For more than ten years over the turn of the century I wrote a commentary page in the Eastern Daily Press, published in Norwich. A feature of the page (some said the only good reason for its existence) were the regular reports on the activities of Norfolk hero Henry (Fred) “Shrimp” Houseago and his battle against a group of sinister great crested newts who were attempting to subvert the Norfolk way of life, among other things.
I am happy to report that I have recently unearthed the Houseago Diaries, covering a period of almost two years from October 1996. These give Mr Houseago’s own views on the events reported in the EDP, and I feel it is important, not to say vital, to give them publicity. I will therefore be serialising them here over the next few weeks and, possibly, months.
October 4, 1996
Could not sleep last night. Had series of bizarre dreams, none of which seemed to make any sense. Asked my fiancee Dorothea about them when I woke, but she didn’t make any sense either, which is not surprising as she is 104. At least, that is what she says. She has certainly been around a long time.
In my dream things were falling out of the sky, but not bombs. Seemed to be speed limit signs, except that they were all very low speeds, and you would think that in the future we would be able to go faster. Very odd. No-one saw them coming, because everyone was looking down, and they hit quite a few people on the head; there were pools of blood all over the place.
Then a place called Hingham, which is somewhere I have only passed through once or twice. Something which looked like a Scout Hut was being blown backwards and forwards, and there seemed to be a kind of wormhole effect, like you get on Star Trek. Suddenly this comet hurtled out of the sky and plunged into a black hole which seemed to be in the middle of a map of Norfolk.
Then got mixed up with this party of men who were hunting coypu, and we seemed to be lost and got tangled up with lots of discarded fishing tackle. Thought coypu were extinct. But most vivid scene of all was this great army of what appeared to be newts, marching towards me with weapons of all kinds. In fact were about to trample all over me when I woke up. Thought I’d better make a note in case it all fitted together later, like jigsaw.
Put it down to dodgy beef on bone from Jones the Butcher. He has his own supply. Do not trust Welshman who wants to live in Norfolk. Makes no sense. No mountains.
Decided to have quiet day. Was going quite well until happened on copy of yesterday’s Eastern Daily Press, delivered late by recalcitrant newspaper woman on scooter. Amazing item on page nine: “A consortium of great crested newts has put in a planning application to extend its ‘green swathe’ home just outside Wymondham. This plea is expected to be turned down, however, following objections by one of the few remaining small groups of Norfolk people, who say they have a right of way over the disputed land. Conservationists say that the existence of Norfolk people would be threatened by the newt expansion plans. Natterjack toad representatives are backing the newt application.”
Stunned, not to say flabbergasted. Am one of last remaining Norfolk people. Live just outside Wymondham. Great crested newts threatening my very existence. Toads beneath contempt. Everything begins to make sense. Well, some things. Am determined to resist on the beaches, etc. Blood, sweat and tears. I see it now. It’s all up to me. Have been chosen to stand alone against the newt onslaught. Will ask Dorothea to stand with me. Remote possibility. But will be hero anyway.
October 8, 1996
Have been thinking a lot about newts. Walked on green swathe. Saw no newts. Must be experts in camouflage. Dorothea less than enthusiastic about anti-newt crusade, but I insisted. She will come through in end. Like cavalry, only earlier.
October 9, 1996
Decided to be pro-active. Apparently this is good: read it on business page when looking for cartoon. Issued press release to defend Norfolk people against ruthless newts. Said: “There are only a few of us left. And we’ve forgotten almost all the Norfolk dialect we knew. Some people came over from London the other day, and they could understand everything we were saying. Those newts have got to be stopped, or we won’t survive.”
Pack of lies, naturally. People from London never come near Wymondham, because can’t pronounce it. And know Norfolk dialect very well – just never use it because Dorothea allergic. So she says. Still, first blow in war against vicious newts. No such thing as bad publicity. Well maybe item saying Houseago mad fool and should stay in bed at age of 97 might be bad publicity, but also libel if newts said it. Could collect large sums from newt coffers. (Do newts have coffers? Or large sums?)
To be continued