With a four hour journey ahead into the dark ages, time didn’t seem to matter. Cross country from Worcestershire to Norfolk, for a weekend with a relative, 4 fucking hours in the car with a dog who hates travel, kids who constantly crave snacks and their own music, although I did steal the last 20 minutes of Test Match Special before we reached the motorway, or just about anyway.
Birmingham, Warwick, Coventry, Nuneaton, Leicester on everyones favourite motorway the M69 and then the turn off signposted to Wisbech, pronounced Wizz Beach, if only there was a beach, I think Bech may be an ancient derivative for river, maybe, google it. So the further we head down the A14 towards Thrapston, past Islip, Kettering north and south, turning off when mentions of Peterborough manifest themselves, heading East, the distant east, following in the footsteps of the Lorry drivers, the carriers of freight to Felixstowe and Harwich.
Through Peterborough, passing by Crowland and Eye, towards Thorney and Thorney Toll.
Welcome to Fenland, proclaims a rather lazy looking purple sign, the regional colour of Fenland, as we enter Guyhern, the place no one knows how to pronounce, the place linear to a dirty great river, the banks constantly dirty slime covered, no river traffic ever, I think it might be something to do with drainage, theres a vast number of ditches around here. In all my 20+ years coming here, Guyhern was once home to Lips and Kisses sex shop, next to the garage but set back, a black painted and neon pink lip covered rectangular palace of perversion. A massive car ark to accommodate all the lorry drivers passing to and from the ports, porno mags, sex dolls, dildos and butt plugs. They all knew the shop, but no one knew them, completely anonymous, until the next time they passed through.
A few years ago I came this way and the sex shop was a cafe, the shadow of the X rated still lingers in the memory of the people passing through; where is that shop? People wonder. Will a unremarkable cafe with two flats above, the walls echoing with the moans of local prostitutes, presumably now back to working the land; back on the farms, will that cafe fare any better? No one wants to stop here, unless of course you want to buy pyrotechnics all year round, 365 days a year shouts a desperately hopeless sign, no one wants to turn left off the main road out of here, Fenland is Bleak in Summer, Bleaker in Winter and Bleak in everything between.
Leaving Guyhern behind, glancing at the Guyhern village hall, and taking in the Guyhern hand car wash where hired technicians jet wash folks monster trucks and stock cars. I shudder at the thought.
Darkness is falling, as we skirt past Kings Lynn, the hospital, a harvester on a roundabout, “We’re glad you’re back” a cheery post Covid sign proclaims. We head down a hill past signs promoting an open air sculpture exhibition in Houghton Hall, Anish Kapour (I think) Sky mirror, I think, we’re going to go, I think. The houses have been pebble dashed with massive flint stones, the roads straight and the occasional military fencing tracks the road side, before veering off behind a hillock. This is North Norfolk, home of Alan Partridge and Stephen Fry, Bill Bryson’s adopted home and The Blakeney Seals, Beach Huts and Royalty.
As we pull into Fakenham, I stop at the petrol station. They’re still nervous of outsiders since a Waitrose franchise had taken over the petrol station, this town, previously the most boring in Britain, is on the up, and make no mistake.
I pick up some IPA, a bottle of New Zealand White, chat to the girl behind the screen about electric cars and leave. When I get back in the car, my tune had been taken off the stereo.