Broadly Speaking Cromer, norfolk, 21 october 2008

The Norfolk broads. That's where you find us now.

Cockshoot Broad in Norfolk is a protected nature reserve

We left you in the mountains of Montana. By the time we reached New York in late August, Chris's shoes had worn out. This is what happens when you live without a car. Geoff had already ditched his boots for a new pair back in (old) York. So one of our rare shopping expeditions was in order. It started in Manhattan, USA, and finished in Norfolk, UK. Chris found her walking shoes in Fifth Avenue and her walking boots, which almost match Geoff's brand-new shiny ones, in downtown Norwich. Geoff's search for the perfect sock continues.

The Big Apple in the Big Apple

The highlight of our three days in Manhattan was going to a production of Hair in Central Park with four elderly, but very much young-at-heart women from the local Methodist Church. What better way to round off the WSCF Montreal conference, which had also revisited the heady and painful days of the 1960s. Ken, our friend and host in New York, arranged for us to stay at Alma Mathews House in Greenwich Village. A brownstone building that once housed young immigrant girls, this Methodist guest house was now a haven for us in the big city. It was also over the road from a bakery that attracts long queues late into the night to buy its famous cupcakes.

There was a downside to New York. It was the first place where Chris failed to spot a bird not yet on her list. It was also where we learnt that American Airlines had decided to cancel our onward flight to Stansted and put us on a plane to Heathrow instead. This was not where we wanted to go. But after some hasty rearrangements, a crawl through New York traffic past the US Open to the JFK terminal, a delayed flight, a rush to catch a bus from Heathrow to Stansted, and a train journey through Cambridgeshire, we gratefully found our next bed in a B&B overlooking the River Ouse in slow, peaceful Ely. The cathedral was the pivot of our days there. We sat in it for worship, walked around it on our daily expeditions to town, ate in its garden cafe, and climbed up its octagonal tower where we gazed out to the fens and down to the nave below. All in all, it helped us adjust to British time and ways again.

An udder-side view of the fens around Ely, taken from the River Ouse
Geoff and other saints and angels gaze from the octagonal lantern tower of Ely Cathedral

Now we are putting our roots down again, this time in the old-time seaside town of Cromer. We are house-sitting for friends Philip and Audrey while they visit Australia. Right now, they are in our Canberra house with the possums and parrots. Here we look out on a magnificent vegetable garden dripping with tomatoes and visited by gold finches. Weather-wise, it's touch and go who gets the better deal. After a soggy start, we've had four days straight of sunny weather right out of the box.

Cromer is your quintessential old English seaside town with a pier, complete with a theatre. That's where we went to celebrate Chris's birthday. It was the matinee and it seemed all the owners of walking sticks within a hundred-mile radius were there. This helped Chris feel quite young after all. It was good old-fashioned fun topped off by the theatre full of oldies singing happy birthday to Chris. We can only speculate that the box office must have told the MC. The other event we witnessed on the pier was the Duke of Kent dedicating a new lifeboat whose crew then "rescued" volunteers who just happened to fall into the North Sea.

The Duke of Kent (fourth from the left) and lifeguards on the Cromer Pier

Sue, an Australian friend now a Londoner, visited us while she was recovering from organising the Lambeth conference. We set off in Philip and Audrey's car to investigate the marshes and ended up in the pilgrim village of Little Walsingham. As we sipped our coffee in the church cafe there, we eavesdropped on conversations about Anglican church politics from a neighbouring table. A buswoman's holiday for Sue?

Emboldened by this good day's driving practice, the two of us have since navigated more narrow roads bordered by flint cottages and hedges. A highlight was a day spent in Wroxham, namesake of Geoff's former East Gippsland property.

The church at Wroxham. It is the home of both the Church of England and United Reformed Church congregations (just like Hackett). It is called the "hidden church" as you have to search for it. The URC man on the cleaning roster showed us around. Wroxham has a twin village, Hoveton, just over the bridge, where Roys of Wroxham ("the largest village shop in the world") own every shop in sight

Wroxham is the capital of the Norfolk broads, a flat land of waterways, fields and thickly vegetated marshes. Geoff's pedometer clocked up double figures that day as we explored nature reserves and watched holiday boats drift around. It's the first time we've seen an ice-cream boat peddling its wares. Chris couldn't resist. She did resist, for a while, climbing the church tower at Ranworth. Steps—OK—but two ladders and a trap door?! With a bit of cajoling, we both made it and were rewarded with a magnificent view over the broads.

Chris (in new boots) purchasing her strawberry ice-cream cone with a flake at Salhouse Broad

So, broadly speaking, that's what we've been up to.

Oh, by the way, we've been invited back for more house-sitting in Edinburgh. So you'll have to put up with these epistles right through to next March. Though we might go into hibernation for the winter while Chris returns to her writing project and Geoff hones his photography skills.

And the bird list is growing again, not to mention the photo albums.

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