Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Trouble on t'hill? I don't think so.

Well, perhaps to call the slight bump on the horizon a 'hill' would be to endow it with a greatness it doesn't deserve. As most people know, Norfolk is flat, but in places, that's not strictly true. There are some pretty gentle undulations, even some slightly bigger, from the top of which you are nearly always guaranteed enough breeze to fly a kite. One such is Primrose Hill I think it's called, near the coast, Cromer way. Round here, the landscape is a bit smoother, but not far away there is an area of raised ground, with several acres of old orchards and a small copse, a couple of small outbuildings, in the midst of which stands an old farmhouse, Orchard Farmhouse. Built in the late 1800s, and lived in until the late 1990s, when the last occupier died. He had no family, and nobody seemed to know what was going to happen to the house and land.

It was the cause of many a discussion in the local pub, the possibilities were endless it seemed, but as the months passed by and nothing happened, the months then turned into years and eventually other subjects became the main topic of conversation. The house stood alone, looking sad with no lights inside, flaking paint and all around it the land untended. Not many of the windows have been smashed, there seems to be little damage done to it, probably because you'd have to be a pretty determined vandal to make your way up the rutted track, full of muddy potholes in winter and packed hard and dry in the summer, that leads to the house, several hundred yards from the road into the village.

But last Monday, as people made their way to work, passing by in their cars and on the little green bus that makes its way along the coast, those who were in the habit of casually glancing to look at the house on their way past were horrified. The one thing a lot of villagers dread, if there is any spare land in their village which nobody seems to claim, is the arrival of travellers, gypsies, call them what you will. The sight of a caravan and pick up parked on some derelict unused land can strike dismay into the hearts of even the most liberal-minded local. So it was hardly surprising that there was a larger than usual crowd in the local that night, and that the main topic of conversation was the arrival of travellers, in not one, but two caravans by lunchtime, as it turned out. The fact that one was an old Airstream caravan, quite the noblest of American caravans and much beloved by officianados of caravans, the other a large modern one, and that there were two four by fours parked alongside also, didn't seem to make much difference to the panic that seemed to be rising.

It was the Major, of course, who was the first to say he had got on to the local council 'first thing' about the arrival of the travellers, but he got short shrift from the person he spoke to, which led to yet another tirade about 'little Jobsworths they employ in the council these days' and so on, an argument the regulars had heard many times before. Then Farmer Giles had to have his say, since his land is alongside the old farmstead. (And yes, he really is a proper farmer with hundreds of acres, bright red combines and all, and he really is called Giles!) He could remember a family of travellers arriving unannounced in one of his fields many years ago, and it was 'a devil of a job to get the blighters moved' - and yes, he really speaks like that as well!

Several other opinions were thrown into the discussion, suggestions for how to deal with the interlopers, and when one of the WI ladies pointed out that the caravans and cars didn't look like those that belonged to your average, living off benefits travellers, her comments were not taken seriously.

Halfway through trying to decide between the serious and sensible solution (getting legal advice from the CAB) and the downright stupid and emotional solution (going up there mob-handed with flaming torches and the like) the door to the pub opened and in walked a couple in their forties, accompanied by two labradors. Being strangers they were stared at of course, treated with a little caution by everyone, except Polly, the landlady, who is friendly to everyone.

Whilst the regulars carried on with their discussions, rather quieter this time, it was Polly who managed to find out that this couple were Leonard and Pru, and they had just bought Orchard Farmhouse, living in their caravan whilst they renovated it. You could almost hear the bodies sagging with relief when the locals heard this, their visions of flaming torches vanished with their sighs, along with the visions of hordes of travellers with an assortment of caravans, lorries, cars, animals and children running wild, washing hanging on makeshift lines strung between the caravans.

The weather hasn't been conducive to working on an old house lately, a couple of feet of snow and below freezing temperatures kept the couple snug in their caravan, the modern one that is (the Airstream they use for trips to see family around the country apparently), poring over plans, and colour charts, catalogues and brochures, but they intend making a start soon as it's warmed up considerably over here in Norfolk.

And you might like to know that Phoebe has lived up to her reputation of being eccentric and rescued a parrot! He's called Birds Eye for some reason she doesn't know except that he has only one eye and can sing CAPTAIN BIRDS EYE as on the television adverts. But that's not the only sound to come out of his beak, oh not, by a long chalk. He used to belong to the owner of a beachside cafe, where he entertained customers with his cheery banter and rendition of television ad jingles. Then he began to copy the sound of police sirena, along with somehow managing to mimic the sound of gunshots, and this, not unnaturally perhaps, unnerved several of the more genteel or elderly of his customers. Which wasn't too bad, once the owner of the cafe put up a sign warning his customers this was what Birds Eye did so people knew what to expect. But then the summer came along, and some unscrupulous youngsters from out of town began to teach him swear words. I won't offend you by telling you what they were.. some began with F, lots with B too.

It was obvious he would have to go... and Phoebe heard about this from a friend of a friend and decided, though she only ever had cats, that a parrot would be a fun thing to have. She was going to teach it to say 'More tea vicar?' for when that person decided it was time once again, to try and get Phoebe into church (he seemed to think she needed saving though was never clear from what exactly when she challenged him). But the first time Birds Eye saw the vicar he came out with such a string of vitriole against vicars, the church and religion in general, that it was obvious where his previous owners thoughts lie on that subject, and Phoebe now lives in hopes that the vicar might find someone else to save instead.


  1. I guess it teaches us not to judge a book etc. Travellers settle occasionally in these parts too and are often on the scrounge for metal and scrap.

    CJ xx

  2. PFG you certainly know how to make me smile, but then you always did.
    I have a mental picture of the pub, lots of tweed, wellies, a dartboard, and maybe bar skittles and of course no piped music.
    You really must keep these coming

  3. When will you write the book?
    This was a treat to read - I want more!

  4. Great read. Thanks for alerting me to this blog - when I click on your name, it takes me straight to your other one (also good!) I could just picture the indignation of the villagers and the very slight undercurrent of menace ...

  5. Wonderful Story!!!!
    Delightful reading...

  6. Just to say (if the verifiction thingy will let me today) that I thoroughly enjoy reading this blog and that I am looking forward to reading more about Phoebe & the Parrot!

  7. Remind me never to get a parrot...!

    Am currently getting a little twitchy about some caravans which seem to be stealthily replicating in a field on the main lane into our village. The farm has lots of horses and horse shows and there's a cattery and Lord knows what else, but I'm nervous they are developing a little holiday business! I hate myself for saying it as I know a lot of lovely people with caravans, but it kinda spoils the view of the sheep and the fields...!

    Lovely read and thank you for popping by at mine too.

    I shall be back.

  8. Sounds like my pub! I loved your picture and your tale with a twist. We have yet to have travellers arrive in this village, but it will prompt great debate I am sure - 'great' as in much rather than 'informed and intelligent'.
    M x