A Morning in Diss
Our last day in Suffolk (or Norfolk, depending on where one draws the line) started with a marathon launderette stop in Diss. My first challenge (after finding a place to park!) was to find change for the washer and dryer. (The perennial problem with ATMs.) I attempted to do this by cleverly purchasing some pastries in the bakery across the road but it was so early in the morning that they had no change yet. I bought several very gooey jelly doughnuts and some cheese breadsticks anyway. The Safeway store (!) satsified me for change, but the next challenge was to acquire laundry soap -- the machine in the launderette was out of order. I didn't want to buy a whole box at Safeway. A nice woman lent me some of hers. While the clothes tumbled I took the opportunity to post a few of these blog entries and check my e-mail around the corner at the newspaper office. Afterwards I lugged the clean clothes back up the high street where, yes, another street market was taking place, with the typical produce as well as lingerie and assorted knickknacks.
Back at the Town Clerk's Cottage, Nick had filled the bathtub to the brim and was about to climb in. I pointed out that he'd better reduce the water level a tad. Finally, in a sufficient state of cleanliness, we headed east along the twisty, narrow, country roads to the coast, about 20 miles.
To the Seaside
Southport is a pleasant town, a far cry from the mega-resort of Blackpool but quite popular nonetheless. We lunched on homemade sandwiches, and Nick and Ben hired a canoe, paddling for an hour in a sort of lagoon amongst islets of weed and a good many ducks, while I wandered uptown for a look at the seafront. Bathing huts lined the promenade -- multicolored, bare, single rooms you could rent for 10 pounds a day. The beach was divided by "groynes" in various states of decay.
A regatta was taking place, many sailboats with wine-colored sails heaving past in the breeze, and crowds lined the pier with binoculars. There was even a TV newscaster there, looking snappy in a blazer. The pier was spartan but there was an arcade at its foot and a restaurant; the boys spend a few pounds on the machines, and then we strolled to the pier's end, stopping at one exhibit of arty mock vending machines, very funny, using TVs and animation (for example, a dog-walker featuring a pixillated view of Southport) , as well as very crude robotics (for example, an automatic customs agent who would frisk you).
After we spent a brief time skipping rocks on the beach, it suddenly began to rain, so we returned to the car and headed to Walberswick, just across the river by foot ferry (which I couldn't locate and someone told me wasn't operating) but a drive of several miles. By the time we got there, the sun was back out. The village was small and colorful (swinging between run-down and gussied-up). We found the foot ferry but there was now little point in taking it back to the Southport side of the river. A tiny museum pointed out that the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh had had a cottage here. And there was a bowl full of "hagstones," rocks with natural holes through them that you use for good luck. Had a nice chat with the woman at the front desk, who had a daughter living in Mercer Island, oddly enough. Dying for a cup of coffee, we were alas late again and the town was closing up at 5 PM.
So we headed inland to the town of Halesworth a few miles away, where I'd discovered that the poet and musician Martin Newell was giving a reading. We wandered "the Thoroughfare" (the pedestrianized high street) until we found the venue, a coffee shop named The Gallery, and then grabbed a pizza dinner at the nearby White Lion pub while locals stared at us. Halesworth is not exactly on the tourist track.
There was a modest crowd at The Gallery, made up of members of the local poetry society (very reminiscent of their Washington counterparts) and presided over by a very friendly, fat, ruddy, middle-aged fellow -- a bit like Holmes's Dr. Watson. Newell and a ladyfriend were there looking sedately hip. I introduced myself and mentioned I'd come all the way from Seattle to see him, which was more or less true. He and the emcee were also impressed that the kids had come to the reading. As we sat sipping our steamed milk and lattes Newell gave a very spirited two-hour recitation from a number of his books and uncollected works. Mostly these were highly formal poems, quite regional, but witty, rather like A. E. Housman crossed with Dorothy Parker.
Halfway through there was a break and I bought a couple of books and we chatted about pop music. Nick and Ben nipped outside and did not return for the second set. I didn't worry too much, given the small size of the town, and sure enough when I went out later they were seated on a bench a few feet away, surrounded by local kids, all chatting cheerfully. Apparently the kids hadn't run into any Americans before, and were asking Nick and Ben to say things like "Dude!" and talking about the differences between the US and England.
On our way home we passed Newell and his friend biking back to their lodging (he lives in Wivenhoe, near Colchester, and does not own a car). We waved them goodbye. Thus ended our stay in Suffolk. Or Norfolk.