Diary of a Curious House Guest

This weekend was, of course, devoted to the children, who were out for half term, and my wife, who had her birthday, and we enjoyed a weekend in a remote country cottage in North Norfolk. There was one uncomfortable moment when my wife woke me in the middle of the night: “Can you hear scraping?” I could but thought it was rats; in the morning I identified the culprit, a mole digging right beside the cottage wall, thus amplifying the sound of its scratching up the structure. Still, it was a bit of an M.R.James moment, I have to admit (out here, no one would hear you scream).

From there we could drive to Wells and Holkham beach, including lunch at the Victoria – the girls happy as anything with a plate of mussels and chips. I was intrigued to find out that T.H.White, author of the Sword in the Stone, used to come to walk this coastline to find inspiration in it (and shoot geese).

We could also walk along footpaths from the house and glimpse the delectable Gateley Hall across the fields (the children spotting birds, alive and dead, and were fascinated by piles of sugar beet: “How do they get the sugar out?”) Sunday morning was crisp but glorious.

I also visited the remote-feeling Gateley church. This church has a remarkable 15th-century painted screen, with saints and monarchs, and two more local figures, the Mistress of Ridibowne and Sir John Schorne, a clergyman holding a boot out of which is peeping a devil – he is said to be best known for his ability to cure the gout. Needless to say I had to sneak in this particular visit before the children were up and about or could be peeled off the television.

But both are at interesting new stages of life, which us parents revel in, despite the hurdles that growing up brings, the eldest at her new secondary school suddenly seems much more able to intellectualise things and to hold her own in debates, the youngest equally alive to new ideas spent part of the weekend preparing a presentation on Vikings and I learnt something new, that “Viking” was the Scandinavian word for a pirate. She can be cheeky though, and has taken to asking me not to talk: “in your architectural historian’s voice” – whatever that may be?