This Suffolk, this is God’s country:-
custodians of the land
surveying all around.
Homesteads of Suffolk pink
rest in quiet corners,
undisturbed by intruders.
bustle with sound,
drawing villagers from all around.
Windmills now silent
stand proud against the sky,
a reminder of times gone by.
The earth lays out its bounty
in abundance and plenty.
Yellow spires of rape
dance and sway,
beckoning from far away.
Green fields flow
as far as the eye can see.
A sea of green,
pristine and clean.
Swathes of wheat
lay a golden carpet at my feet.
The beauty before me makes my heart beat,
I breathe in the air so very, very, sweet.
Trees gently arching,
provide a canopy of shade,
a cool retreat
from the intense heat.
My heart takes flight
free as a kite
into the light so bright.
My senses heighten,
my soul lightens.
Time slips by,
as if in a dream
I awake and give thanks for
the peace, of this secret place,
unspoilt by life’s modern pace.
This Suffolk, this is, my England.
Bedside the seaside, beside the sea!
It is near the end of the summer holidays, everything is hot and dusty. Pony Club camp, competitions, birthday parties, visits from cousins have come and gone, Sally and Emma are bored.
“We need to do something ‘fun’ ” announced Sally.
“What about the beach?” suggested Emma. They both turn and look at me, the fount of all wisdom, possibilities and cash.
“Shall we go to Dunwich, have fish and chips and a swim” I say, (so that I won’t have to cook lunch).
“Excellent idea, Mum” says Sally.
“Well it would be a good idea Aunty Anne,” says Emma “except for one thing: we don’t have buckets and spades”.
“Well,” I say, feeling reckless, “we could stop off in Halesworth, go to the toy shop, buy some and then set off for the beach”. I am the recipient of enthusiastic hugs. An hour later after making lunch for the rest of the family who are engaged in busy harvest occupations, we set off.
We arrive in Halesworth shoppers car park. Sally and Emma get out. They look at me expectantly as I delve into my pink leather purse. I don’t appear to have much change and so am forced to give them a £5 note (this is 1985) but feel that I can rely on their common sense not to spend it all as I will need to buy 3 plates of fish and chips not to mention ice cream cones with chocolate flakes. Big mistake! 15 minutes later they arrive back at the car with big smiles and an even bigger plastic bag.
“Look what we’ve got!” they chorus as they unpack the contents onto the back seat of the car.
This takes some time. They have purchased two large green spades, two substantial pink buckets, six moulds in various colours, a blue bucket shaped like a castle and a set of implements which would have pleased the average sculptor.
After the initial shock had passed I said hopefully “Where is my change?”
“Change? “ said Sally looking amused
“What change!” smiles Emma.
“Do you mean to say that you spent all of it?” I ask.
“Yes, the man said that it is the best bucket and spade set in his shop!!. Aren’t we lucky!”
After these cheerful revelations we set off on the road to Dunwich and half an hour later arrive in the beach car park. We leave the car close to the fisherman’s hut which serves as a cafe and dispenses fish, chips and ice cream to hungry visitors. The girls meanwhile unpack towels, rugs, buckets and spades and head for the seashore.
We spend a happy morning swimming and making spectacular sand castles with the new and very expensive bucket set. I must admit it is very fine. At 12.30 I start to feel hungry and after a quick look in my purse decide that I have sufficient funds to purchase fish and chips and three cornets with a chocolate flake. We pack all our stuff in the car and enter the cafe where we order lunch, find a table and sit down to wait for our name to be called out. The cafe is busy. Our table is set with cutlery, glasses, salt, pepper and sachets of the tomato sauce and there are people sitting both sides of us waiting patiently for their plaice and chips. The friendly looking people in front of us are just leaving the unfriendly looking people behind us are just being served.
Unfortunately Sally is very hungry. She is not patient and so to pass the time she picks up a sachet of tomato sauce and squeezes it. Continuously. I say “Sally, don’t do that.”
Emma also tells her to stop squeezing. Glaring at us both she reluctantly leaves it alone. Fortunately our name is called so we put up our hands and the waitress brings us three steaming platefuls of plaice and chips. We dispense salt and pepper and tuck in. Sally reaches for the tomato sauce. Disaster strikes. Her fingers make a final squeeze and the red contents explode in all directions. Emma and I grab paper napkins and wipe the table, Emma’s chair and the chair behind me which has been liberally splattered with the tomato liquid.
“Now look what you’ve done!” we say crossly. Sally tries not to laugh. Then we all get the giggles and are frowned at by the couple sitting behind me.
We finish our lunch simultaneously and graciously allow them to leave first. As they reach the door the girls and I look up and see to our complete horror that the man’s hitherto pristine pale blue shirt is covered in tomato sauce all down his back.
I hiss “Car!” to the girls as with great presence of mind they whizz under table, around the chairs and out of the door.
As we exit the cafe I look to my right and see the man and his wife standing near the ice cream kiosk. I watch transfixed as I see him pulling at his shirt. His hands are covered in red sticky stuff whilst he twirls and dances in and out of the ice cream customers queue. Sally, Emma and I reach the car at the same time having done an olympic sprint in our flip flops.
They leap in and hide on the floor whilst I turn the ignition on and beat a hasty retreat out of the car park as Sally asks “Can we have an ice cream Mum?”
“Tomorrow” I shout before we all collapse into hysterical laughter.
I touch his cool, yellow cheek
Sunken in life,
Replicated here in alabaster.
Was his nose always crooked and broken?
Perhaps, like his fingers, it had been hewn
By visitors to this enclosed country church.
Five hundred years of lying here.
His smooth, noble body peppered with scratches and names,
Blanketed with carvings belying
His authority, his royalty, his power.
1672. 1905. Shocking me, 1979
Chiselled into the translucent gypsum.
Two hundred years ago
‘Robert Girling – Linstead Magna’
Took pride or comfort in tattooing the thigh of
John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.
The signature at odds with the buckles, garter,
Rings and chain mail.
The defeated Saracen’s head as a pillow.
A ray of sun soothes through the stained window,
Slips over the altar and softens
The pure cream effigy of Elizabeth Plantagenet,
Sister of Edward IV and Richard III,
Wife of John de la Pole.
Silent behind her husband,
No graffiti bruises her status.
She remains in perfection.
Delicate sculpting of embroidery, drapes of cloth.
A tiny baby’s hand under her head
As white and polished as her peaceful mother.
A fly buzzes; birdsong echoes around the church,
A lawnmower begins its butchering outside.
John, damaged, jaundiced, reduced to the fame of others.
Elizabeth, smiling, serene, stoic.
The clock chimes the next hour.
Well, there’s the North Folk and there’s the South Folk, and the North Folk pride themselves on ‘doing different’. Mind you, I think they just mean they’re independent-minded, and they certainly don’t have a monopoly on that, do they? Plenty of single-minded Suffolk residents, aren’t there? Go on, humour me – they’re around in droves, or of course they might be in lokes, or drifts or something. All names of cattle herding lanes.
Plus they pull their punches. Yes, they do, promise. And I’m not talking about those lawn mowers, which admittedly come from Ipswich. There’s this top class club and society specially for preservation purposes. For preserving punches. No, I am not kidding. Suffolk Punches, capital S and P, are on the endangered list, so they have their own Club. Well, the equine equivalent – yep, they’re chestnut horses, and you can go and meet some; brilliant farm workers, and helped in the war. Highly recommended, the whole enterprise; better than re-introducing sea eagles and lynxes. Punches are friends to, er, humans – was just going to say ‘friends of Man’, but I’m not allowed, am I?
Have you had a look at the Orwell Bridge yet? Takes you over the Stour. You should head for the Shotley Peninsula – designated AONB, by the way, and you can’t miss the bridge; engineering marvel and a really worthwhile sight, especially if you’re either heading energetically for the nearby dry ski slope, or lazily headed for a coffee or more at the Suffolk Food Hall. Their Red Poll cattle, lucky beasts, live with a fabulous view of the bridge, the water, the boats, even a restored wherry – chunky item with red-brown sails that’s been around for over a century, you know?
When you get to the end of the peninsula you’re looking at immense cranes hooked on the horizon in the UK’s biggest container ship seaport – Felixstowe. Eighth biggest in Europe. We need it, you know, and it’ll still be there after Brexit, mark my words!
Has the 7th century ever grabbed you? Go to Sutton Hoo where King Raedwald’s buried. Orford Ness, on the other hand, housed secret weapons testing from 1913 up to the 80s right by the river.
Now, got to ask you – ever heard of crinkle crankle walls? Well, look out for them in Eye and elsewhere; soft pinky red brick; they’re built kind of wavy instead of a flat straight line. Practical and elegant.
And pargeting? No? Ok, decorative plasterwork, sometimes painted, on the outside walls of old houses. Can take the form of individual items of flora or fauna or could be a fairly detailed scene – like a whole village green in raised plaster instead of, say, flat paint. You get them pretty randomly.
Wool Towns? They’re named because that’s where their original wealth came from. Which neatly lets me beg you to go to Lavenham – probably the best preserved and most stunning of them.
List as long as your arm of villages to see, walks and cycle rides to take, quiet woods to revel in, plus beaches to die for – stroll along specifically at dawn because you’re on the east coast, aren’t you?
That’s not an exhaustive list, of course. Oh well, all right, all right, only saying.
Go! Go! Go! Celebrate Suffolk!
A Cherished Memory
‘Let’s go to the County Show. Make a day of it,’ he said.
Though the sight of him in uniform was screaming in my head.
I told myself, be happy, though my heart was filled with lead,
Make this a cherished memory, don’t cry, lets laugh instead.
The Suffolk Show was buzzing with music in the air.
Everyone was friendly, taking in the annual fair.
Country dancing children, laughing having fun,
Horses, brushed and decked in ribbons, tack gleaming in the sun.
Craft stalls, demonstrations, tractors, sheep and dogs,
A great steam traction engine with chainsaw cutting logs.
We walked around for hours, enjoying all the sights,
Excited by the ‘Birds of Prey’ large owls, hawks and kites.
We went into a tent, with chickens, caged by type,
The noise was quite alarming, the smell extremely ripe.
A young boy pushed a stick at them, prodding them to peck,
His reply when he was challenged was a shrug and ‘What the heck?’
A woman pushed him roughly then cuffed him round the neck.
We found a place where we could sit, set our blanket on the ground.
We ate our humble picnic, chatting people all around
Wishing this could last forever, thinking only of today.
Trying to keep a troubled world a million miles away.
As the sun began to sink in the cloudless summer sky,
We packed up all our trinkets and said a last goodbye.
I would go on my way, and he would catch his train;
He was going off to war, and I’d not see him again.
It is twenty two years since I brought my family to Suffolk and what a contrast it was. We had lived in Yorkshire and my children and I were born there. My wife was born in Nottinghamshire but lived most of her childhood in Yorkshire. I wouldn’t like to judge either county since they each have their own facets. Of course Yorkshire is a much bigger county than Suffolk and is split up into North, East, South and West. We lived in various areas of Yorkshire and all were different, whilst in Suffolk there is consistency.
What surprised me when we moved into the village of Stradbroke were the numerous villages nearby. All seem to have a church and many have old houses going back to the middle ages. The countryside has flat areas with gentle slopes where small rivers and streams work their way through eventually leading to the sea. It was so different, entering into this tranquil county.
The difference can be seen by going back in time into the cities and towns which I lived in as a boy, when I was married and when we had two children. I was born in Bradford in a terraced house built in stone and at the bottom of the street there was a mill with a tall chimney which belched out smoke as did most of the houses when the weather was cold. The city was full of mill chimneys and it was no surprise that fog was frequent. The industrial revolution had turned this area from villages to cities built on coal and industry. However the mills diminished in the seventies with competition from abroad, but other industries took over and in doing so the city lost its character, unlike Suffolk.
After going to university I married and my wife and I moved to Barnsley, then a mining town. Like Bradford it was a city on hills and with similar terraced houses and industry. We initially lived within the city but moved out after a few years and lived in a ‘village’ which was growing at a pace with new builds, changing the character. The village was not far from Grimethorpe which had a colliery. Both villages had grown with the coal industry but once again it was not the best place to be in when we were starting a family and the coal industry was in trouble. Again like Bradford Barnsley has had to re-define itself, once again unlike Suffolk.
Our next move was to Knaresborough in North Yorkshire but still not far from Leeds and Bradford. Yet it was not far from the countryside. It was a pleasant town to live in but its history brought in the tourists who came to see the remnant of the castle, the gorge that the river ran through and Mother Shipton’s cave. It did get busy in the summer months and the population of the town increased as housing estates built on the outskirts where people could commute into the cities where jobs were. Suffolk has been lucky, towns and villages haven’t grown too much yet.
A job change then took us to Bridlington for a few years. This seaside resort built in Victorian times and the early twentieth century had declined in the seventies and eighties but was trying to make a comeback. In Suffolk there doesn’t seem to have been a decline at seaside resorts, the likes of Southwold and Aldeburgh have kept their character and still have crowds visiting.
Suffolk still has its character much of which can take you back into the middle ages, but there is a hint that improved roads are starting to have an effect, bringing people to live here and also business. Let us hope they don’t make the changes I have seen in Yorkshire. Fortunately Yorkshire still has huge protected open areas. Suffolk with its smaller size should take care to ensure it does not spoil its wonderful countryside.
RANTI’S FINAL FLING
A passing glance at his Trophy was usually enough to trigger John back to a surprise moment during a charity trek in the highlands of New Guinea. The dense patch of jungle had opened onto regimented lines of oil palms sweeping into the cloud base, when something small and very bright jumped onto his hiking stick and mated with it.
‘Ah! Rantis Pollinatus; he very rare.’ Juno the guide was excited. ‘You wait. He soon drop off and go to sleep.’
‘But why my stick?’
Juno shrugged. ‘He has, how you say: ‘wide orientation’?’
The creature slid down the stick and curled up on the ground foliage. Juno picked it up together with some of the foliage. ‘He our cross pollinator – very special.’
‘OK, so he’s just pollinated my stick, what’s special about that?
‘He pollinate what he fancy. Juno indicated patches of brilliant multi-coloured flowers. ‘He pollinate those better than bees.’ A hint of sadness entered his voice. ‘But not for long.’ He swept his hand upwards to the oil palms, then back to the jungle. ‘Soon they take his home’
They looked at the creature. Clearly exhausted, its bright red tongue protruded from a head sparkling with purple and green scales glittering down to a tiger striped tail. In a flash of inspiration John thought: ‘Suffolk Garden Competition,’ and with Juno’s permission, popped the creature into his lunch box, chancing that his hand luggage would pass unchallenged through Heathrow Airport.
Customs was cleared without a hitch, and once on the underground, a peek inside the lunchbox confirmed that all was well with Ranti. Immediately on arrival home John arranged luxury accommodation and spinach, to ensure that Ranti would be fully charged and working exclusively towards success in the Suffolk Garden Competition. This time John wasn’t going to miss a trick. Stones would be painted and polished; he would have a cache of hungry bees to be let out just as the judges arrived, and plots would be randomly splashed over with blossomy perfume. Nothing short of a swarm of locusts was going to stop his hands closing over the silver handles of that Trophy.
Carefully lowering Ranti into his temperature controlled cold frame, John added handfuls of spinach to different locations in the garden, and crossed fingers for spring and Ranti to do their thing.
By early summer, many of the blooms were already displaying unusual features. Rising from the clump of alliums were the beginnings of purple dabbled curly stigmas, and the stalks of chrysanthemums had thickened to red and white spirals like barbers’ poles. Neither were Ranti’s activities confined to the flower patches. Gorgeous roses sprouted from the lines of runner beans in the vegetable plot, matched only by a giant orange cabbage.
These early signs of razzmatazz among the blossoms had also encouraged wildlife. Excited chirrupings were soon filling the air, and by mid spring, birds were seriously parenting inside John’s gold leaf embossed bird boxes.
From the moment of his arrival Ranti had displayed a work ethic which would have been the envy of any employer, yet he always conveyed extreme satisfaction whenever John peeked at him sleeping in the cold frame. It was during those balmy evenings of early summer that John would tour the garden to check progress before joining his wife and a bottle of Merlot at the patio table. Reassured that Ranti had assumed the role of security guard on top of his other duties, they would settle into quiet conversation, punctuated every so often by the startled squawk of a pigeon or surprised yowl of a cat.
And so the big day arrived.
Under threat of a visual technology ban, their two children were instructed to become garden gnomes and sit motionless on two boulders until the judges arrived. Only then would they rise and offer their services as guides.
Taken aback by the extraordinary blooms shimmering before them, the judges’ incredulity racked up several more notches when they arrived at the vegetable patch. ‘I’ve never come across purple banded celery!’ exclaimed a stooping judge ‘…there’s nothing like it at Kew.’
‘And I saw nothing like this at Chelsea!’ announced the lady judge before the rose bedecked runner beans. ‘Or this.’ added the third kneeling before a pink marrow.
Visibly impressed, the judges nodded favourably to each other over clipboards, then joined the gnomes for tea and cake at the patio table during a colourful display of aerobatics performed for them by a squadron of mauve and yellow fledglings.
Thanks and goodbyes were exchanged at the garden gate, and as the judges walked over to their cars someone said:
‘We’ll get nothing like this in Stradbroke.’
As summer matured, Ranti spent more time in his cold frame, and the squawks and squeaks from the flowerbed became less frequent, until in mid August, John and his family stood before a tiny memorial
facing in the direction of New Guinea.
His daughter laid a small wreath she had fashioned from spinach.
‘Do you think he was lonely here?’
‘Never,’ assured John. ‘He was still smiling when I picked him up.’
From the fence opposite, a ridiculously coloured pigeon dipped its head in reverence, while far away in New Guinea Juno shook his head in despair at the smoking remains of Ranti’s jungle home.
With August, and a council ban on hosepipes, Blossoms faded, and roses dropped from the runner beans. So it was a pleasant surprise to have Ranti’s legacy doubly confirmed as a neighbour’s cat curled up on the patio one evening with her sky blue kittens.
A Suffolk hare lopes to the brow,
pale trodden shoots spring back through breckland sand,
Spring breezes on, and farther east, beyond the flake-bark pines,
fat hedgerows hang cascades of hawthorn snow
to tempt green hogweed’s mounting creamy crowns.
He stretches from his crouch, our hare, tall ears alert
and muscles toned to sprint, but all is calm.
Now bearded wheat and startling rape squares patch the rumpled land,
these fields not folded hard, or rolling mile on mile,
but rising soft and proud from secret streams.
Grand chandeliers, the old horse chestnuts tower up,
bright marvel every spring,
while oaks sprout flowers and baby leaves,
to cover gnarled and twisted limbs.
The placid flint-starred towers of ancient churches peg the way
past pink and ochre rendered walls, black barns and fat-thatched farms,
by crooked lanes toward the heath and sea.
A Suffolk skylark, chortling up from beet-hid bowl
might spy a windmill as she trills, spot pigs in arcs,
or catch the white of waves that slap the beach.
Bold breakers hiss the shingle into banks,
and lap soft cliffs to mould and scour the land.
This wind spins bright steel orchards, staked out in the sea,
but ruffles soft emerging leaf and carries pollen ear to grassy ear.
Our breeze blows Spring to Summer, wafts May into June,
and breathes its zest into this Suffolk life.