Our Travel blog
Thursday 20 October – Friday 21 October
We spent Thursday with Alison parents and cleared the final bits and bobs from the flat. On Friday we had a visit from a friend then we were on the road to Blythburgh in Suffolk. This charming spot on the River Blyth is inside an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and will be our home for 10 days while we house and dog sit for a friend. We didn’t get much opportunity to explore on Friday afternoon as once we had unpacked we scooted off to nearby Leiston to catch up with my eldest and friends for a lovely Indian meal and to chat late into the night.
Saturday 22 October*
After a terrible night’s sleep, in part from my stomach wrestling a vegetable thali into submission and partly from one too many late night cups of tea, I got up ridiculously early to take Whispa, the chocolate Labrador we are looking after, out for an early morning walk. This really is a most bewitching area of the country and particularly so when the air is crisp, fresh and untainted by the nearby A12.
The Blyth flows into a large tidal creek which dominates the area. Across the shimmering waters sit the white specks of Southwold. Walking east cumulonimbus clouds were stacked up from the treeline and glowing orange from the rising sun. Half a moon still hung high in the sky behind us and the trees rustled in a light breeze. Pheasants squawked wildly and thundered aloft as we approached, songbirds trilled in the hedgerows as the short lane we followed fell away into Walberswick Nature Reserve. Here reeds rose from the marshy shores and the canopy of trees sparkled with silver dew and cast shadows across the sandy path. The track from here follows the old railway line towards Walberswick where it joins the Suffolk Coastal Path to cross the river via the old railway bridge and into Southwold. Today though, Whispa and I contented ourselves with a short circular wander around the fringes of the mud flats and back to the house to greet a barely awake Alison.
I always took the large creek to be a natural feature but apparently it is the result of deliberate flooding in 1940 as a precaution against invasion at the start of WWII, a story that my father relayed to me on one of our many excursions this way but that did not really sink in at the time. We lived nearby in Saxmundham, a market town that had known glory as a transport hub, with its coaching inn, railway line, bus station, A12 trunk road and bustling livestock market. During our time the town grew in population but sank in importance and went through something of a slump as the livestock market finally closed, the bakery and greengrocer warehouse closed, garages uprooted and the town centre market faded from a cheerful parade of colourful stalls to a few sad displays of out of date provisions, fabric remnants and never in fashion clothes. Not that I cared. As a bored teenager adrift in what I considered the arse end of nowhere the only pastimes of any interest to me were cycling, a pursuit that had the benefit of being entirely solitary, and making model aeroplanes, an interest that mostly ended up with hideous sticky mutated aircraft with wings at jauntily irregular angles, a pilot glued to the tail and a clump of dog hair stuck to the nose. My only other interest was music. I was glued to the radio, literally if I’d recently been allowed back near the Airfix adhesive. I turned 14 and spent my birthday money on a budget Bill Haley record. Halfway through side one I started a lifelong addiction. Bill Haley gradually became Jerry Lee Lewis who morphed into Quo and Sabbath. I then discovered pirate radio and worked at the local chip shop to fund my growing music habit. I had Bowie, T Rex and Pink Floyd scrawled on my pencil case. My best friend had the Confederate flag and Showaddywaddy on his. I like to think I won.
Living in Suffolk we were surrounded by American airbases, which delighted the inner nerd in me. “So that’s what an A-10 Tankbuster is supposed to look like” I’d sigh, stamping another failed Airfix kit into the bin…” It exposed my youthful self to American service families with exotic record collections. Lou Reed, The Stooges, MC5 and Funkadelic were swapped for Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. I tried to emulate my musical heroes, the drawback being every instrument I tried I failed to wrestle into submission. I could read music but hammered at keyboards like my fingers were made of lead shovels and plucked at guitars like Robin Hood loading an arrow. I tried the drums at school and found that although I could move each limb independently when walking, I couldn’t do so with sticks in my hand or pedals under my feet.
After a few years of on and off frustration and having to content myself by taping Radio Caroline and making my own shows, something reached our sleepy backwater that was to permanently change my outlook on music and, more importantly, on life. Suddenly, thanks to a few scruffy oiks swearing on The Bill Grundy Show, punk burst in a maelstrom of tabloid hysteria. In the space of a year my world exploded into a thousand musical fragments, every one more exciting than the last. Now it was permissible not to be a classically trained prog rocker or to understand chord progressions and such niceties; attitude became more important than ability. A grey generation who grew up under the shadow of the cold war and nuclear annihilation became a multi-coloured, switched on vibrant mess of furious spitting music, imperfectly played, with snarling words railing against every injustice we could imagine. It was often an inaudible squall, challenging and wilfully obtuse... but brilliant.
From then on, my musical interests ranged from punk to heavy rock and in particular the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a sub-genre that fused punk attitude and simplicity with a heavier sound and generally less politicised lyrics. I discovered the music press, especially Sounds and NME and devoured them from cover to cover every week. I embraced anything that would transport me out of this shabby little town. I joined a band in a desperate attempt to join in ‘on the front line’ and over the period of two shambolic rehearsals went from guitar to bass on the grounds that I could do less damage with four strings than six. After one gig I admitted that perhaps 4 strings was pushing it a bit, by a factor of about 4, and tried the drums again; this time on a bass drum we ‘appropriated’ from school and painted yellow, and a single snare. It was maybe my finest 10 minutes on stage; a five minute tune up while the singer grappled with the audience for the microphone, a 30 second burst of feedback, approximately 1 minute of heart pounding bewildering noise and a further 30 seconds while we all finished the song in our own good time. Imagine a guitar, a bass, drums and a singer who between them had attended two music lessons, were drunk and had only rehearsed twice, and at one of those the guitarist forgot to bring his instrument, and you have only just begun to know how awful we were. We were followed by two bands who knew what they were doing, one of whom were the nucleus of soon to be local legends The S Men, fronted by a singer who went on to become half of 1980’s outfits Duck you Sucker and Blue Mercedes.
Meanwhile I wallowed in the music press, occasionally wrote lyrics for bands, bought singles on excursions to Ipswich and wrote fanzines with friends whose musical appreciation also outshone their ability. Saxmundham survived the arrival of punk rock and went through something of a resurgence, gradually becoming quietly gentrified, with a busy high street and growing economy. We drove passed my old family house last night. It’s undergoing some internal modification after the new owners eventually wore down the planners over its listed status restrictions, a hazard my cautious father felt keenly and my pragmatic mother largely ignored. For all my misery in the early 1970’s at finding myself transported from central heating to coal fires, from a modern semi to a cold, creaky house overlooking a grave yard, in time it grew on me. This is what I wrote in June 2014 when the house was finally sold.
“The glow from the open fire, the slope on the kitchen floor, the smell of Christmas, using the front room for visitors, my father always getting home at 5.45 on the dot and tea being ready, the night the greenhouse blew down, mowing the grass for 50p, the bonfire going all weekend, laundry day on Saturday morning, my first record player, trying to drown out my mums dance class with Top of the Pops LP’s, playing in the garden all summer (how come it never rained?), climbing up to gather apples, storing them in the cellar, my nan coming to stay and our secret code of knocks on the wall, moving out and weekends back home, dad's funeral, playing with the dogs, visiting mum, sorting through years of artefacts, and finally walking around a house full of nothing but memories.”
One of the last items I carried out of the house was that Bill Haley record. Nothing could make me part with it and, If you look closely you can still see a finger mark that looks suspiciously like it’s made by Airfix glue.
* Readers with too much time on their hands may just realise that the piece in this entry concerning Bill Hayley has been published before on the Fruits de Mer records website, albeit in a different format. I figured if I was going to plagiarise anyone it might as well be me.
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