cities built from brick smeared with soot and tracks diverging and converging like undone zippers. Trains connect us to the pulse of other people too. We wait for them to go about their business alighting and departing at stations. We are forced to wait at red lights for carriages packed with people to pass us, catching sight of the odd face in a window in strobe-like flashes as they obey speed limits in towns full of sleeping people. Then the train bursts out of the urban sprawl, letting loose with a whistle as it races over unmanned crossings in the middle of nowhere. The whistle may be a dulcet two-note, a high castrati screech or sonorous bass depending upon its nationality, an engineered facsimile of a dialect or language in my wilder fancies.

Public spaces ask for us to police their borders and they encourage minimal interaction with others and enforce containment. We want to avoid the disapproval directed at people herded into a small space whose physical presence impinges too much- spread legs a width too far a, bass iPod or floppy broadsheet newspaper intruding into our sight-line. There are narrow corridors, serried rows of upright seating and mean little table-tops; intolerant of a wayward knee or crossed leg. Straps and rails hang from ceilings to keep us upright and apart like skittles in an alley frame and pull down seats against carriage sides encouraging us to keep left or right of centre. Windows direct our gaze outwards at eye level, away from other people, detering us from paying too much attention to the inner workings of the train, to notice, as little as possible, our commuter agony. But there are also the trains that seek to let in as much of the terrain as possible through observation carriages, wide window panes or glassed in ‘bubbles’ inserted into the carriage roof as countermance.

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The eel sculpture in Ely

Look up, look out and be reminded that this hermetic seal is as thin as the metal skin of the train carriage, that just feet away are pine trees several stories high, the glaciated bumps and detritus of a Norfolk coast or a thickly wooded Suffolk cutting. Travel out of any of our regional town and cities terminal stations via train and look into the back windows of etiolated Victorian and Georgian housing with their narrow strips of gardens and larger council-run allotments nearby, patch-worked with ramshackle sheds and pieces of old carpets keeping dormant vegetable patches weed-free. See the back end of industrial buildings turn into estates and agglutinate as the train approaches the port. More classically picturesque are the windmills, water towers and wind-farms standing proud of the fields and clusters of farm buildings, a socio economic relic of another period in history. There’s the permeability of the East Anglian coastline as our seas seek ingress into the surrounding land in the form of creeks and marshes, fimbreled over time by the tides. As passengers we can watch the geology and botany of East Anglia subtly change over the miles.

Our region offers some beautiful train routes, worth taking for the pleasure of travelling alone, especially when you are riding a restored steam train. I asked some Twitter tweeps among others for their best recommendations and have suggested some short and long routes that provide scope for sightseeing from a seat and at various stopping off points along the journey. First of is the longest route, best taken over a few days with overnight stays although it is doable in one long unbroken journey for those of you wanting to watch the world go by out of the window.

Cambridge-Ely-Thetford-Norwich-Lowestoft-Beccles-Saxmundham-Woodbridge-Ipswich-Stowmarket-Bury St Edmunds-Newmarket-Cambridge.

The Ship of the Fens by Mike Todd/CC
The Ship of the Fens by Mike Todd/CC

A greatest-hits of East Anglia this, with plenty of opportunities built in to alight and explore the towns and countryside. Starting at the Victorian stattion in the university city of Cambridge, the train ambles through the vast flatness of the fens and the lazy turns of its rivers- the Cam and Great Ouse, passing a series of delightful riverside towns and villages on its way to Ely. Copses of silver birch strand themselves amid the heath and woodland and in nearby Holme Fen you will be 2.75 metres (9.0 ft) below sea level, the lowest point in England. Views of open farmland, home to owls which fly near to the tracks at dawn and dusk, stretch way into the distance and allow the changing light to play across the carriage. Halfway along your journey to Ely, you pass over the Old West River (the name for this southern stretch of the Great Ouse, before the confluence with the River Cam at Little Thetford), near the Twenty Pence Marina.

Twenty Pence Marina by Hugh Venables/CC
Twenty Pence Marina by Hugh Venables/CC

The Fens, were first reclaimed by religious recluses who settled the naturally occurring islands formed by the clumped overgrowth of reeds and rushes, turning them into solitary settlements where marauders could easily be seen from afar. One of the first of the Fen islands to be occupied was the Isle of Ely- or Eely- said to derive its name from the abundant eels that slithered silently through the oil-dark waters. Not just eels either, but sticklebacks, toads and giant snapping pike with their twin rows of razor teeth. The calls of the ‘fen-nightingales’, as frogs were called then, filled the turgid air of a fenland summer dusk whilst in the skies mallards were once so plentiful that records show that 3,000 of them were taken in one hunt. Those same records glory in a sky dotted with birds: wild-geese, teal, herons and great skeins of widgeons alongside grebes, coots, godwits, whimbrels, reevers, ruffs, knots, dottrels and yelpers, some of which have long since disappeared from England. The stands of willow, growing furiously and thickly in the paste-wet soil offered ample cover for wildlife back then until Cornelius Vermuyden the Dutch engineer, was invited over to England about the year 1621 to work on draining first the Thames region, and then, the fens-work which heralded the start of topographical changes to the Fenlands, not all of them good. Eels are still caught locally in the Great River Ouse although only one commercial catcher still remains, Peter Carter who is the third generation of his family to ply his trade. Eels are sold to many restaurants in London especially, and smoked as a delicacy alongside their sale on Ely’s Farmers Market and on the menu of Ely’s Lamb Hotel as well as a few of the other local restaurants.

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If you choose to alight at Ely for a wander, there’s a wealth of historical features to visit in this ‘Ship of the Fens’ as locals refer to the city as it appears on the horizon, cathedral tower presiding over miles of flat terrain. It is one of the great views. The 12th century cathedral is a must and offers guided tours to the Octagon and Lantern Towers with their breathtaking views as well as the chance to wander at will. Museums include one dedicated to stained-glass, housed in the South Triforium of Ely Cathedral and the only museum of its kind in the country.

A guided tour is the best way to saturate yourself in the story of the cathedral. For Wolf Hall fans, a visit to the home of the Lord Protector himself, Oliver Cromwell, will offer a real life insight into ten years of his family-life and is the only remaining home of his apart from Hampton Court Palace near London. For an atmospheric experience, tours using costumed guides are available to pre-book.

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The walls next to Ely cathedral are a beautiful mosaic of colour and texture

Or visit Ely Museum where you can discover the story of Ely from prehistoric times to the 20th century set in a former gaol. Alternatively, following the Eel Trail is a useful way of familiarising yourselves with the place, following the seventy  brass way-markers set in the ground on a circular tour taking you past the oldest parts of Ely and its austere and beautiful monastic buildings with admirable architecture and spectacular views. Look out for the the Ely Porta area, the gateway into the monastic settlement of Ely, which remains today as the Kings School’s library near to the cathedral. The Eel trail cleverly uses five pieces of public art by Elizabeth Jane Grosse to tell the life cycle of the eel, an animal still so mysterious we know comparatively very little about it. The trail starts in Cromwell’s House with an appropriate nod to Mrs Cromwell’s regular use of eels in her cooking -copies of her recipes are available from its kitchen.

Breckland Line between Cambridge & Norwich by N Chadwicke
Breckland Line between Cambridge & Norwich by N Chadwicke

Hopping back on the train you’ll find yourselves on the Breckland Line which will take you from Thetford to Norwich through countryside very different from the watery Fens. The Breckland area with its unusual flora and fauna is characterised bya  low set and undulating gorse-covered heath land beset with Scots pine trees rooted in earth that is as fine as silk when you let it fall through your fingers. Goldcrests and siskins, lapwings, crossbills, firecrests and woodcock all live and feed here alongside the ever-present rabbits, muntjac and roe deer. This is the largest lowland-forest in the UK and spans nearly 1,000 kilometres of sandy and flinty soil providing a home to over 28% of the UK’s rarest species: golden gorse and broom; purple and pink heathers and stands of birch under-planted with lichens, sedums and mosses. The route skirts the south-eastern part of Thetford forest- an orderly version of a Brothers Grimm setting with serried ranks of cultivated evergreens. Passing through the beautifully kept station of Wymondham (which has a lovely independent bookshop in the town called Ketts Books), the train crosses a swing-bridge over the River Wensum before pulling into Norwich station.

Wymondham by Michael Button / Flickr photosharing
Wymondham by Michael Button / Flickr photosharing

Should you decide to alight at Wymondham, the Tiffey Trail offers a variety of landscapes, nature reserves and walks with river running nearby the trail just a few hundred yards out of the town. Buy a coffee and something portable to snack on sitting on one of the many benches that have been installed with carved motifs representing Wymondham heritage and the animals and plants that are found locally. There are two small viewing towers, one at Tolls Meadow and another on the Lizard; both are made of green oak and depict features of the town’s Abbey and Market Cross.

The Norwich to Lowestoft (or Yarmouth via Reedham) Buckenham church is visible in the distance by Ashely Dace/CC
The Norwich to Lowestoft (or Yarmouth via Reedham) Buckenham church is visible in the distance by Ashely Dace/CC

The journey between Norwich and Lowestoft is along the historic Wherry line. The railway follows the course of the river Yare and it is possible to see coots, grebes and herons from the windows on the journey towards Brundall Gardens. At Brundall, the station is located on the road down to the river and there’s plenty of marinas where boats can be hired in the tourist season. The line divides at Brundall and the southerly route is the one taken here, down past Buckenham on the edge of the RSPB wetland bird sanctuary, Buckenham Marshes reserve, with free access along a public footpath that runs alongside a landscape brim full with the noise of thousands of indigenous and visiting birds such as overwintering widgeons and bean-geese. The spectacular dusk sight- the roosting and calling of one of the largest known roosts of rooks and jackdaws- is worth hanging about for. Trains to Buckenham operate on Sundays only so use Brundall station instead as this has a very frequent service on the other days. If you want to stop here for food, there’s a pub near Buckenham called The Reedcutters with a riverbank setting (www.thereedcutter.co.uk) offering superb food and local ales with a view. The next station, Reedham, offers another water-based stop off point with an unusual railway swing-bridge straddling the river-bank walk- The Ship– a real ale pub with good food and a discount system for Wherry Line ticket holders. If you have children with you, Pettits Animals Adventure Park is nearby.

The Berney Arms windpump taken from Haddiscoe Island by Kevin Lloyd/CC
The Berney Arms windpump taken from Haddiscoe Island by Kevin Lloyd/CC

The line divides here, swinging left to Gt Yarmouth and right to Lowestoft. Should you wish to deviate from the route and go left to Berney Arms on Breydon Water, it is well worth it as this is not only the smallest station on the National Rail network but its most remote, two miles distant from the nearest road and accessible only on foot, cycle or boat. Walks from here along the riverbank take you past the windmill and pub of the same name, passing drainage mills and skirting Breydon Water Nature Reserve, to the Berney Arms windmill, which is, at 70 feet tall, one of the highest windmills in the country. English Heritage has joined forces with a local boating company to open the windpump to the public at certain times with boats bringing visitors from Gt Yarmouth just up the coast.

It is possible to walk across the Havergate Marsh but this is best left to those of you experienced in marsh walking so as to avoid harming local wildlife and ecological systems. Two rivers enter Breydon Water near the Berney Arms: the Waveney from the South and the Yare from Norwich and the land to its north is a quilt of drainage channels and dykes. When storms approach, the windmill stands in stark relief against the bruise blue skies, mounted on its grassy bank which curves into the distance. Arrive early morning on a misty day and all you will see are the white sails, emerging blearily from the fog.

Oulton Broad by Trevor Salmon/CC
Oulton Broad by Trevor Salmon/CC

Choosing the right hand branch towards Lowestoft takes you past the river on the swing bridge, running parallel to the New Cut which was built to link the rivers Yare and Waveney, providing access for the Wherries (ships) en route between Lowestoft and Norwich. At Somerleyton the Angles Way footpath passes close to the station, near enough to alight for a visit to Somerleyton Hall. More boat themed activities can be found at Oulton Broad: boat trips from Mutford Lock a short walk from the station and the Waveney River tour company for trips up and down the eponymous river or stay on the train until the last stop on the Sunshine Coast- Lowestoft.  The seaside town is the most easterly town in the UK and therefore a terminus for the East Suffolk Line (ESL).  The discovery of flint tools in the cliffs at Pakefield in south Lowestoft in 2005 suggests that it was one of the earliest known sites for human habitations, dating back some 700,000 years and its strategic position on the east coast led to it becoming one of the most heavily bombed towns in relation to populus in the UK.

Once a bustling fish port, there is still a small fishing industry and the Anchor Smokehouse is the place to stop for smoked salmon and goodness knows how many other smoked fishies from this family business established back in 1878 which doesn’t use the more common smoking kiln but instead retains the traditional Suffolk smokehouse, giving a more authentic flavour. Choose from the cold-smoke over oak where the fish are hung on racks or tenters (hence the old phrase “On tenter hooks”) or hot-smoking where the salmon receives a brine-bath beforehand to prevent the essential fatty oils from leaching out.

The Anchor Smokehouse- photo Anchor Smokehouse
The Anchor Smokehouse- photo Anchor Smokehouse

There’s a lot of lovely walking to be had here too. Start from Nicholas Everitt Park, with its open views across the expanses of Oulton Broad and cross a Dutch style lifting bridge designed for pedestrians and cyclists, walking below the railway near Oulton Broad swing bridge then crossing the slipways of the busy boatyards that front Lake Lothing. Then head past Normanton Park to St Margaret’s, one of Suffolk’s finest churches which commands a fine view of the North Sea from its churchyard. The Lowetoft lighthouse stands on an elevated cliff top below which Lighthouse Score, a series of alleyways descending the cliff face once used by smugglers and now the scene of Summer charity races, lead down to the Denes, an open area where fishing nets were customarily repaired. There’s some sandy grassy dunes, plenty picturesque enough and Ness Point with the Maritime Museum close by.

Beccles Quay by Ian Russell/ CC
Beccles Quay by Ian Russell/ CC

The return journey will take you along the 49 miles or thereabouts of the scenic East Suffolk Line passing through Beccles, Saxmundham and Woodbridge, the latter famous for having the only working Tide Mill in the UK, dating from 1793. Early on in the trip, Beccles makes a lovely stopping-off point with its public swimming lido with grass-seating (open Summer only), small shopping area, pubs and the Big Dog Ferry which covers one of the prettiest stretches of the River Waveney, a part of the world much loved by wild swimmer Roger Deakin (read about his swims here in ‘Waterlog’). Boat trips here travel west towards the riverside pub at Geldeston with kingfishers, marsh harriers and otters common sightings on the riverbanks. The boat trip takes approx 45 minutes each way. If you want to stay overnight, the Swan House Boutique Inn is not only a lovely place to stay but it hosts frequent art exhibitions, music and film nights.

Woodbridge Tide Mill by S Tandy / CC
Woodbridge Tide Mill by S Tandy / CC

Woodbridge is a fantastic stop off point too with the aforementioned Tide Mill and its attached museum selling flour, bread and cakes (which are also sold in the town bakery). The streets are packed with independent shops, pubs and cafes, (The Wild Strawberry, Browsers Books, the tea hut next to the river by the theatre and East Coast Diner come recommended) there’s a picturesque harbour and river to amble along and the Riverside theatre complex nearby for shows and films. The ‘Sandlings Walk’ bank-path of the tidal Deben has views across the river to the wooded Sutton Hoo estate and  passes near to the Tide Mill- at low-tide the calls of the many wading birds fill the air. The traditional black-pitch barge-boarded architecture is everywhere and a great example is the Olde Bell and Steelyard, a 16th century pub in New Street with striking black and white timber frame and a weird structure protruding from the first storey. Looking like a shed crossed with a carbuncle and hovering over the road, the device was once used to house the ‘steelyard’, a weighing machine used to ensure that the metal clad cart wheels that could potentially damage the road surface did not exceed 2.5 tons.

Stowmarket's Gipping Valley
Stowmarket’s Gipping Valley

As passengers approach Ipswich, the train takes the newly built “Bacon Factory Curve” and joins the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) going northwards from London Liverpool Street to Norwich. Stop offs at Ipswich train station give easy access to the recently restored marina, it being a short half-mile walk from the station (turn right and walk straight up the slight hill). The marina is home to the local university and Mariners restaurant, a floating eating place which started its life as SS Argus-a Belgian gunboat. There’s the redeveloped Salthouse Harbour Hotel and plenty of waterfront bars, cafes and bistros, all with outdoor seating and a wide waterfront promenade to people-watch on.

Ipsiwch marina and harbourfront
Ipsiwch marina and harbourfront

Your route then continues northwards from Ipswich via Stowmarket, leaving the GEML at Haughley Junction and shortly arriving at Bury St. Edmunds Station, with its distinctive pair of towers and soon to be developed as an arts complex. The landscape between Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds is pure Suffolk arable, patchworked with rape, sugar beet, borage, maize and wheat, the crops clinging to the sides of some unexpectedly deep cuts and hills in a county which turns out to be not quite as flat as you might have thought. Once at Bury St Edmunds, there is a choice to disembark for a tour of the town (click on the link above for a guide to the best of the town) or continue onto Newmarket and back to Cambridge where you started.

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 The Mayflower Line– Manningtree-Mistley-Wrabness-Harwich

Ha'Penny Pier in Harwich by Robert Edwards/CC
Ha’Penny Pier in Harwich by Robert Edwards/CC
The owner of the gift shop in Clare, The  (@bluedog on twitter) recommends travelling between Manningtree to Harwich via train, describing it as “a great one for a scenic ride.” Known as the Mayflower Line after the famous boat carrying the settlers to the colonies in New England which itself set off from Harwich, this route offers the chance to travel to Harwich in Essex then get the foot-ferry to Felixstowe and Shotley Gate; a crossing of about a mile as the seagull flies which links the three peninsulas together. The only way a traveller can get to visit all three towns in one day is in this manner, if you are hiking or cycling, and fares are dependant upon the length of journey- whether you choose a full crossing or stop off at the midpoint, Ha’Penny Pier in Harwich.
The ferry runs between May to September with 6 daily departures; other times vary. Three stations serve Harwich:  the main Harwich Town which is on the edge of the old town; Dovercourt, which is more central for the new town’s main built up area, whilst Harwich International serves the port for ferry and cruise-line passengers. The end point of the trip, Manningtree station, has the reputation as being one of the windiest railway stations in the whole of Britain.
River Stour at Mistley Quay One branch of the River Stour sweeps past the quayside at Mistley, where swans are gathering for feeding. By Bob Jones/CC license
River Stour at Mistley Quay
One branch of the River Stour sweeps past the quayside at Mistley, where swans are gathering for feeding. By Bob Jones/CC license
 Running along the south-bank of the River Stour, the Mayflower Line runs almost parallel to the river and stays close by as you approach Harwich. Parts of the route are thickly planted with naturalised primroses, giving it another name locally- The Primrose Line. Many of the stopping off points are very pretty including Mistley, a small river-front town with a large colony of swans and other water fowl on the south-banks and a long, wide river-path popular with walkers and runners. Mistley is home to one of only two churches designed by Robert Adam and has two symmetrical towers, all that remains of the original building. With their Portland stone and Tuscan style porticos, they’re worth a visit despite their ruined state.
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Mistley river banks, in autumn
For children, Mistley Place Park offers the chance to get close and personal with over 200 rescue animals including goats, sheep, ducks, guinea pigs, dogs, chickens, cats, horses, rabbits, alpacas and the occasional peacock. There’s a tea-room serving roast dinners and fish and chip Fridays. The Mistley Anchor offers refurbished and traditional pub accommodation plus the usual pub facilities. You cannot access the nearby estuarial coastline from Mistley town because of the commercial port, walkers will need to stroll a mile down a road to reach it but the rewards are great; desolate wide skies, a multitude of birds ( Brent Geese, Shelduck and Avocets), the skeletons of wrecked boats partially interred in the mud and a shoreline that gradually becomes sandy as you approach Wrabness.
Strandlands Bridge carries the Manningtree to Harwich railway line across a track that runs through the Stour Woods by Geoff Shephard/CC
Strandlands Bridge carries the Manningtree to Harwich railway line across a track that runs through the Stour Woods by Geoff Shephard/CC
 Conveniently, Wrabness is a stop on the rail route too and should you prefer to stop off here instead, there is a community cafe in the heart of the village serving food, drink and alcoholic drinks and a nearby beach front lined with plotholder-type wooden houses on stilts, some of them refurbished beyond newness and some as derelict and skeletal as those submerged boats. Bands of gravel, sand and seaweed edge the shore, gradually decreasing in randomness as the coastline becomes 60 acres of managed wildlife reserve with requests to keep off parts of it (mudflats mostly) and continues on past Harwich to the Naze at Walton.
Oaks along the Wrabness nature rserve path by Roger Jones/CC
Oaks along the Wrabness nature rserve path by Roger Jones/CC
 Manningtree itself is a small port on the Stour Estuary barely inside the Suffolk border: a cluster of Georgian buildings make up what it Englands smallest town less than a mile from the station. The Crown Inn is a characterful small hotel and formerly a coaching inn on the route between Colchester and Harwich. The beer gardens overlook the river and if you want to take your drink down to the tiny town beach, they’ll decant it into a plastic glass for you.
River Stour at Manningtree and the Dedham Vale/Wikipedia
River Stour at Manningtree and the Dedham Vale/Wikipedia
 The walking here is evocative and as familiar as your own mother as it takes you through the beautiful countryside of Dedham Vale which inspired many of John Constable’s iconic paintings including the Hay Wain or Boatbuilding near Flatford Mill. The National Trust run Flatford Bridge Cottage less than two miles away in the quiet hamlet of Flatford by the River Stour. Bridge Cottage contains an exhibition about Constable and his work and also has tearooms for the hungry. An area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), the lowland landscape is criss-crossed with many trails and bridle-paths across the floodplains, arable, grass and wood lands with views of the Stour Valley as the river slackens and broadens approaching the North Sea.
Stour estuary at Manningtree by Colin Babb/CC
Stour estuary at Manningtree by Colin Babb/CC

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 The Gainsborough Line– Sudbury-Bures-Chapel & Wakes Colne-Marks Tey and back.
Sudbury from the water meadows by Darren Guiheen.
Sudbury from the water meadows by Darren Guiheen.

 Cutting deep into the leafy Stour Valley and Constable Country with fantastic views including the awesome 32 arch Chappel Viaduct (the second largest brick structure in England) built above the village of Chappel and high above the river Colne, there are lots of opportunities to travel further on via the Crouch Valley Line or the Sunshine Coast Line, deep into Essex. The start point, Sudbury is a small Suffolk market town famous for being the birthplace of Thomas Gainsborough and home to the museum in the house he once lived in on the street named after him. A town visited by Dickens, a famous trapeze artist and bears, Sudburys quirky history can be explored by walking its Talbot Trail, lined by bronze topped bollards which commemorate historical events. With plenty of walks along the river Stour and its water meadows, along the Valley Walk to Long Melford and through Belle Vue Park here and a myriad of places to eat, drink and stay (The Rude Strawberry, Wagon & Horses, Shakes n Baps), it’s a lovely little place to visit.

Views across the Stour valley on the Gainsborough Line by Ashley Dace/CC
Views across the Stour valley on the Gainsborough Line by Ashley Dace/CC
 Between Sudbury and Bures, the train (sometimes a single carriage) trundles slowly along, running between the river, a band of woodlands close enough to lean out and touch and the steep gardens of the houses that were built along the Cornard and Bures Roads leading out of the town. Tracks and alley ways thickly lined with trees lead up between the houses every so often and lead down to passenger crossings over the line, used for centuries by locals. It is easy to forget that London is less than an hour away. Bures station is approached  via a high embankment with the narrow tiny platform built on a railway bridge that straddles one of two roads out of the village. This is prime commuter country and the windows of newly built housing estates look straight onto the line. Chappel and Wakes Colne station on the branch line is home to the East Anglian Railway Museum and the station here is a recreation of a 1930’s rural station which hosts a well loved beer festival in the Autumn- patrons can sit in the original rolling stock inside the old compartment carriages and drink their ales. Arriving and departing trains weave their way in between the old rolling stock, giving passengers a chance to look into the windows of velvet-curtained carriages filled with ghosts from a more elegant time.
Chappel Viaduct by Ashley Dace/ CC
Chappel Viaduct by Ashley Dace/ CC
At Marks Tey, travellers going on to London must change lines, crossing via bridge onto the mainline trains which await them whilst the original train proceeds over the Chappel viaduct to Colchester. The brick edging of the viaduct is low enough to not obscure dazzling views over the Essex countryside; of farms, quilts of fields and woodlands which swiftly disappear behind a veil of flowering hedgerow, thick with the spumey-white blossoms of elderflower, spirea and hawthorn which suddenly gives way to the red-brick and green paintwork of Chappel and Wakes Colne Station and its pristine Victorian grooming.
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Pre Beeching, this line used to run all the way from Mark’s Tey through to Cambridge via Sudbury, Long Melford and Bury St Edmunds, with a branch going off to Haverhill and Cambridge at Chapel and Wakes Colne. By 1962 all the lines north of Sudbury had been closed, but the line has survived to this day although there is a campaign to open up the old lines.
The Bittern Line– Norwich-Salhouse-Hoverton-Wroxham-Worstead-North Walsham-Gunton-Roughton Road-Cromer-West Runton-Sheringham
Leaving Sheringham Station- Julian Osley/Licensed under CC
Leaving Sheringham Station- Julian Osley/Licensed under CC

This thriving community railway, named after one of the regions most elusive and mysterious birds links the county city of Norwich with the Norfolk Broads National Park and the sea.  It is possible to alight at many of the stations which are close to the North Norfolk coastline or on the Broads (alight at Salhouse, Hoveton and Wroxham) and hire bikes- or head west on the nine-mile miniature Bure Valley Railway to Aylsham. There’s great walking to be had from Gunton, just one of the quaint Victorian stations and prettily maintained with baskets of flowers, old cartwheels and freshly painted fiiligree woodwork. Alight here and you can walk to Lower Southrepps and its boardwalks that are laid along both sides of Southrepps Common (part of the Paston Way Southrepps Circular Walk).

Southrepps Common entrance by Jonathon Billinger/CC
Southrepps Common entrance by Jonathon Billinger/CC

You’ll enjoy a landscape that changes from wet woodland populated by songbirds and open reedbeds where marsh warblers cling to reeds and buzzards hover overhead to open farmland. Clamber up The Warren, a larger wooded hill, and along the hedgerow edged lanes around Holleys Farm until you meet the main route of Paston Way through to Gimingham and its church. In the Summer, whitethroats, larks, swallows and martins soar through the skies over the track towards Mundesley, (part of the Paston Way) the seaside town boasting decent sandy beaches. From Mundesley you can catch a bus which takes you back to North Walsham and the train. For other walks, click here.

Thorpe End on Bittern Line by Grant Brewer/CC license
Thorpe End on Bittern Line by Grant Brewer/CC license

Mundesley isn’t the only seaside option either. Edwardian Cromer perched on cliffs overlooking the pier has several beaches where the crabbing boats unload their famous catch and the next stop, West Runton,has fossil-studded cliff-edged sands that have yielded relics important enough to be displayed in regional museums. Sheringham is a pretty town clustered around a harbour, backed by rolling fields with numerous church towers spiking into the skies. The line serving the coast is some 30 miles long and a regular, almost hourly service operates along the route (less frequent on winter Sundays), described as one of the 50 most scenic lines in the world.

Evelyn Simyak/CC-  Train heading from Holt towards Kelling and on to Weybourne.
Evelyn Simyak/CC- Train heading from Holt towards Kelling and on to Weybourne.

At Sheringham, where the line terminates, it is then possible to board the steam hauled North Norfolk Railway that puffs up and down the Poppy Line and journey through the verdant countryside to the Georgian town of Holt, full of lovely independent stores including the famous department store Bakers & Larner and a great book shop. The Poppy Line is 10.5 miles of nostalgic steam train riding through an area of outstanding natural beauty- southerly tree covered rolling hills and the Norfolk beauty spots of Kelling Heath (the smallest halt on the line and request stop only) and Sheringham Park, whilst northwards lies the sea which is within easy walking distance from the various stations. The lines name is a clue to the floriferous nature of its oute with Spring primroses, bluebells and gorse wafting their scents through the open windows of your carriage as you trundle past. Later in the year come thousands of indigenous field poppies which carpet the hills, cliffs and track edges, then the heathers come to see out another glorious summer turning what was once vermillion, purple, white and pink.

Kelling Heath towards Weybourne Village by Grant Brewer/CC
Kelling Heath towards Weybourne Village by Grant Brewer/CC

The North Norfolk dining trains are a Summer special on the Poppy Line where the North Norfolkman, with its newly restored crimson & cream livery offers several dining options. Guests can choose from a Sunday lunch served aboard two vehicles, while evening dining trains are formed of the entire North Norfolkman train. In addition, midweek dining and evening fish and chip suppers are offered where staff serve you with your meal plus a choice of drinks- alcoholic or not at your seat as the amazing scenery passes by your window.

The Mid Suffolk Light Railway-

The Mid Suffolk Light Railway/ Wikipedia
The Mid Suffolk Light Railway/ Wikipedia

Known locally as the ‘Middy’ this small railway is Suffolks only small-gauge heritage line running steam trains along the small section of track at Brockford, recreated with original station buildings , now a museum, which capture the atmosphere of this quirky line. Never paying its way, it was built too late at the end of the great Victorian railway age and failed to be completed, its line petering out in a Gipping Valley field before a group of enthusiasts resurrected it. Fourteen miles from Ipswich, the museum and train rides are now open at selected times of year and also offer special events at Christmas, Halloween, driver experiences and bookings for parties, riding from Brockford Station to Dovebrook.

The Bure Valley Railway– Aylsham-Brampton-Buxton-Coltishall- Wroxham

Blickling Hall by Ian Capper/CC
Blickling Hall by Ian Capper/CC

Norfolk’s longest 15 gauge line runs between the old market town of Aylsham to the ‘Capital of the Broads’, Wroxham, and stops at several country stations in between on a rambling and gentle 18 mile trip using either steam or diesel engines. A cycle and footpath runs along its entire length making it beautifully flexible for hop on/hop off passengers. One of the intermediary stops, Coltishall, is an historic town and central in the history of the local maltings industry for over 200 years. Home to boatbuilding yards, many of the traditional county boats, known as wherries, have been built here and the town is referred to as the gateway to the Norfolk Broads- its staith hums with boating activity in the summer.

Aylsham station offers light meals at its ‘Whistlestop Cafe’ but is also home to Norfolk’s ‘Slow Food Movement’ offering a plethora of places to eat and drink alongside a bi weekly market and regular farmers market. Blickling Hall is nearby, offering Jacobean splendour, proximity to Weavers Way for longer distance walking and the ghost of Anne Boleyn, a woman remarkably democratic and generous in her hauntings which are many although her father is even more prolific, seemingly spending the bulk of his eternal rest galloping across every bridge in Norfolk. The woodlands, park and lakeside offers bucolic and lovely walking, even more so when you don’t meet a headless ghost on the path.

Aylsham water pump
Aylsham water pump

Aylsham was once famous for its linen production and this former wool town retains a vestige of its former fiscal glory in the handsome buildings surrounding its market square. One of the prettiest roads, Hungate Street, is great for an architectural ‘safari’ with a wealth of Dutch gable-ends, medieval houses leaning which ways, Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian buildings in one small area. Made famous by a visit from Nelson, son of Norfolk, Daniel Defoe and Princess Victoria, the Black Boy Inn dates back to the 17th century and gained its name from the male slaves (servants) that wealthier houses ‘imported’ from the colonies to do their bidding. Reputed to be haunted by the ghost of its owner, Richard Andrews who developed the premises as an inn in the 1650’s he was said to have died following a fight with one of Oliver Cromwell’s men who was billeted there although if I was him, I’d be more haunted by my conscience. Buried in the grounds, his ghost has been seen on the premises.

This isn’t the only local haunting either as a ghostly coach and four horseman is said to clatter over the town’s bridge once a year, driven by a headless Sir Thomas Boleyn. It is just one of eleven bridges that he passes over on the night of his daughter Anne’s execution who herself walks the grounds of nearby Blickling Hall. Anne marks the anniversary of her murder by sitting in a coach with her head in her lap then alighting to inspect each room of the Hall (the place of her birth and childhood).

Wroxham bridge by Mark Oakden of TourNorfolk
Wroxham bridge by Mark Oakden of TourNorfolk

Wroxham, divided into two by the river Bure is a pretty and watery place at the heart of the Broads National Park, the last stop on the rail line and set within a labrynthnine system of dykes, canals, rivers and waterways all bordered by quaint houses and cottages. Many of the businesses front the water with moorings for the thousands of crafts that use the Broads and there’s an attractive riverside park also with public moorings, opposite the entrance to Belaugh Broad. Popular with visitors who enjoy local crafts, Wroxham Barns has a working craft centre where craftsmen demonstrate their skills in their own studios. A petting farm, cider-maker and outdoor playground makes it very family friendly. Should you wish to book a more ‘off piste’ tour of the waterways, the Canoe Man offers a variety of guided experiences via canoe, kayak or bicycle. The Tipi canoe overnight trails look amazing- a Canadian canoe expedition with overnight accommodation in remote tipi lodges.

A world in a word- the etymology of garlic

Garlic

‘To see a world in a grain of sand’ goes the line from Blakes Augaries of Innocence, a sentiment particularly apropos to the world of etymology. In the first of a new series of food related posts, garlic takes the spotlight as Millie and I explore the origins of the word then trace its journey across time and continents.

Etymology

The modern English form has not changed a great deal over the course of history. Taking a step back to Middle English, we can find it variously spelled as garlec, garleek and garlek, among others. Let’s take a look at an example from 1399, from the Forme of Cury:

Take Colyandre Powdour of Peper and garlec ygrounde in rede wyne.

This work translates as “forms of cooking” – the ‘cury’ is in fact from French cuire. It is a collection of recipes claimed to have been written by the Master Cooks of King Richard II.

Just a few years previously, Chaucer wrote in his Canterbury Tales:

Wel loued he gā̆r-lē̆k, oynons, and eek lekes.

Here, you can see that it has been written as two parts put together, and you might wonder why. The reason is, of course, simple. Garlic is indeed formed of two parts. It comes from Old English garleac or garlec in some dialects, which consists of gar and leac. We will start with the first element: gar. This meant ‘spear’. You have only to look at the shape of the cloves to see why it might be called a spear – they do indeed look similar to the shape of a spear-head. This term, gar, has of course become obsolete, but we can see a well-known example of it in Beowulf, from around the 10th century:

Hwæt! We Gár-Dena, in geárdagum, þeódcyninga þrym gefrunon

Lo! We have heard renowned the Spear-Danes’ great kings in days of yore

Let’s take a look at the second element: leac. There is nothing strange about this at all. Quite simply, it means ‘leek’, another word that remains little changed!

Ðæt greáta cráuleác; nim ðes leáces heáfda

That makes crow-garlic; take the leeks on the rise

From Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of early England, a collection of Old English source texts.

The Old English word is thought to derive from Proto-Germanic *lauka. There are cognates to be found in other Germanic languages; Swedish lök and Danish løg both meaning ‘onion’,Dutch look and German Lauch, meaning ‘leek’.

garlic-220495_640
wikipedia/ creative commons

The Plant Throughout History

Allium Sativum, or Garlic as it is more usually known has a long and noble history as food stuff and an even longer one as a herbal medicine and tonic. Indeed, for a long period of our history, the eating of garlic for pleasure alone was eschewed by many different cultures although we can find much documented evidence in the form of almanacs, treatises and records for its use in medicine by herbalists, medicine men and other men (and women) who took responsibility for the health and welfare of their community.

The ancient Egyptians possessed a medical papyri, Codex Elsers, dating back to circa 1500 BCE recorded 22 formulas for medicinal remedies with garlic at their heart. This plant polymath offered up a cure for heart disease, worms, and tumors and has been cultivated for over 6,000 years and grown in Egypt since 3200 BCE.

The Ancient Egyptians have been described as being much enamoured of garlic and legend says that slaves put to work to construct the pyramids were fed large amounts of it to strengthen their bodies and prevent infection after they were injured (and one imagines this was a frequent occurrence). Surprisingly enough, when Moses led the Hebrew slaves from Egypt (around 1200BCE), garlic was one of the ‘finer things’ they complained of missing along with cucumbers, fish, leeks, onions and melons.

Centuries later and during the First World War, British physicians mixed garlic juice with water to create a topical antiseptic for wounds with Russian doctors following in their footsteps in the Second World War. The doctors took it a step further though in supplementing their soldiers diet with both onion and garlic, giving it its nickname of ‘Russian Penicillin.’ This more recent use of the bulb as a treatment for war wounds is strongly reminiscent of the faith placed in its talismanic protection against wounds inflicted by spears and Greek battalions were presented with it to give them courage and promise of victory too.

Of course we now know that this tacit knowledge has an evidence base. The essence of what Culpeper, the renowned herbalist and apothecary said in The English Physitian back in 1653, has been backed up by empirical research:
“In choleric men it will add fuel to the fire; in men oppressed in melancholy, it will attentuate [weaken] the [melancholic] humour, and send up strong fancies, and as many strange visions to the head; therefore let it be taken inwardly in great moderation; outwardly you may make more bald with it”

The adding fuel to the fire is Culpeper associating choleric humour with an elevated temperature (fever) and in humoral physiology, encouraging a sick person to run a ‘good’ fever was seen as therapeutic, encouraging the flushing of impurities from the body. We know that garlic reduces cholesterol, the viscosity of blood and its lipids and we also know that a melancholic disposition (according to Culpeper) can be linked to an increased risk of blood viscosity. Or to be more specific, a person prone to low mood or depressive disorder which causes them to reduce their activity is at increased risk of fatty build up in their circulatory system and disorders of circulation. Clever old Culpeper.

Nicholas Culpeper via Wikipedia Commons
Nicholas Culpeper via Wikipedia Commons

The spear shape of garlic shoots, from the above ground foliage to the tiny spear at the centre of the bulb which slowly greens up and becomes bitter after harvesting inspires its Old English name- garleac or garlec with ‘gar’ meaning ‘spear’ as Millie explains above. Culpeper ascribes a celestial ruler to all living plants and garlics ruler is the warlike, passionate and dominant Mars. This kingship may be inspired by the warrior like (and phallic) spear of those etiolated and pointed leaves which are analogous to the glyph for Mars. Additionally let’s look at where garlic originates from: the arid and scorching lands of the Middle East and West Central Asia, migrating east toward China and west into Southern Europe, Garlic thrives in soil which is sandy, thin and allows the bulb to push its spears straight and true, unhindered by clay sod which might cause it to deviate from its path to the sun. It is not a great leap of the imagination to see why its botanical requirements caused Culpeper to ally it to Mars, the hot, red planet- depicted as sere and superheated in its atmosphere and garlic also pushes its scape (a false flower stalk), towards the light in the northern hemispheres springtime which falls in the astrological house of Aries (ruled by Mars).

The tombs of Egypt probably contain the oldest records of the existence of what the French call the ‘Stinking Rose’ with clay sculptures of its bulbs dating back to 3700BCE and paintings depicting the plant in another tomb which have been dated to 3200BCE. The Greeks and Romans did not initially share in Egypts passion though, much less ascribing the bulb a place in its high culture. Initially the citizenry of Greece, and especially its aristocracy, refused to consume garlic, finding its aroma and after effects repugnant and vulgar and banning those smelling of it from entering temples. Aristotle flew in the face of this though and included garlic in his lists of foodstuffs he deemed to have aphrodisiac effects and Hippocrates prescribed it as a panacea albeit with reservations and contra-indications: “[it] causes flatulence, a feeling of warmth on the chest and a heavy sensation in the head; it excites anxiety and increases any pain which may be present.”

The Romans, like the Egyptians, fed garlic to their slaves and labourers hoping that they would be invigorated enough to do their (no doubt) arduous work. To smell of it was a sign of low status and class and Pliny the Elder stated, “Garlic has such powerful properties that the very smell of it drives away serpents and scorpions” although he then went on to list a humongous amount of conditions cured by it. This stimulating reputation is a familiar one across many different world religions: garlic was deemed to upset the spiritual balance of Buddhist practitioners, was rejected by Zen masters and both Hindu and Brahmin observants avoid it for similar reasons. Intriguingly the reproductive nature of the bulb is the reason why Jains do not eat it or similar vegetables such as onions. Garlic reproduces itself by producing a multiplicity of cloves in each bulb which detach and fatten up to form a new ‘head’. Jains believe that each one of these is a potential new life and feel that the destruction of a head of garlic is to destroy multiple lives.

Harvesting garlic, from Tacuinum sanitatis, 15th century (Bibliothèque nationale)
Harvesting garlic, from Tacuinum sanitatis, 15th century (Bibliothèque nationale)

Amusingly enough, the ever pragmatic faith of Judaism recommends the eating of garlic on Fridays, the day before the holy Sabbath in its Talmud (the book of rabbinical teachings) because of those same stimulating properties. Sex on a Sabbath is considered an act of both faith and good deed, especially garlic fuelled passion! Chaucers Sommour who was ‘lecherous as a sparwe’ agreed, as in the quote from above; “Well love he garleek, onions and eek lekes” and across Central Europe, the dog, gander, bull and cockerel would be kept fierce, strong and fit on a diet of fat garlic bulbs. Its fecund ability to produce many offspring from one tiny fingernail sized clove led to the most obvious of conclusions with regards to the potency of breeding animals but it was also administered to livestock as protection against the evil eye. For their human owners, to dream of garlic was said to be a sign of hidden treasure and a clear reference to its secret life underground, swelling, growing and dividing which must have been pretty mindblowing to those yet to discover the botanical science behind its reproduction.

Dr Seuss + me

downloadMost of us can name a Dr Seuss book but how many of you have read my particular favourite, The Eye Book? Written by one Theodor Geisel (who used Theo Lesieg as a pen name) or Dr Seuss, as you might commonly know him, he writes, “Our eyes see flies. Our eyes see ants. Sometimes they see pink underpants” and this utterly barking looking book (with its prescient nod to the modern popularity of Japanese kawaii) pays a hilarious tribute to our eyes, encouraging us to show appreciation for all the wonderful things to be seen and the amazing way they accomplish this.

Spending some of my childhood in Mexico close to the American border meant that I had better access to Dr Seuss than your average British school child in the sixties. He was read in England but not to the extent he was enjoyed across the Atlantic and when we emigrated back to England, our crates were stuffed with my battered collection of books which took a soul-destroying eight months to arrive. The Eye Book (along with One Fish Two Fish), was my favourite and so earned the right to return with us via plane.

My joy at meeting my new form teacher in Suffolk was immense when she started to read Dr Seuss out loud and her American accent rolled over the words. My teachers in Saltillo, the Northern Mexican city we lived near, would sometimes read aloud from the books in heavily accented English with a definite American inflection. Miss Thorne, with her silver hair in a tight bun and possessed of a lofty, aquiline profile, was slightly feared by the other children but not by me and on that first day I nervously offered my copy of Dr Seus knowing, just knowing, that this American teacher would share my most un-English preference for his books.

Miss Thorne was a warm home from home in this strange, land. From that moment on, she was my buddy, a treasured ally in a cold and snow-covered country where Janet & John reigned supreme. Those emotionally constipated post-war drips with their colourless parents were not for me, having been accustomed to the open and effusive warmth of the Mexicans and Americans I had lived among. Janet and John’s brown T-bar sandals, shit-coloured cardigans, pudding bowl haircuts and obsessive repetition of the most boring inanities about running, dogs and balls did not impress.

I suffered a fair bit when I moved back. Eight year old children are not reknowned for their willingness to embrace the new and different and this blonde ringletted girl who spoke in angry Spanish whenever she got emotional and forgot her English, who looked like them but didn’t sound like them, soon became alienated and the butt of jokes. Mrs Thorne helped as much as she could but having a teacher as an ally was more of a disadvantage and I veered from wild fantasies about her being unmasked as my real mother (I had pretty terrible parents too) and other less kindly ones where I vented my anger at her marking me out as teachers pet.

Dr Seuss would have understood. He knew what it was like to stand out and when he briefly broke off from children’s writing to become a political cartoonist, he made fun of isolationists and American isolationism. He mocked the leaders of the Axis powers and railed against the discrimination directed at Jews and African-Americans- all at a time when their estrangement was enshrined in legislation, socially approved of and commonplace.DSC_2683 Seuss’s sense of social justice also stemmed from his childhood; when he was asked about the source of his creativity and did it emanate from his youth, he responded tellingly, “I think I skipped my childhood,” but “I used my adolescence.” His own background as the grandson of a Bavarian German who had emigrated from Germany in the nineteenth century and, during the First World War and was teased for being a German-American, became the painful bedrock of a career built upon the capture of youthful minds, before they became distorted by prejudice. His route home from school was accompanied by a rain of brickbats and shouts of “kill the Kaiser.” His college years saw him shunned for being Jewish (he wasn’t) and went on to inspire The Sneetches (1961), a story in which star-bellied Sneetches discriminate against star-less Sneetches. At the story’s end, they learn that “Sneetches are Sneetches / And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.” He might not have been Jewish but he wasn’t going to stay quiet on the subject of anti semitism. download (3) “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” says Horton Hears a Who, a book in part inspired by his visit to a post atomic bomb ravaged Japan and an important allegory (although the message isn’t as hidden as your typical allegory). I am in no way aligning my own bullying with that of other groups of people whose marginalizations involve brutality and remorseless, killing punishment but I still saw my own misery and isolation represented in a small way by him. I was that ‘no matter how small and plain little turtle below in the stack‘ (Yertle the Turtle). Dr Seuss understood that a whole lot of ‘smalls,’ added together, would go on to form a whole lot of ‘big.’ He made me realise that I couldn’t avoid being a small, nor was I likely to get a chance to become big, but I could find commonality somewhere. I was not doomed to remain forever alone.

And I was a bookish, owl-eyed child, living my life sequestered and partially protected behind a pile of books, a place of relative safety that nonetheless was regularly invaded by my parents and thus required rebuilding. Hard emotional work but the reward of fantasy lands, of other lives between those pages and the promise, one day, of a life that might be totally constructed by me was a powerful incentive to keep on rebuilding myself after being knocked down. And Dr Seuss invented the word that described me! He invented ‘nerd,’ or was the first person to use it in a book in If I Ran the Zoo. His ‘nerd’ was loving and approving, it was powerful medicine to the nerd word as chanted by the kids at school; a word that had more power to hurt in the seventies than it does now. We hadn’t reclaimed it then. I Wish I Had Duck Feet was a powerful lesson in conformity although I suspect Dr Seuss did not intend it that way. Being bullied (and I was relentlessly bullied all throughout my school years) was very lonely because like a lot of people who experience this, I had a sad and bad home life that the bullies somehow smelt on me. They detected it and homed in, knowing that I had no recourse to support, no angry parent waiting to deal with them at the school gates. My parents didn’t give a damn about it and in those days, most schools didn’t either. IMG_0029 In this book, the main character wishes for ducks feet, an elephant nose, a sprinkler on his head (!) and moose horns (among others). ‘If I had two big duck feet, I could laugh at big Bill Brown. I would say ‘YOU don’t have duck feet, these are all there are in town.’ Near the stories end, the character is imaginng the consequences of having all these useful features at once and how he’d actually end up locked up in a zoo, because society will not see the usefulness, only the freakiness. He decides he would rather just ‘be himself’ but this is not a happy settling as far as I am concerned- rather it is a sad accomodation and admission that to conform is to escape the cruel and beady eye of others. IMG_0032 How did I try to conform? I started by refusing to speak Spanish, refusing to keep up my bi-lingualism which so virulently marked me out as different to the other kids. On my first day in my English school, I turned to the little girls designated to show me around and asked them why there were tables lined up in the corridors (they were being put out for lunch). I asked in Spanish, was not understood and thus began my career as the strange girl- in those days, foreign speaking pupils were not common in Suffolk. My grandfather begged me to speak in Spanish, told me I would bitterly regret it if I forgot it all. I would not listen and I did, for a while, forget most of it, apart from that time when, in upper school Spanish class, my new schoolmaster told me I spoke Spanish like an ‘uneducated Mexican peasant.’ I replied coolly, “That’s because I grew up surrounded by them” (and they were worth ten of you, I thought). Now it is all coming back as age deconstructs the barriers in my mind and Hollywood starts to allow Latino actors to take on roles other than pool boy/nanny/waitress/slut. As they gain [a few] more speaking roles and gain representation in the arts, I am hearing what was (nearly) my mother tongue. And the memories flood back.