Thursday, 30 July 2009

Hanse Festival 2009 the “Lisa Von Lubeck” arrives

I’d read in the paper that the replica of a 14th century trading ship - the Lisa Von Lubeck - was coming into the Boal Quay at around 2pm today, so was getting ready to go along and watch it. Just before 1 as I was sitting here doing e-mail, I heard a loud BOOM!!!! from outside. Whatever you may hear, this is not normal in King’s Lynn, and I look over and see that the crowds were beginning to gather along the Quay side. So I decide to finish what I’m doing and go out and see what’s up - and then I hear another loud BOOM - and there is this boat on the river just outside my door firing its cannon!!

I grab a couple of snaps and rush out my door - by the time I get outside and to the quayside it’s passed me, but I still get a pretty cool view of it sailing along. As it approaches Boal Quay it turns across the stream to reverse into its mooring spot and I get a few good shots of the boat - the thing that really stands out for me is the way the front and back - the bow and stern I suppose I should say - are high, but the mid section is very low in the water. There are three masts and on the central and forward ones are huge lookouts that really seem like something out of a pirate movie! The boat is obviously travelling under power, although I can’t hear anything of the motors, and as it comes in to dock it’s cannons BOOM once more. There are sailors dressed in red period costume on the bow but I don’t get too good a view of them.

There are crowds on this side of the river, and more on the other, and some of the children appear to be scared of the cannon, and others just want to know when they can go sail on it! I walk along to Boal Quay where it is being moored, and look back along to South Quay - I don’t recall ever seeing this many people here before! The Lisa Von Lubeck has been followed by 2 tugs, and these now speed off down stream and people start to disperse. There is an awning being put up down by the warehouse, and it looks like this is going to be some sort of kitchen by the equipment being put in.

The day has been cloudy and in the distance we can see rain falling and it looks like its moving this way, so, since I rushed out without my umbrella or a coat, I hurry back inside. Just in time as it soon starts to thunder and rain, and the wind is really strong again. It’s sobering to think that boats like that used to be arriving and departing from this Quay that I live on every day of the week and setting out for far distant lands. What is now a quiet riverside backwater was then the centre of trade and commerce, and King’s Lynn grew rich on that influence.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Whales, boats and cows.

It’s a cloudy day, but the forecast was that there wouldn’t be rain, so I went out for a bike ride - one of my normal routes along the river bank to Saddlebow and back which is mostly on cycle paths, and only goes on a few country roads.

I cycle to Boal Quay and as I turn the corner I see a whale on the bit of green in front of me! No, it’s OK I’ve not been on the funny mushrooms - it really is a whale - well, a “model” of one about six feet long. At first I think it’s topiary, but I see that it’s actually a solid construction, with some sort of green covering over it. Then as I cycle along the road there is one on the green next to the garage, and another on the area opposite that. No signage that I could see saying *why* these had suddenly appeared - maybe it’s to do with the Hanse Festival next week? Well, more may (or may not) be revealed.

Soon I’m onto the riverside path, and going towards something I’ve seen in the distance from the quay - I took it that it was some sort of structure, although it did look a bit like the mast of a boat. It is fairly low tide now, and I can see what it is - it IS the mast of a boat, and I can see a part of the roof of the wheel house too. One more unexplained sighting, but at least I understand what I was seeing from the distance now.

The cycle path goes along on top of the dyke built to contain the river, and the part right outside the town is a sloping grass bank into the water. As one goes further out of town, and under the road bridge, the path is still up high, but there is a slope down to a flat grass area, before going down further to the mud banks and the water. As it happens, last night around the time of the high tide I came over that road bridge, and it looked to me like the water was higher than normal, and that it had come onto the grassed area. As I peddle along this part of the river, I see that my thoughts were right - there are still pools of water down there in places, and out by the paper mill - where the grass has been cleared - you can see the “high water” mark. I’ve only lived by the river for 6 months, but this is the highest I’ve seen the water rise, and shows that the defences are doing just what they were intended to do!

Along on the other bank, there are cattle grazing, and as I watch, one of them starts to walk off the grassed area, down the mud bank, and proceeds to drink from the river. Soon there are 5 or 6 cattle all drinking there, and I wonder if this is normal behaviour for cattle - and if there is a danger that they won’t be able to get back up the mud bank.

I carry on past the power station and out onto the country road to the village of Saddlebow. I don’t have any particular reason for stopping there, but it’s about a 30 minute ride, so it’s just a nice round trip. I stop the other side of the village, look up at the sky, and decide that the dark cloud up there may bring rain, so I turn around to go back home. First though, I clean my glasses and wipe my face - cycling through this area I always get hit by small flying insects: luckily, I learned early on NOT to have my mouth open as I cycle!!

Going back over the Ouse relief channel, I hear the noise of a motorboat - and see that there is a water skier out there - I guess this is a nice piece of still water to practice on. On my ride back I’m relieved to see the cows have safely made it back up to the grass land. Suddenly ahead I see the outline of a bird that is not one of the seagulls or doves I see all the time. I stop to watch, and am fairly sure it’s a Kestral as it hovers and swoops in the wind!

And so home - not an eventful ride, but an interesting one:)

Thursday, 9 July 2009

An anniversary of sorts

A year ago I arrived in King’s Lynn. It was the first time I’d ever been here.

Arriving by train you come along mile after mile of farmland - I remember thinking it was really flat around here, but that was what I was expecting to see. Having been out in the Fens now, I know that this area is not anywhere near as flat as that, but that was my impression from the train. All the way along on the journey I was sitting and watching the automated announcement tick off the stations till I arrived - the long fast stretch to Cambridge, then Waterbeach, Ely, Littleport. Downham Market, Wattlington, and then “King’s Lynn where this service will terminate”.

I strapped on my back pack, and started pulling my suitcase. This morning I walked back to the station and re-traced my steps - across the road and to Paradise Parade - what a nice name I thought when I saw it on the map. In fact it’s a service road for the backs of the shops, but it was the route I’d worked out. I remember walking into new Conduit Street, not knowing what to expect really, and finding it was pedestrians only, and quite busy - oh yea - and the brick paving made an interesting tempo as I pulled my suitcase along. I do remember seeing the sign for Tuesday Market place and turning into High Street, but today when I went that way it was obstructed by the tree there - guess that must have grown more in the last year!

Along High Street into Tuesday Market Place, and the hotel I’d booked into is on my right - the stage was set up for Festival Too, just as it is today - but I remember more flowers than I see now - is my memory tricking me? Or maybe those were unusual, or at least not repeated this year. I didn’t go into the Hotel today, but I remember my room - 1st floor, view of the side street. And I’m sure that after I dropped my bags I went down to look at the river - the Great Ouse that I’ve got to know so well this last year.

I spent the next week or so looking for somewhere to rent - moved to the hotel across Tuesday Market Place to cut down on the costs, and had moved into my first tiny flat before the end of the month.

A year - wow - in a way it seems like the blink of an eye - in a way this is somewhere so familiar now, that it’s a kind of home - it’s certainly somewhere I feel comfortable in, and I’m grateful that it made me feel welcome.

As for the year ahead, who knows where that is going to lead me?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Festival Too - blast from the past

All week it’s been hot and sunny, but Saturday morning I wake to pouring rain - not a promising start to a day with an outdoor concert planned! I have some chores to do around the house so quickly get those out the way, and spend some time in the garden. There is mint growing outside the back gate, and each time I take my bike in and out the tires go through it - very fragrant, it’s true - but I think it’s time I cut this back, so I do this and trim a few bushes too while I’m at it.

It’s mid afternoon by the time I leave the cottage and head into town for some shopping, and by this time it’s dry and warm, although not the “heat wave” temperatures we had last week. My little place by the river is quiet, but as soon as I hit town I see that it’s really busy here today. As I walk through the High Street I hear fairground organ music, and then there on the corner is the organ itself. Next to it is a booth set up for a puppet show, although there is not a performance going on as I pass. Then there is sign that this vendor is selling rats - I’m relieved to see these are the joke plastic kind on a lead.

Round the corner towards the store I’m going to, and there is another puppet booth set up, this one in mid show and a group of youngsters watching the story of the three little pigs. Do modern children - with their diet of TV animation and real life drama, still get caught up in puppet shows, I wonder? Well it seems they do from the squeals and shouts from the audience.

The town is really crowded, and I start to get a bit annoyed at not being able to walk in a straight line - I guess this shows I’m getting used to living in a small town where there are not normally lots of people! I do stop and get some more local strawberries, before heading back to my own quiet area.

Later I head out again, and first I made a stop at Wenns, and a couple of drinks with my buddies there. They have a band tonight as well, who are starting to warm up as I leave to head out to Saturday Market Place. I get there just before tonight’s big act - the Bay City Rollers - are due on stage and the square is already quite full of people of all ages. Round the outside of the market place are some fast food stands, a helter-skelter, and a “ghost train” type of ride - but most eyes are on the stage as the Rollers are announced. To be fair, it is stated that it’s just one of the original group, but they will be playing the groups hits from the 70’s.

I wonder in and out the people milling in the centre of the square, and get up fairly close to the front - close enough to where the people are waving their tartan scarves in the air and dancing and singing along. There was a time when I wouldn’t have been seen dead in such a crowd, but nowadays I’m less concerned about how I look, and more about having some fun!

The crowd is good natured and very mixed in ages - some of these, like me, will remember the group from the first time around - many it seems had seen them live back in their heyday. But there are a good proportion of teens and early 20’s here too, who would not even have been born when the original Rollers were around. I stop first to the right of the stage and not too far away from the front, put down my bag and take out a cool can, and start to enjoy the experience. I notice a colleague from the store I work in and we acknowledge each other, although it’s too noisy and crowded to actually talk.

After a while I move across to the left and get somewhat closer to the stage - here the fans are even more fun - bopping and singing along to the music. As the current tune stops, one guy gives me a high five - for no apparent reason apart from shear excitement!! Two people in particular really seem to be getting into their dancing, and I become aware that a space is forming around them to give them room to jive and do their gyrations. Soon it is almost as much fun watching them as it is the stage!!

The band wind up their set, and we do the expected shouting, and they come back for one more number, a real rock and roll one that I for one really like, and then it’s all done. Turning round, it’s apparent that lots more people arrived after me as the market place is really full. However, it doesn’t take long for us to be heading our different ways, and I join the throng going towards the Quay, where a number of people are parked.

Turning into my gate, I stop for a moment to look at the nearly full moon, and listen to the silence - this is one cool place to live.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Too One - Fireworks

Last Saturday was the start of Festival Too here in Lynn, with the first free concert and the opening fireworks on the riverbank.

Actually all day there had been street entertainers in Lynn itself - we have our regular, day in day out players - “Juggling Jim”, the guitar player, the flautist, plus those who come out only at weekends - the folk singer and the Mexican trio. But for Festival Too these are joined by more players, aimed more at families - well, at keeping the children entertained. I’d been working so hit the streets of The Vancouver Centre at 2pm on my way home, and there was a definite carnival atmosphere in the air - more people than normal, and I saw a clown and a real juggler, but frankly, after an eight hour shift in the store, I just wanted to get home and changed and have a rest!

But when I got home I saw that metal barriers had been put along the quay side, so after changing into something more casual, I went out to investigate. I live just inside the flood defences (actually, it’s the front garden wall of these properties!) and then there is a small one way street, parking spaces, and then a path, before you get to the water’s edge. All the way along the water’s edge is now a line of waist-high barriers - the type you see used to line the route of a parade or something like that. I follow this all along the bank to King’s Stathe Square, where the Purfleet joins the Great Ouse. Here there is a hive of activity, with awnings being out up, burger vans being set up, and all kinds of vendors getting ready to - hopefully - sell their wares to the public. This promises to be at least interesting, so I go back home to have a rest before it all starts.

So it was later that evening that I set out again, and first I visited Wenns, were I got into conversation with a couple of the regulars and the new landlord about the Festival, the Fireworks and all that. Seems that last year the fireworks were washed out by the weather, and there had been occasions when it was foggy and one could only hear, not see them. I looked at the weather - it had clouded over and there had been a few spots of rain earlier, but it looked as if it was set to be a fair evening. I mentioned seeing the barriers along the river side, and this lead to one of those exchanges that can only happen in a small town. My friend I was talking with said that maybe it was because a certain person was back in town. I was about to ask what this was about, when a voice from the other end of the bar said What? Is SHE back? Seems there was a lady who quite notorious in these parts for throwing herself into the river at every opportunity - she’d been rescued a number of times - once by the Lynn Ferry as it went back and forth - but she’d moved away and not been seen for a few years. We talked about this and other characters of Lynn life for some time, every so often coming back to the festival, and the acts that had appeared in the past.

But soon it was time to move on, and I walked out and along to the Quay, where there were many more people walking about than normal. The road had been closed off to traffic, and as I approached King’s Stathe Square I could hear the sound of the band. They were called Mister Pink - more a genre band than anything - they played rock classics, and also some of their own music. They are fun, and are a good set of performers who don’t take themselves too seriously, but do take the performance seriously - a good balancing act to do. It’s getting towards dusk as they play, and they are in an enclosed stage area with their backs to the river - so they can’t see what we the audience can - a group of 4 micro-lights come into sight following the river, and start circling and generally showing off for the crowd. This is not part of the festival - just one of those random happenings that is “normal for Norfolk”.

There are a good few people in the square, and the vendors are doing a brisk trade. Over at the wine bar that is on the Square they have a barbecue going, which is doing a brisk trade, and judging by the glasses I see around, their bar is also doing well! For myself I cheat - I walk the few minutes back to my cottage, collect a couple of cold cans from my fridge, and go back to rejoin the crowd, having also used the bathroom. This is one big difference I see about events like this in the UK and my experience of them in the US - in the States, there are inevitable a line of portable toilets (which we call port-a-loos, and in the US are called port-a-potties), but it’s rare to see them here except at the biggest events.

And so I go back to the square to enjoy the rest of the music and to watch the crowd and be part of this event. The lead singer/guitar player has a trick or two to entertain the crown - his guitar is on a roving mic, and he comes into the crowd and walks around playing to the people. And at one point, flames start coming from the end of the guitar - it’s OK this IS a trick - corny, but kinda cute. The band play their “final” number - and we applaud and shout - and they come back for their (expected) encore and it’s a generally good event.

Dusk has been coming on, and we are told that the fireworks will start soon, so we all start walking along the quay - in my case, to right outside where I live! The fireworks are set up on the opposite bank, and it’s now clear to me why the barriers are there, as people line them to watch the show. I’ve seen the multi-million dollar firework and laser show at Disney World, and certainly this is not in that league! But it is a pretty decent display, and having fireworks over water always make a great show. It’s really not possible to explain why fireworks are fun - the noise, the vibration, the lights, the smell - all these things come together to make it a spectacular occasion.

And then when it’s done, and time for people to go home, I’m just 30 seconds from my door - how spectacular is that!