Well you’ve got to have faith afaith afaith…….. bay-beeee!
Not often I start a post with a little ditty from former Wham man, George Michael, but it definitely does fit the bill for this one. Two highlights from the week in Norfolk. Both different, but both, in their very different way totally similar. Cynicism aside, I love the Broads. I love the pace of life there, the cleanliness of the pretty little villages and the polite manner of the locals. The immaculate countryside yet to be flooded with New Labour’s view of ‘sustainable’ development and the optimistic way the local councils are building dykes for all they’re worth in an effort to stop the grey and grizzled North Sea from making further inroads into the manicured Countryside.
After we had boarded the boat, it only took 20 minutes to see our first halcyon vision of the azurri – a Kingfisher, resplendent in a brilliant blue zoot suit sitting on a branch, smoking a dead fish. Five minutes later and a Marsh Harrier, a big, beefy Junkers of a bird of prey droned into view looking for unfortunate victims to flop onto…….
But these weren’t the highlights. No, the nature was great but what happened to me, a man with the word ‘cynicism’ tattooed onto my forehead – twice in two days was truly extraordinary….
We pulled into Ranworth Broad on Tuesday morning and moored at the jetty. In the distance, I could see St Helen’s parish church. I knew it was a medieval masterpiece, one of over 1,100 such ancient churches in the county of Norfolk. I’m not religious, I come from the school of thought that this life is no rehearsal. You’re born, you live, you die, you’re worm food – that all.
But I really do love the bravery of medieval architecture. The consummate confidence of building something amazing, something closer to God – and therefore guaranteeing you a first class cloud in the afterlife… Alfreda and I resolved to go over and explore.
We pushed open the 600 year-old great oak door, hard as bell metal with the patina of pilgrimage etched deep into its rough grain and stepped in.
Awesome…. what a space. What a fantastic space.
We’re all alone in this great perpendicular vault. I touched the ancient font, marble with a lining of lead. I wondered how many babies had been christened in its waters. We moved down the aisle towards the undoubted gem of the church. And there it was in all its glory. A rood screen. Not just any old rood screen – but probably the best rood screen in all of England. I was gazing down at a fantastic piece of work, made of oak with exquisite carving and utterly amazing medieval illustrations. On the other side of it were the choristers’ seats. Each one carved out of a huge hunk of oak. Each one, perfectly balanced, flipped down on hinges forged by a master blacksmith’s hand of long ago. They are all, like everything else in this architectural marvel completely original as the day they were put in. They must be 700 years old – the wood is obviously all heartwood. The trees they were hewn from were probably growing when William the Conquerer invaded in 1066 for God’s sake….
We passed the ancient wooden Lectern. Some Monk had scribbled some copperplate on the back of it – a 500 year old graffito. Next to a wall, under a glass screen we found a great book – It’s an illuminated firmament of gold leaf and latin text. This great book used 27 sheepskins to make the vellum pages. It is in such good condition, it looks like it was made last week. We ambled back towards the far end of the church, and saw a sign next to a small door that looked like it had a spiral staircase spinning upwards and away into the gloom….
‘The stairs to the top of the tower, 89 uneven steps, two wobbly ladders, a trap door to the roof and a great view…. (Climbers do so at their own risk)’….
We both looked at each other and decided that today, the spirit of Sherpa Tensing was with us. We climbed. As we went higher and higher, the spiral staircase got tighter, rougher, darker, scarier. Eventually, the stairs ran out. We were in the belfry. Right in front of us, wobbly ladder 1 – an old rickety metal job, wobbled in the wind. We clung and climbed. Another ladder, this time of the wooden variety was negotiated, and at the top of that……. The trap door.
We scrambled out and stood up. It took our breath away. The glory that is the English countryside – at least how I used to remember it rolled out before us to infinity. We could see for miles across the flat Broadlands of Norfolk.
Eventually, we descended and left the church. I was troubled, I sort of felt ‘uplifted’. Kind of ‘happy-clappy’ – and warm all over, like I’d o-deed on Ready-Brek extra strong with lashings of Christianity syrup drizzled on top.
Had it got to me….. Religion?
Had big Gee singled me out that day to receive a Christianity makeover? Was it a miracle?
I walked away from the great church… Did God exist?… Is he an Englishman?……
I needed a drink.
The rest of the day saw us exploring the landscape of the area. As the hours passed, my theological musings faded, and anyway, I had a European Cup Final to look forward to…
The following day, all we could think about was ‘the match’. Every member of the family had brought a Liverpool shirt in their holiday luggage. At 6.45pm precisely, the whole damn lot of us donned our colours and left the boat. We’d already scouted out a decent pub with a big screen and a big selection of beers a couple of days previously..
Our hostelry of choice was The Kings Head at Luddham, a sleepy pub in a sleepy village, … but not that night. That night was a night for football fans. The place was packed. To get the evening off to a flyer, we started on Hoegarten – an absolute ‘bargain’ at £3.52p per pint. The tension built, the beer flowed. I talked to a few of the other people at the bar. Sprinkled amongst the Reds were Man City, Spurs, Norwich and Villa fans.
The kick off.
A minute later we’re 1 down.
Half time arrives and stops the slaughter. The pub is stunned. We’re stunned. Our gobs are smacked. Our glasses are empty. Our spirits are at rock bottom.
Alfreda mutters something along the lines of "Well, never mind, it’s only a game"…..
Note to brain, Alfreda’s a real sweety, but bloody hell she knows bugger all about football. Must get her interested in lace making or something……
We need a miracle. No we don’t, we need a shed full… make that several sheds….
I pray. A little silent prayer to anyone that’s listening.
Just make it so it isn’t so embarrassing – please.
The second half starts – and the rest is history. The Rossoneri forget the script, forget how to kick a football and for 6 minutes play like wusses in tight skirts and stilettos.
It’s 3-3…. We’re only going to go and bloody win it, that’s all!
I looked across to my eldest Son. He’s in his early 20’s and in total shock. He looks bloody awful – as pale as Michael Jackson after he’s just fallen into a tub of chalk dust….. Like all of us, he just cannot handle the fact we’re back on level terms.
I believe. We all believe. The City fan is going ballistic. Every couple of minutes, he’s downing another pint and screaming at the red men to hold firm.
Well, they do, until a minute from the end of extra time. A whipped centre comes in from the left. It curls over Hyppia’s head and Shevchenko, the European Footballer of the Year meets it perfectly with his forehead.
Oh bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger. This bullet header has got ‘goal’ written all over it. The ball arrows at the speed of light down to Dudek’s right.
That’s it then. I’m just waiting for the net to bulge.
Miracle – he’s saved it. Somehow the ball had rebounded off Dudek’s outstretched hand.
It bounces away, hopefully to safety.
Not a chance. Ukrainian ace Shev’ is first to react. He’s onto it in a flash and smashes the ball goalbound from all of 2 yards…..
Somehow….. somehow the ball goes straight up in the air from Dudek’s outstretched glove as if powered by a Saturn 5 rocket motor……
The whole pub gasps. Did we just see that, was it possible? We’ve just witnessed the laws of physics being chucked into the bin haven’t we? Had we just witnessed a corruption of the space time continuum? Maybe Dr Who is a Liverpool fan. Looking at Dudek, he can hardly believe it either.
The penalty shootout was a formality. We watched as successive Milan players, devoid of all pretensions of coolness and superiority bottled their spot kicks.
The final save was made, the City fan went into orbit.
We sat, shell-shocked. A banging headache and nausea were my companions as Stevie Gerrard collected the cup in a blizzard of red confetti and a chorus of ‘Champ-ion-eeee, ole, ole, ole’ from the pub.
Eventually, we left. In spite of watching something amazing, I was troubled, I sort of felt just too ‘uplifted’. Kind of ‘happy-clappy’ in a ‘You’ll never walk alone’ sort of way – and warm all over, like I’d o-deed on Hoegarten extra strong…… which I had.
Had it got to me…..
Had big Stevie Gee saved the day to receive a Champions Trophy and the medal he had craved. Was it a miracle?
I walked away from the pub… shattered, exhausted, pissed.
Did God exist?
Obviously. Just look at the miracle of Dudek’s glove…
Was he an Englishman?
Definitely. But not only that, I bet he’s also a Scouser…..