Sunday, July 24, 2005

2d Week in July, Part 2

The Flintstones

The nights in Eye were marked by the hourly chiming of the Town Hall clock about a hundred yards up the street. Naturally the midnight chime was the most alarming but I slept fairly well till about three. Then (until I got used to it) I took hourly naps between then and six, when I dragged myself out of bed.

July 11 after the typical resuscitory sausage-egg-and-toast breakfast we motored up to Diss and took advantage of the newspaper office's Internet connection to check e-mail and post a couple of these blog entries. The boys sent a couple of messages too, but mostly wandered the town eating jam doughnuts until I emerged, at which point we set out for Thetford and the inaptly but intriguingly named Grimes' Graves.

The center of town, as with many in England, has been pedestrianized, and it was bustling, the kids having finally been released from school last Friday. We walked through town looking for a likely spot to eat, spotting several buildings that featured liberal use of flint, including a medieval church. Also spotted a statue of Thomas Paine, oddly. We finally spotted and dove into Marvella's, a humble sidestreet cafe that, as Ben remarked, was "the cheapest place we've eaten so far," which is to say the prices were within human comprehension. And it was delicious; for example, I had potato-leek soup and a BLT. By the time we'd finished, the sun was blazing. We returned to the car by way of the motorcycle dealer, which the boys had shown interest in visiting, and we spent a few minutes ogling the high-priced powerbikes and trying to interpret the thick accent of the friendly attendant, whose main gist was that the boys should really start out with a dirt bike first because it was smaller, cheaper, safer, and didn't require a license.

Getting out of Thetford was sort of like a kitten trying to get out of a sock, but we finally managed to retrace our steps and headed for the Iceni (think Boudica) flint-mine site, Grimes' Graves, which was named much later by people who didn't know the purpose of the hundreds of grassy pockmarks in a huge pasture. First off we donned hard hats (again!) and descended an iron ladder 90 feet or so into one of the mines. Basically it was a circular pit with small (I mean small) tunnels running off in several directions from the central shaft. The temperature was about 50 degrees. There were lights and you could see, if you got on hands and knees, that the tunnels led off into the distance. The whole thing (and this was just a single example) had been dug with picks made from deer antler.

After a bit we climbed back up to the sunlight and heat, and spent a short while exploring the hummocks and concavities (filled-up mine shafts) of the area, the wildflowers and shrubs, the crickets and birds.

Rich and Infamous

Jumping ahead a couple thousand years and going from the literally dirt-poor to the filthy rich, we next travelled through Bury St. Edmunds, which reportedly is a delightful town, though all we really saw of it were huge factories, to Ickford House, ancestral home of the Hervey (pronounced Harvey) family. Unfortunately we got there late enough that we only had less than an hour to tour the house, and we never made it to the gardens. We walked silently though the enormous semicircular building, being very careful not to touch any of the gorgeous furniture for fear of the ancient National Trust docents accosting us. There were a couple however who were relaxed enough to share some of the sordid Hervey history (illegitimacy, wantoness, doomed military careers etc.) with us and talk about the countless ancient books the Herveys had collected. One of the most interesting features was the fan collection of one of the ladies; the fans were pretty enough in themselves but I had not known that there was "a secret language of fans" by which a lady who was by custom not allowed to speak to male visitors could communicate by movements of the fan and the way she held it; these were documented and I unfortunately forgot to get a copy, in our rush to be gone by closing time.

We returned home and cooked dinner, and took an evening walk around town past the St. Peter and Paul Church to another portion of the Dove River, where the boys discovered a rope swing. This and the game of tossing pinecones occupied us until dark, Nick and Ben hurtling high out over the slow-moving water, over a plump bed of nettles. On the way home we gratifyingly saw a herd of rabbits in the grounds of The Old Abbey. (Forgot to mention that on our previous evening walk we'd discovered the town fen, which was a nettle-infested ferny swamp beyond the soccer field; the town seemed to be rather proud of it.)

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