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Stuck in the mud – a weekend away in the country July 14, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, Thirtynumbthing, Travel.

Deliverance, Thirtynumbthing, Blokely.comWhen Tom, an old uni friend, phoned the other week and invited me to join him, his wife and a large number of couples for a weekend away to Blo Norton Hall my immediate thought was, ‘Are they at the
swinging stage already? And how come this Norton Hall chap is getting all the attention?’

It turns out that Blo Norton Hall isn’t a sexual act, but an Elizabethan country house in Norfolk. So rest easy if you too ever get an offer to Blo Norton Hall, that is unless you know someone who knows someone called Norton Hall, then be careful because you could end up in a state rather than an estate. Get it in writing. If there is no ‘w’ you’re set for a good time rather than being the source of one.

Once the parameters of the invite were established I readily accepted. A weekend in the country would do me good: fresh air; charming, rustic inns, tranquility, nature, picture postcard England and new company, practically everything currently absent from my present existence. And not the only thing absent either:

“So.” I breezily asked my friend Tom, “who is going to be looking
after all the kids?”

“Oh, everyone is bringing their kids. There will be kids everywhere.”


There is nothing wrong with children and, although I hardly ever encounter them, there’s much to like. For starters, they are the people least likely to engage in conversation about Cheryl Cole’s love life, Fabio Capello’s team selections, the Ikea sale or the importance of an integrated marketing strategy.

In fact, other people’s kids are inexplicably drawn to me, possibly on the grounds they see someone else operating on their level. However, by my calculations the last time I would be surrounded by that many young kids was back in the infant school playground and, I might add, I was one of them.

On the Friday night everyone was arriving at Blo Norton Hall, but I was still bracing myself with a Bloody Mary at a bar in SE1, telling colleagues who asked why I wasn’t yet off to Norfolk that a ‘livener’ was a tactical necessity if I was to settle in to the rural idyll without having a panic attack.

When I arrived the kids were either sleepy or already in bed. Mission accomplished. What hadn’t been factored into the equation was the collective force of a group of thirty-something parents unleashed and unfettered. The sight of a grown man walking around with a water gun loaded with neat tequila set the tone for the weekend and it was only a matter of minutes before my mouth was very much in its crosshairs. I’d arrived thinking I was in an Evelyn Waugh novel but it quickly unraveled into Blo Norton Uncovered.

Discovering rural England

Staggering painfully into the sunlight the following morning, accompanied by a symphony of birdsong, it’s difficult to see how a hungover me decided to abandon the home comforts of my rural idyll in favour of exploring the surrounding countryside. But abandon it I did.

I recall thinking that we’d be entering a world of hay bales, Orwell’s ‘warm beer and old maids cycling to communion’, which would’ve been odd for a Saturday, I concede, or, at the very least, a country inn packed with sun burnished farmers cheerily chewing straw and talking about the harvest over ale and game pies.

Four of us decided to make the two mile walk to the nearest pub, but crossing its threshold we might as well have walked to Croydon. It served neither food nor local ales, but what it did provide was a tattooed coterie of angry looking locals whose age and gender was indiscernible beneath their leisurewear, scowling over their lager and Daily Star upon our arrival. Any attempt at interaction was drowned out by David Guetta’s Sexy Bitch. Hardly the sort of thing Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall has been peddling to gullible city dwellers for the past decade. Try foraging for Morels around here you curly-haired ponce.

Defeated, disheartened and a couple pints later the fatal decision was made to take an alternative route back through open countryside. Unlike anyone else on this break, I have absolutely no rural background or breeding. Drop me, worse for wear, in a field under the glare of the afternoon sun near a ramshackle farm and one word springs to mind: Deliverance.

The fear of a psychopath leaping from the wheat fields, though, was relieved by seeing Blo Norton Hall. Now there was just the matter of the River Ouse in our path.

“We’re going to have wade,” said Greg.

“What do you mean wade?” I demanded, “these jeans are Hugo Boss!”

As I sank crotch deep in mud and silt, it was practically impossible to save all the Guardian supplements. Family was first to be abandoned, Culture was sacrificed shortly afterwards and not even the Sport section could be saved when I fell forwards into the muddy, nettled laden banks.

There’s a certain indignity to going in search of a country pub and having to return looking not unlike Willem Dafoe in the closing scene of Platoon.

The rest of the weekend was spent firmly within the grounds and always in reach of the claret, removing the remnants of the riverbed from my pores.

When a child spotted me enjoying a contemplative moment in the sun, she gladly informed me I was going to be blasted in the face by a water gun. ‘At least,’, unlike her father, ‘it won’t be tequila,’ I thought as it forced me to re-evaluate my position on everything. My absolute unsuitability to the countryside was reaffirmed, but for the first time I realised it’s not the kids who are the problem, it’s the parents.

This post first appeared on Thirtynumbthing @blokely.com