Flavourings, fur and fishy business.

March 13th, 2017

Ah yes, the blog…….

This month, in Suffolk/Norfolk Life, you can read of my mellow yellow encounter – Norfolk Saffron, which is actually much more red than yellow, it being just about the highest grade of saffron you’ll find. In fact, you don’t find much saffron at all in the UK these days, Iran being the main source of supply, but it was big here in Tudor times and up until the 18th century when other – and cheaper – spices and flavourings became available. Saffron is still reckoned to be the most expensive, pound for pound, or rather, gram for gram because a tiny amount goes a long way, especially Norfolk saffron.

In the same issue, you’ll find the Curious Corner of Slaughden, the erstwhile hamlet adjacent to Aldeburgh on the narrow neck of land where the River Alde/Ore nearly reaches the sea  before turning south to run nearly 10 miles inside Orford Ness to do so. It’s an erstwhile hamlet because the sea has taken most of it, leaving a boatyard, a couple of sailing clubs and a Martello tower. A hundred years ago, the river side still held a trading and fishing port but things were already on the slide and commercial activity had finished by the 1930s.

And then in this month’s Countryman magazine, I’m talking about rabbit warrening in East Anglia’s Breckland. Rabbits arrived properly with the Normans and for centuries were an exlusive source of food and clothing, so exclusive that they were raised in guarded warrens extending to scores, and sometimes hundreds, of acres. And they could thrive on land which was too poor for good arable crop yields and Breckland had plenty of that. In the end of course, the stock went feral and the exclusivity faded.   

But talking again about fishing, the next two issues of Fishing News will each carry a feature on Suffolk fishing. One, on the 16th March, will look at Lowestoft, its history and its situation today where the port owners, ABP, are edging fishermen out because they want the space for wind farm boats. You’d think that in a port with that much space that they’d have room for both, but they don’t seem to.

And then in the issue of the 23rd, I’m looking at the inshore fishery, made up of boats launched from beaches and river moorings along the Suffolk coast, and the draconian measures being taken against them, supposedly to protect stock levels. But the evidence for any degree of over-fishing is thin to the point of implausibility and there may be – probably are – other forces at play. It’s small boats like these which are the endangered species.

Endangered species - small fishing boats at Aldeburgh

Barges, barns and boxes of eels.

November 16th, 2014

            Three things in the November/December issue of Anglia Afloat, starting near the back with a Curious Quay – Heybridge Basin on the River Blackwater in Essex. They once dealt in eels there, a lot of them from the Baltic, stored for the London jellied eels market in floating timber boxes.

            And then still in Essex, a couple of pages of shots of the Colne Barge Match which took place back in September, big sails in the sunlight with a heavy cloud backdrop to make them look like ghosts from another time, which in some ways they are.

            And finally there is the last instalment of the East Coast’s maritime endeavours to kibosh the Kaiser and the clearing up which followed. And finally perhaps indeed, because Anglia Afloat is dropping down to two issues a year for 2015. Will East Anglia’s boaters and sailors protest?

            Meanwhile, in Suffolk/Norfolk Life, November issue, you can read about Happisburgh churchyard and the huge communal grave which took the bodies of 119 of the 400 of sailors who died when HMS Invincible ran onto sandbanks nearby in 1801. The unmarked grave was rediscovered in 1988 during drainage work and a simple plaque now marks the spot.

            In the same issue, there are barns, old barns, from the 15th and 16th centuries, when if the lord of the manor had made a few bob, he would go for the big statement of the big barn, on the if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt principle. Fortunately, built-to-flaunt meant built-to-last and a handful of them in Norfolk remain for posterity.

Times past and passing.

July 12th, 2014

            Boats (more boats), battles and backwaters figure again this month, together with a bit of escapism, in Anglia Afloat.

            On the WW1 centenary, there are minesweepers – or trawlers which trawled mines, the science being new and as yet without specialist kit. Working in pairs, they dragged a cable which theoretically severed a mine’s mooring and brought it to the surface where it could be detonated by small arms fire, sort of like clay pigeon shooting with bigger bangs. Trouble all too often was that a trawler – a necessarily deep-hulled boat for good sea-keeping and storage – actually hit a mine with terminal consequences.

            Smaller but equally, if not more, vulnerable were the drifters which tended the submarine nets, a not overly successful strategy to trap or at least detect submarines. Many east coast drifters were sent to the Mediterranean on such work where a concerted attack by Austrian warships on the Otranto Strait net barrage found them to be sitting targets, and likewise the trawlers sent to sweep mines in the Dardanelles under the Turkish guns.

            In more peaceable times, like now – on the home front, anyway – there is the story of Manatee, a narrow boat and her owner, Carolyn Ross, and crew of Yorkshire terriers, Bertie and Georgie, who are setting off around the national canal system after a year or so of refining the live-aboard science. That’s one thing about the UK’s industrial heritage:  you can get to much of the country by boat, slowly, and things look different from the water.

            Meanwhile, for landlubbers, there is a piece in Suffolk/Norfolk Life on Staverton Thicks, a fragment of ancient woodland in Suffolk where gnarled oaks dating back four hundred years or more give a sort of perspective on man’s fleeting individual tenure, making you feel young or ephemeral, depending on your glass half full/empty outlook.

Boats and planes.

June 22nd, 2014

                The WW1 centenary year continues in Anglia Afloat  with another episode of maritime endeavours to kibosh the Kaiser, this one relating submariner stories – though the previous two have also touched on them.  Submarine technology was still developing, with  C-, D- and the particularly successful, though much decimated,  E-class all in service at the same time and others following on.  The C-class didn’t even have a proper toilet but then submariners did get paid more.

                Meanwhile, airside and up to date, we have Northrepps (International) Airport close to Cromer, aircraft of all ages flying in of a fine weekend, most of them to breakfast at the Cabin Crew diner, haute cuisine and Full English. In August on Cromer Carnival Day – Wednesday 20th this year – flying acts use Northrepps as their base (though not the Red Arrows – no sense of adventure, some people).  Read all about it in the June issue of Suffolk/Norfolk Life.

Traveller’s Tale

March 31st, 2014

Another traveller’s tale but this was the Big One, South America for six months back in 1976. Nine countries, two coups, a circus debut, front page headline and attempted mugging; it had its moments. And the story comes from diary, letters, photographs and a lot more recalled detail in a write-up done after the return. This ebook isn’t a dodgy memory job. Find it at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


Front Cover 3c

Trails and coastal tribulations

December 12th, 2013



                So I went to the net to the Hippie Trail conference, “Touching the Sky”, in Cardiff back in October and it was a lot of fun, a bunch of 60-somethings and 70-somethings back on the Trail for a couple of days.

 Forty years on, the Trail was seen to have been a very special part of everyone’s life, giving time and headspace for a progress audit and in almost every case, bringing a course correction to wring more fulfilment from these three-score-years-and-ten and dictate the field on which life would be lived.

For my part, I subsequently got a spike in book sales out of it, so I’ll plug the book again: “Travelling for Beginners – to Kathmandu in ’72”, an e-book on www.amazon.co.uk and www.amazon.com.

Travelling for Beginners, a tale of a minibus trip on the Hippy Trail in 1972, is now available as an ebook on Amazon.com

Travelling for Beginners, a tale of a minibus trip on the Hippy Trail in 1972, is now available as an ebook on Amazon.com






















 And while you’re at it, check out the Trail novel, “Wander Year” by Carolyn Kingson.


Meanwhile, the East Anglian coast was  much battered by a tidal surge last week and at Cromer, the “Donuts” were  a touch less crisp than usual.














 And down in Suffolk, you can if you’re quick read, in the current issue of Anglia Afloat, of the last commercial fisherman working off Sizewell beach. He reckons that when he packs up, no-one will follow because setting-up costs – and getting a return on them – preclude most newcomers these days.1a launching copy

And still on fishing, if you happen across a copy of Fishing News, you will learn a bit about the new inshore seas management regime driven by Europe and in particular, the Habitats Directive and Birds directive, which looks like progressively changing, ie restricting, the way coastal waters are fished. The broad thrust of the measures is to see whether those changes bring a greater flourishing of marine life but by the time that is apparent or otherwise, some fishermen will have had to resort to other work.

September 24th, 2013

                Every picture tells a story and the pictures of the East Anglian Group of Marine Artists tell – as you might expect – tales of watery East Anglia. Here are people with the necessary inherent love of their subjects – the coast, the rivers, the estuaries, the saltings – some of them boaters, all of them with years of looking and painting and taking home what they see to sell to others. And they all do it very well. Check them out in the September/October issue of Anglia Afloat.

                In the same issue, you will find a short piece on Slaughden, the erstwhile – sailing era – port for Aldeburgh in Suffolk where Sir Francis Drake’s ship, Pelican, later renamed Golden Hind, was built. The 18th/19th century poet, George Crabbe, worked there as a teenager in his father’s warehouse before moving away to become in turn a surgeon and then, more successfully, a vicar, not perhaps a natural career progression but then if you’re not well equipped to cure them, you might as well be equipped to bury them.

                Still on watery matters, you will find in this month’s Suffolk/Norfolk Life a sketch of the River Stour which forms most of the border between Suffolk and Essex and where, back in May, the River Stour Trust re-launched the restored Stour lighter, John Constable, with Trust vice-president Cliff Rhys Jones officiating.

                And back on the Suffolk coast, if you chance upon a copy of next week’s Fishing News, the fishing industry weekly, you will see a piece on the last commercial fishing boat working from Sizewell beach –  the last because when he packs up in a few years, no newcomer needing premises as well a boat and gear will be able to fund a six-figure start-up cost with the returns to be had.  But that’s longshore  fishing  these days.

                Meanwhile, George returns from Australia tonight for a mere four nights and three days  before heading off to start an engineering degree at Durham.  He’s had a bit of practical already, doing relining work in the mines of Western Australia but one high point of the trip is illustrated by the attached picture showing  him scoring maximum points for altitude at Ingham rodeo, North Queensland, on the 14th of September.

Altitude lr 3
















And then,  in just over a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading to Cardiff to give a presentation at a conference:  Touching the Sky: The Hippie Trail and Other Forms of Alternative Tourism, where I’ll show a few pictures to tell how it was for early long-haul tourists on the Trail back in ’72. If you want the full story, check out Travelling for Beginners on Amazon. Travelling for Beginners is available as an ebook on amazon.com.




June 12th, 2013

So here’s a yarn.

A GOOD LITTLE MIXER, available as an e-book at www.amazon.co.uk <http://www.amazon.co.uk>  and www.amazon.com <http://www.amazon.com> . Read the first 10,000 words, free, on Amazon Look Inside.

red cover 2


Wanna know about your pension contributions?
It’s the mid ‘80s. Jason Jay is an estate agent. He is not your run-of-the-mill house salesman. He deals in bigger numbers, buying and selling commercial property investments. He is one of those advisers who direct money into and out of the commercial property fabric of the nation. Big money, much of it from pension funds, is invested on the recommendation of people like Jay.

This is an area that affected anyone who had a pension fund. Not many people owned a factory or a shop or an office block but their pension provider probably did.

The story centres on the Mayfair firm of Jenkins Adlard and its thrusting investment dealers – the grasping Roger Arnott, the statuesque and scheming Grace Irvine, the aristocratic Sebastian Winn, the rich brat, Tim Richards, the poison dwarf,  James Penney, and the avaricious and entirely unlikable Jason Jay himself. It also features Richard Green, thrice married ace developer and lousy guitarist.

            The neutral observer is Ray Cressey. He works for estate agent, Charles Beecroft, in the country town of Redbury until he gets sacked for an indiscretion with the boss’s mistress after the office Christmas party. Moving to London, he gets a job with Jenkins Adlard.

            There, his finds a place where the deal rules. ‘Go for the deal’ and the fee attached to it, that is the creed. It doesn’t matter whether the deal is good or bad for the client. Just get the client to do it, collect the fee and if the deal turns out to be bad, say the market changed. Then, when an acquaintance from Redbury asks for help on a property problem, he gains a little more perspective.

            This is a story from the mid-Thatcher years. There is naked ambition, sexism and a blatant pitch for the Bad Sex Award, together with plenty of posturing and a bit of violence which occasionally laced the bigger picture.

            Oh, and money. Don’t forget the money. Nobody else ever did.


Meanwhile, back on the waterfront and in the June issue of Anglia Afloat, you will find word of the Butley Ferry, a service which has operated more or less continually for 500 hundred years and perhaps a lot longer. A volunteer-run, summertime, weekend-only rowing boat job, its boatmen wear floppy hats in a nod to provenance, the black land-worker’s floppy hat having featured for much of the ferry’s existence.  It’s a quiet spot – nearest road a mile away – and a nice feature to put into a country stroll or bike ride. Get there before it packs up in late September.

April 28th, 2013

The Cromer crab fishermen began taking their pots to sea last week, a month later than usual. Fishing usually begins in March but the coldest March for 50 years, with sea temperatures down to 4C delayed the season. The edible brown crab, Cancer pagarus, does not become fully active until the temperature gets above 8C. About 120 tonnes of crab are landed by Cromer’s beach-launched boats each year.  C

April 5th, 2013

So let’s talk about dinosaur poo because once up on a time, it was big business, not least around the Deben estuary in Suffolk.

We are talking 19th century, when the nascent artificial fertiliser industry was responding  to  the need to feed a burgeoning population.  Coprolites, which are fossilized dinosaur droppings with the consistency of stone, were found to yield superphosphate when ground up and mixed with sulphuric acid. And they were, furthermore, particularly thick on the ground – or, strictly speaking, in seams anywhere between three and fifty feet below ground – around the Deben.  Mining them could be expensive but the price was good enough to mean that, for three or four decades, big money was made by big landowners and even cottage gardens could yield enough to make digging worthwhile.  Read all about it in the March/April issue of Anglia Afloat.

In there, you will also find words and pictures of the East Coast rowing gigs now gracing the creeks and channels of the Essex coast. Think Scilly Isles rowing but smaller, four oars instead of six, but coxed even so.

Designed and built by the craftsmen of the Pioneer Sailing Trust at Harker’s yard, Brightlingsea, these gigs are the new dimension of coastal rowing. Four are already completed and racing and there will probably be 10 by the end of the year in the hands of six or seven clubs which have been formed specifically to race them.  These gigs are, refreshingly, made of wood or, more specifically, three layers of cold-moulded mahogany laminate, epoxy-coated and painted in the colours of Smarties. You’ll notice them if you see them.  There are a few pictures on the landscape page here.

Meanwhile, back in the Flatlands and in the same issue, read about the secretive River Little Ouse which gives boating in peace, with some of the more remote stretches of navigation to be found anywhere in the country.

And in the May issue, you’ll find much more about the Cambridgeshire waterways: the Fens, another world.