It was Michael’s idea to come to North Norfolk, and as we drove here, past memory on automatic, I see some reciprocal pattern evolving. Last year to Wales and Michael’s bicycle past and now to Norfolk and my childhood past. Memories come round corners unexpectedly and I had not prepared or been prepared for this. Someone was gardening in my front garden, I saw as we passed 35 Quebec Road, my home for my childhood years. Is the catmint still there? So glad they took down the ugly garage my mother had built for her Renault 5 which was not a Jaguar. And here we are in a Honda, at a different time, and it feels comfortable and not out of joint.
Holkham, suddenly we are at Holkham, my soul place, here now without expectation or prejudice like a lawyers letter. In the Victoria we drink alcohol free Ghostship and the bartender informs that me that while always part of the Leicester estate, they leased it to Adnams for a while but it was back now with the estate. It was a draughty pub in my day, when we drank in the public bar with game keepers and fisherfolk, almost sawdust on the floor. Now Farrow and Balled, it is full, popular, middle class.
Down Lady Anns drive, we park. The dogs and I walk the expanse of beach out to the sea, while Michael – suffering from sciatica – takes it easier and watches from the woodland edge. All those memories, easily held by such an expanse. But I turn and can see the small shape of the man I am with, I wave, and I am glad to get back there.
The White Horse is a surprise. Recommended by Sarah Yaxley (F&G), the front elevation was unprepossessing. Never judge a book by it’s front cover. Behind we moved into one the challets, a stones throw from the marshes. Well done Michael. Then came the sumptuous dinner. Scallops Laksa, smoked haddock and pea shoots, lemon with bitter orange, washed down with Semillon white wine. Heaven. The moon is filling up. Full in a day or twos time.
Is this the happiest time of my life? New friendship, shared views, good for each other, all curbed with modesty and humbled with limitation, body and mind still strong and although more limited not suffering.
The meeting of the two Michael’s – Michael Chapman and Michael Imison. I think as I arrive they are probably about the same age. I’d first met Michael Chapman in my 20’s, to his 40’s. He taught me picture restoration in his Foulsham studio, we fell in love, his wife knew and not only permitted but famously said to me if the children were not so bourgeouise I’d invite you to come and live with us. He was the first man I fell deeply in love with. Why did we break up? I wanted to walk out into the world that he had already walked out into. I went to London. I’d secretly drive to Foulsham and feel his presence inside his home, and years later I heard he did the same to me in London. Even later we re-found a new friendship, as he courted younger and younger women.
– Michael this is Michael, I say.
– I blame Prince Michael of Romania that influenced our mothers to call us all Michael. – What’s your vintage’, asked MC directly. ‘Ah, i’m ahead of you at 87′, he summarised with a hint at ironic competition.
– We can exchange war stories… I remember a bomber plane crash landing. It never effected us did it?’
– I can never use these bloody things’
Susan Phipps, ex New Hall
Children, Jonathan with 5 children. Sally and Emma in Wales.
Sitting in Michael’s snug, (as Michael admires the others head of hair) and Michael C talks of his past, I see there is so much I didn’t know. Barry Newis has died. Nicolas, Michael’s nephew too. The crossing out of names in an address book.
Do you remember your print of the miners, I asked. Yes, he said, and he got out his portfolios, organised in good order as if preparing for a time when others may need to find, and he found it. He gave it to me.
North Wales, he said. The danger of the pits drove the community together.
In Wales recently with Michael M, I wrote a poem to Michael C – I must find and send.
Here on the edge of the salt marshes, in February, Michael begins to read to me Salt. It was a book he found at random, part of his admirable research. The book surprises us both with its poetry and story. A man falling out of the sky found by Goose, who becomes the centre of the book. Luggers and Long shoreman. Goose’s love of clouds. Her daughter falls in love with one of the Langar boys, and goes off to the land of drains, dykes and ditches (north of Kings Lynn) before her son, the narrator, returns, returns to Morston, and Goose, who outlasts them all. It references the places I know and even events of my childhood, like the arrival of the beached whale at Holkham.
I feel the past. I look out into the familiar landscape, eyes occasionally recognising a home, an estate farm, and catching the taste of historic desire once attached to it of a potential future home. I am relieved to find that desire is no longer relevant. Instead I am now fixed on pollards, beaches, oaks, naked in the landscape. The desire to live here no longer gnaws at me, the need to live in a Jacobean home, or gatehouse no longer necessary.
Breakfast: Oh no not a croissant as well, with marmite.
Visiting my cousin Edmund
He has such smiling eyes. In the chosen pub The Dun Cow, at Salthouse Sarah says: ‘He is not allowed more than 5 minutes on potatoes’. While I see Norfolk in trees, Edmund sees it in potato fields. We hadn’t seen each other since I stayed with him in Spain, helping to make tidy his garden before he sold, how many years ago, may be 10, and we live but an hour away.
Sarah, attentive to Edmunds physical constraint of hip, walks with me to Saltmarsh church, beautiful today back dropped by clear blue skies while Edmund and Michael chew the cud in the February watery sun. We saw an owl, hunting low over the marsh.
Lost in Larners (the Fortmum and Mason of Holt) looking for wine for Tony. Long bath. Full Moon. I am finding it difficult to adapt to the compos direction, with the sun/moon rising east over the sea and setting west over the sea.
Birkenhead hospital aged 25 Phyllis Imison gave birth to Michael Imison in 1935. Pre war during Edward VIIIths brief reign. Pre Wallis. The King sent all children born in 1935 £10 in savings, and a letter printed on silver paper. Respect but not a cosy love, she was not demonstrative.
Black pudding, full English, smoked salmon, eggs Benedict. Braces, pajamas’s (inspired by Candy’s xmas gift) and second hand jumpers unwrapped.
The highlight of this day was a visit to Terri.
It was the day of the storm Caera, and we drove through a lull to just outside Fakenham. Christined Therese but never called that name, Terri was that person. Tamsyn sought her out after publicity about her identity project in which the children did self portraits of extraordinary revelation. Retired from teaching art she is now free to paint herself and her work is impressive, confident, large and fascinating. In a spacious converted barn, converted by her practical builder husband, we join the family at the long table for a classic Sunday lunch. Tony, Terri’s builder husband, was one of 7 Plymouth Bretheren, and he spoke a little of this fascinating movement. Begun in the 1830’s part of the movement away from the elabouration of the Anglian church. Non conformists, part of Methodist and Baptists. All changed in the 1960’s when an American took over. One of his son’s declared like a prophesy that that a change would come this year, 2020, a change after drifting materialism there would be born a new spiritual yearning and exploring. As the storm rachetted up, this prophesy took on an other world dimension.
Tonie, vital, warm, authentic, takes us into her studio. A painting of a child in a gas mask is a theme in her paintings. The gas mask is both a protection and a hide. It is about her past. For a woman so unmasked, it was incongrous. She explained. After her mother died, she’d been passed around, and in some way abused. ‘I’m over it but I’ve got the story’, she said. Some in her youth said to her that it is your father who is the painter, not you, which had effectively quashed her talent. Until now.
Back through the half flooded roads, the back of storm Caera, back via Burnham Norton Church, which was closed but lit by the light of the passed storm. Church on a hill.
Monday – our bonus day
From our beds we look out into sea water not marsh, full tied. I walked west to see if the man or woman were up and writing as they had been all the other mornings. These lives that like people in Indian train carriages become intimate for a period of time, as strangers their lives imagined. There is a bench with a notice: ‘It starts sinking into a mans arms and ends behind the kitchen sink’.
No croissant breakfast and a good stretch out walk 42 minute 6.6k to Burhmam Overy Staith. Egret, Tufted duck, Egyptian goose, curlew, (David O’Neil) Wind in rushes. Dogs cavorting up and down banks. Michael met me at the Staithe. Near the place (now Farrow and Balled) where Bob and I were to rent for our never had wedding reception. Michael had been busy. He’d gone to Burnham Overy church and bought me back some photographs of it. The famous wine glass pulpit,
Brancaster, where Michael finally got to walk on a beach, where the golf hotel looked closed and uninviting (where in a past I’d accompanied Leslie Allwood and Tim after a round of golf). So plan B. We went to Thornam to where I’d gone years ago with David O’Neil a keen bird watcher. We ate delicious mussels which Michael followed by Steak and Kidney pudding. Ah heaven, in front of a roaring fire.
Do they work? the old boy wheeling a wheel barrow asked me of the dogs. She’s a cattle dog I say and he’s a sheep. No more sheep here now, he responds. Used to be. These marshes were full of sheep. He could have walked out of the pages of Salt. ‘ The lonely curve of the Norfolk coast, like an eye into the north sea.’