Author Archives: Tim Lenton

Parrot on the run

Her cage empty
the parrot has flown away,
grey in the sun,
prizing freedom above security
risk above lockdowns

She leaves Chwilog behind
disdains the narrow lanes and
crosses forbidden fields
dodging the farmer’s guns

Heading for Pwllheli,
she has booked in
for a holiday at Hafan y Mor,
not knowing the game is over

Posters appear
offering a reward for her recapture:
she has nothing to say –
not on this occasion

Reception is closed,
and as the nights creep in
the silence becomes deeper:
the door is open,
but too far away

Taking risks by road and by water

Maybe the lockdown has softened me up, but it struck me that I was taking on two rather risky adventures in a matter of days when I put myself down for canoeing on the Wensum and then crossing the border by road.

The river that snakes its way through Norwich is not widely feared for its rapids and waterfalls, but you never know. It is tidal, and it could rain.

In the event, it didn’t rain, though it threatened to, and as is well known among psychologists and chess players, the threat can be stronger than its execution. I took a raincoat. Surplus baggage, I think you call it.

I was accompanied by my two grandchildren and my wife – an enthusiastic and lively walker who also plays the violin. You may think this irrelevant, but it involves a lot of arm movements, as does canoeing. In the event it wasn’t the arm movements that did for her, but the restricted leg space. She stuck with it a long time, but in the end she disembarked rather athletically, climbing a ladder on to the riverside path not far from Carrow Road. 

We were on our way back at the time, and she is very keen on Norwich City, which may have had a bearing. It proved a blessing in disguise, as she was able to get some rather nice pictures of the remaining three of us paddlers, two of whom were making excellent progress. I was quite pleased with my steering.

It goes without saying that my grandchildren are athletic and wield an impressive paddle. I will not say who they take after. To put this into perspective, they are not children: one is 19 and the other is 17 next month. I soon realised they were taking me for a canoe excursion, and not the other way round. 

It was a lot of fun, dodging paddleboarders and boats with what appeared to be engines, which seems to me far too easy an option. We got as far as Thorpe Old Hall, which I take a professional interest in because it is a former residence of one of the Paston family, and I’m a trustee of the Paston Heritage Society. Pretty much a sleeping trustee nowadays, but a trustee nevertheless.

I mentioned the border crossing, and you’re probably thinking of electric fences, passports and quarantine. For some reason, none of this occurred, though we were crossing what is often a hostile frontier between Norfolk and Suffolk. By car, not canoe.

We do not often go to Suffolk, though it is admittedly beautiful in many areas. For one thing, I struggle with their absurd speed limits, and my wife has an allergic reaction every time we come across the word “Ipswich”. On this occasion we were meeting friends from Nottingham, who usually go to Blakeney but for some reason had decided to give Woodbridge a shot.

I had never been to Woodbridge, even by canoe, but was very pleasantly surprised. This was despite the esoteric parking system: I spent some considerable time downloading the app, registering and then paying. A policeman at Southwold with whom we struck up a conversation had told us it was quick and easy, but three or four people approached us as I was struggling at the meter and sympathised. I wouldn’t say they were contemptuous of it, but nor would I say they were singing its praises. Happily I know somewhere in Southwold where you can park for nothing.

Both Southwold and Woodbridge are easy on the eye, especially in the September sun, and some of the restaurants in Woodbridge are open, even on Tuesdays. May I recommend a tea and coffee shop called Honey & Harvey – for the name, the olive tree and the quality of its tea and  cakes. 

We didn’t stay long in Suffolk. We made it back across the border by taking the much underrated back road from Halesworth, where I once lost five minutes of my life. But that’s another story.

A few Welsh haiku

under the green cliff
where the red house hunkers down
old sand is silent

we take off our masks
reveal our smiling faces
surprising the ghosts

on the narrow path
a man with a blue suitcase
leaves his bed behind

the hill fort stands high
as history disappears 
shapeless stones tell lies

Exploring Corwen and the mysterious lanes of Llyn

I am just back from Wales. Normally I would be just back from Scotland, but that seemed too far away. I mean, you don’t want to be quarantined by Nicola Sturgeon, do you? And if the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital did decide to wake up and aim to take my gall bladder out, I didn’t want to be so far away that I couldn’t respond in time. That’s the sort of thing that can set you back five years on the waiting list.

So we went to North Wales, which is one of my favourite places anyway – especially Corwen. Not many people say that, because as a small town it seems to have a number of drawbacks. For one thing, the A5 cuts right through the middle of it, and crossing it is a bit of a challenge. For another, it’s a bit too far from Snowdonia, if you’re a perfectionist. And the pubs do not serve food. Never have, and never will. If you want to know what an English pub used to be like, go to Wales.

I still like it, though, partly because it houses a large number of my wife’s cousins, who are totally different from me and therefore very agreeable company.

Our hotel in Corwen – a 17th century coaching inn with certain updates – comes as close to the A5 as it is possible to get without blocking it. It has no parking, and no evening meal, and no cooked breakfast. It has narrow, steep stairs and no lift. Our room on the top floor was so small that we had nowhere to put our clothes – it was exceeded in smallness only by our bedroom in the caravan we moved on to later.

We loved it. The couple who were running it at the time were wonderfully welcoming and would do anything for you. And who needs a cooked breakfast?

Corwen also has hidden bonuses. It is surrounded by hills – most notably the Berwyn Mountains, which are vastly underrated,when they are rated at all. It also has Caer Drewyn – a hill fort. Among other things. And it doesn’t have many tourists, except the ones passing through.

This turned out to be a huge advantage. Everywhere else we went was sprouting tourists out of every lane and lay-by. We went to the centre of Snowdonia and discovered there was literally nowhere to park. I have never seen so many cars in one place. We went to the delightful little coastal towns of the Llyn Peninsula, and found them full.

Fortunately the caravan park in Chwilog was not full. And after a bit of reconnoitring (or getting lost, as some might put it), plus a bit of advice from certain cousins, we found some delightful spots. I will mention them in case you happen to find yourself west of Snowdon.

One is Llanbedrog. Ignore the beach and go to the art gallery. Free parking, a delightful cafe and a stunning if quite demanding climb up to and along the cliffs. Another is Morfa Nefyn. They closed the short path to the beach; so there was a long, long walk up, down, along, over, up and down again to what I was reliably assured was the third most famous beach pub in the world – the Ty Coch Inn. Since you ask, Ty Coch means Red House. I’m not sure who came up with the degree of fame: probably the same genius who worked on the Covid statistics.

Lastly – and I do mean lastly, because if you don’t stop here you will drive into the sea – is Mynydd Mawr. Go left a bit after Aberdaron (full of parked tourists again), and you will find yourself on a ridiculously narrow and steep road, signposted Uwchmynydd, which appears to have been lifted from Lord of the Rings. The road seems to go nowhere. But it takes you instead up on to a rocky outcrop at the bottom of the peninsula – a memorable viewpoint with Bardsey Island poking out of the sea as the sun lowers itself into the water.

I wouldn’t tell you all this if I thought I would be inviting hordes to descend on these beauty spots. But fortunately I know hardly anyone reads this. So it should still be wonderful when you get there.

Careless rain

Pale waves nibble at grass and sand,
tired riders complaining
of years in the saddle
as water-coloured land licks into the ocean

and there is no edge,
no border
just a man singing
into an angry crowd
while the band leaves the stage

Footprints are blurred, then slide away,
and who is to decide
where he stood? Too late now to say
which is land and which sea:
even the moon hesitates

The tree of knowledge
is drowned or buried:
the tree of life
simply forgotten

Grains of sand turn into cliffs of clay,
not gold: a cold wind
from the north brings
careless rain,
flotsam and jetsam
flooding the failing fields

and if the singer digs a shallow grave
he will surely drown
despite the distant hill
and the whisper
he is trying to unearth

Beyond the masks

Beyond the masks and the skull
outside the walled garden
through red and yellow
toward sky space

you walk across endless green
and into blue:
the ancient hall lurks in the background
behind distorting mirrors

You do not age at all:
you are as I first saw you
falling in love with the future
praying unprincipled prayers

You bring me back
to the fountain of fire
time and again
your words as silent as ever

Some little known Covid facts. Or are they?

I don’t know very much about Covid, and I’m beginning to think that nobody else does either.

I’ve been told a number of things about the dreaded virus – by apparently sane people – that don’t make an awful lot of sense, but then if Covid is a nonsensical virus, perhaps that makes sense. If you see what I mean.

It seems that Covid is extremely nasty and can kill you. I know this is true, because it killed my cousin and has made some friends very ill. But at the same time you can have it and show no symptoms, which to me is the same as not having it.

I, for instance, do not have Covid. I think. Of course, I may have it, but then I may have smallpox, dengue fever, mumps, syphilis, hay fever, chicken pox and leprosy – but without the symptoms. It would be best if I wear a vacuum suit and a mask, and self-isolate. You never know.

By the time you read this, I may have Covid with full-blown symptoms, which would serve me right. But I have had a double vaccination; so I’m hoping that might work.

On the other hand, is it a real vaccination? A friend told me the other day that it wasn’t, and that they were just putting stuff in me. Of course, vaccination is putting stuff in you, but I didn’t like to say that, as I am quite fond of her.

Another friend suggested that the Government wanted everyone to get the Delta variant so that they were immune for the coming winter, but I find it hard to believe the Government is that organised. For the same reason I don’t believe it’s all a cunning plan to cut down the world’s population or to introduce microchips into our bloodstream and turn us into a controlled, fearful collection of would-be mice. Of course, I could be wrong: it would explain speed cameras.

Then there are the very silly rules, which may or may not be legal. It’s all right to sit down and eat or drink without a mask, but if you stand up, you have to wear one. It’s OK for crowds of sports fans to shout and hug each other, but of course it’s far too dangerous to sing in church, unless you’re wearing a mask. I mean, really?

And I don’t really get the pingdemic. Surely deleting the App would solve the whole problem?

That probably shows how little I know. But I don’t really want to know any more. I’ve stopped watching the news. I don’t see how cases of Covid can apparently go up and down the same time. Of course, I go up and down at the same time, but that’s the road humps. Or possibly one of the lesser known Covid symptoms.

Houseago surveys reveal disturbing facts about … well, surveys

I have recently instigated a couple of surveys, put together and carried out by an intensive group chaired by Henry (Fred) Houseago (93), a former diarist linked to several universities.

The first piece of work carried out by the Houseago group found that surveys were conducted by universities mainly in order to get them into the newspapers. This is now known as the Houseago Hypothesis.

The second ground-breaking research they trended revealed that any survey carried out by a research group ended up with results that members of the survey group wanted. This is similar to the recent finding that computer modelling always reflects the views of the people doing the modelling, whether they are virus experts or climate scientists – or indeed anything else.

This has been linked by Professor V A R Scheinlich of the University of Some of East Anglia to the Tolstoy algorithm, which can be summed up in fairly simple terms like this: “Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”

But that’s by the way. Prof Houseago’s research and surveys have, he says, revealed further unnerving facts. The first is that public consultation is carried out as an elaborate cover to disguise the fact that the people carrying out the consultation will do whatever they want anyway. This is backed up by a statement in a local newspaper today that a key city centre street ban on traffic “is set to become permanent from December, with consultations happening next month (ie July)”. The words “foregone” and “conclusion” spring to mind, not to mention the words “arrogant” and “self-centred”.

Another, possibly linked, proposal is “virtually undeniable”, says Prof Houseago. It is that people only respond to surveys by giving the answers they think the surveyors want to hear. A good example of this is the announcement the other day that “more than half of teachers in England are in favour of teaching children to take direct action against climate change”. Very woke of them – how about taking action against black holes?

But I digress. Who are these teachers? Well actually there were only 626 of them. I think we should be told who they are, especially as over 50 per cent of them thought this direct action should extend to civil disobedience. I wonder how many teachers think that such a survey is too pathetic to be worth taking part in. Still, the Houseago Hypothesis explains its existence.

Meanwhile, nothing explains Extinction Rebellion. says Prof Houseago. “They know less about climate than the Rev Nick Repps-cum-Bastwick,” he said. “But they don’t like people. Especially me.”

Funeral of Prince Philip

It’s too late now:
I can’t get him back,
reach out my royal arm,
keep him from harm

stop the Land Rover,
order a rethink

There is no-one beside me
– no nudge, no wink –
just practitioners of sorrow 
out front, too visible, 
no tomorrow

I wear a mask and sit alone:
no laughter in the night
no rolling stone

Was there something I should have done?
Escaped to Greece or Denmark,
Corfu in the sun
or rain?

Dug deep, started again?

No, it’s too late now:
black suits, black wheels,
no-one to tell me how he feels,
no witty, careless remark 

Just dark

Just follow the road works until further notice

I live a few yards from the river, so I’m tempted now and again to grab one of those “Flood” signs that litter the highways in random fashion and put it at the bottom of our road. It wouldn’t do any good, but then I have never come across a “Flood” sign where there actually is a flood, so I would be doing it out of compassion for the sign: at least at the bottom of our road it would be within sight of water. 

Happily, as I’m about 40 feet above the river, there isn’t much chance of my house being flooded unless the drains pack up, or a waterfall hurtles down out of the Old Library Wood. It never has, but you never know.

There is however a flood in Norwich as I write. It does not involve water: it is a flood of signs. Some people might say it was a flood of road works, and it would be hard to disagree. One leads to the other, of course, just as a warming of the atmosphere leads to an increase of carbon dioxide in it.

Road works are hard things to contend with unless you’re a cyclist, in which case everything will be made easy for you. But the signs erected by the authorities are aimed at drivers. 

They have a lovely, standard sign that says ROAD CLOSED AHEAD. What it hardly ever says is how far ahead, or whether it’s the road going straight ahead that’s shut, or the one going off to the left at the next junction. This leads to credibility problems, with some cynical car drivers proceeding until they actually reach the barrier across the road, and then going back, or trying a last-minute side road that turns out to be a cul de sac. 

Stupid? It would be, except that sometimes you can in fact get through, and maybe it’s not that road that’s shut anyway…

On the way back to Norwich on the A11 the other evening, we were diverted off the main road because they were about to do some pretty drastic work on it – involving a bridge, I believe. We followed the DIVERSION signs until they petered out and we found ourselves back on the A11 – going in the opposite direction. I still don’t know where we were supposed to go, but thanks to years of driving round Norfolk as part of my job I was able to undertake an innovative one-off diversion of my own and add only 20 minutes to my journey. 

But if you want to while away a summer afternoon, I suggest you walk round Norwich following the DIVERSION signs. I would be interested to know where you end up. Practically everywhere in the city is part of a diversion, and halfway through one diversion you often find yourself embroiled  in another one. They may or may not fit together.

A few days ago I couldn’t help noticing that as you came away from the rail station along Riverside there were two large signs warning ROAD CLOSED AHEAD and THORPE ROAD CLOSED. Since there was no right turn into Thorpe Road anyway, the sign was totally superfluous, not to say confusing.

But of course I’m being picky. Could I do better? Possibly. Some people say there are people in City Hall and County Hall whose main aim in life is to make life more difficult for motorists, but I couldn’t possibly comment.