Our Travel blog
Saturday 29 – Sunday 30 October
After some noodling about and general chores Saturday afternoon passed in the company of Whispa’s chums and their respective owners for a leisurely walk around the creek and an even more leisurely rest in the gardens of the White Hart in the company of Adnam’s finest beers.
On Sunday we took Mavis to the nearby Snape Maltings Concert Hall where a vintage market was promised. This proved mildly diverting, with plenty of stalls selling what was essentially the content of our parents homes circa 1960’s for extortionate prices. The concert hall however was much more interesting to me as I worked there on and off during my late teens as a general dogsbody/stagehand/programme seller/café assistant/janitor. I started out assisting my father, who in 1973 bravely traded corporate accounting with BP in Harlow for bookkeeping with the Aldeburgh Festival Association that owned and ran the concert hall. The advert asked for a full time book-keeper (male) aged 30 to 45. He qualified on the book keeping and male requirements and although he was slightly beyond their cut off age he managed to prove he wasn’t too old and jittery to keep their books in good order.
Visiting the venue today I was delighted to see the main foyer and auditorium were just as I remembered them. There was the statue of the bull, next to which I would sell programmes along-side one of my father’s army of over perfumed volunteers, ladies of a certain age with a propensity for heavy face powder and ruby lips. The door to back stage has gone, replaced by access to a new lift to the restaurant. The stage is exactly as I recall, deep and worn to a lush matt finish. The front of the stage is automated, rising or falling according to the requirements of the artists; an extra bit of stage, additional floor space or sinking to become an orchestra pit. During festival season I’d arrive about 5am to sweep the stage and shine the floors with an industrial polisher with a mind of its own. Somewhere around 9am Bob the caretaker would track me down with a pile of toast and coffee fortified with whiskey. Then I’d start clearing the dressing rooms with renewed vigour and slightly wobbly gait, on more than one occasion discreetly closing the door on slumbering couples surrounded by the detritus of an impromptu liaison. During the morning rubbish would accumulate in a dank corner of an old outbuilding ready for me to deal with. Armed with whatever food and drink I managed to snaffle from the green room I’d trundle wheelbarrows full of refuse out to an incinerator overlooking the marshes. After a few minutes Barbara Hepworth’s iconic "The Family of Man" sculpture would be obscured by pungent black smoke and I’d chomp my may through stale smoked salmon sandwiches and swig flat champagne.
Today my old spot has been taken over by an over-spill car park, although The Family of Man is still there, three custodians of the grand view over the reeds and broad swathe of the River Alde, Iken Church poking through the trees and the hazy outline of Aldeburgh. We had a browse in the shops, admiring exotic groceries, obscure preserves and expensive confectionery, cookware you never thought you needed and will use twice before confining to the back of a cupboard and all manner of glittery fripperies with price tags longer than their lifespan. Mind you the shops help to bring people and money in when the concert hall isn’t in use. When I worked here as a spotty teenager the concert hall was ridiculously snobbish and the curious were brusquely turned away at the door but today we were able to walk unchallenged into the foyer, peek into the main hall and visit the café unhindered by curt staff. On our way to get coffee we pass the ghost of an awkward teenager shyly avoiding eye contact with customers and fumbling to make change and, standing in the shadows watching everything with a concerned eye, a pale, skinny man in a dinner jacket and an oversized bow tie, a mop of fine blond hair and a gaunt slightly worried face. He carries a black case stuffed with money bags, change, cash books and plenty of sharp pencils. Before the final curtain falls he will have collected all the takings and be seated in the empty restaurant counting every penny, meticulously recording each transaction and once he is satisfied that everything tallies will stow it in his case ready for banking. As the last punters crunch over the gravel to the car park and the bar shutters clunk into place a father and son who love each other but don’t really know one another make their way to the last remaining car in the courtyard. The car headlights sweep the decaying red bricks of the empty yard one last time as they leave, side by side in silence to be swallowed by the waiting night.
Monday 31 August
Our morning walk today was in a damp mist with a promise of sunshine in the virgin air. Whispa and I called into the bird hide to watch the creek slowly reveal itself from the mist, silver against the white topped golden reed beds. The gorse bushes sparkled with webs, hanging with teardrop jewels glistening in the light and around us the occasional soft thump of an acorn falling onto the carpet of yellowing leaves.
In the hide I helpfully added pheasant, pigeon and robin to the chalk board listing recent sightings. Honestly these people cannot be very good birdwatchers, I saw loads of each on the 10 minute walk here.
Afterwards Alison and I popped in to see my mother before a diversion to a garden centre. These places seem to be more like day centres for the ambulant retired with a bit of their pension burning a hole in their nylon pockets. This one had clothes, cards, ornaments, gifts, jams, books, a cafe and a whole department of sweets in retro bags which as far as I could tell just means that they make them look old and charge twice as much for what is after all a bag of flavoured sugar. You could purchase all manner of shiny things and maybe if you look hard enough some plants too. They even had 3rd party outlets in little cabins outside. There was an Edinburgh Woollen Mill, which I privately regard as the world’s most worthless shop, although Alison has just pointed out that the word privately is now redundant in that sentence. It really is a shrine to the middle of the road, from the dull clothes that never crease to the collection of standards and ‘light’ classics on CDs alongside boxes of shortbread. Anyway, beside this was a Cotton Traders which is like an Edinburgh Woollen Mill for people who still retain reasonable control over their faculties and like a nice sweatshirt to complement their Farrah slacks.
Of interest to us though was a Mountain Warehouse. Now this was more like it, I slipped from my reigns and skipped in to admire the carabiners, lose myself in the hiking boots and gawp at the hi-tech walking gear that no serious walker ever needs but covets none the less. Alison eventually dragged me away and back to Blythburgh purchase free, where we slumped in front of the DVD player and binged on nearly 2 series worth of The American Office.
Tuesday 1 November
Bloody hell, its November already which means we’ve spent 7 full months on the road. As today is our last here we pottered about tidying up. Alison let me make a garbage angel before sweeping up the debris of our tenure and generally adding a bit of a shine to the place.
This has been our third spell at house and pet sitting and they’ve all been really rewarding. We’ve had the chance to stay in three lovely communities; Braughing in Hertfordshire with its expansive fields and cosy local pub, Rattlesden with its history and big skies and Blythburgh, gateway to stunning views. Each one has been unique, welcoming and had its own charms, secret histories and personality. We are extremely grateful for the wonderful people who have thrown caution to the wind and trusted us with their homes and four-legged friends.
Whispa was reunited with her owners at 11:00pm after they’d flown from Norway to Gatwick and then driven home in the chill November air. Well, chill to us but after being north of the Arctic Circle admiring the Northern Lights it was positively balmy to them. After a brief catch up we retired. Tomorrow we head to London for a stopover before collecting the cats on Thursday ready for their new life in Staffordshire.
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