Tour Journal – East Anglia – Day 3
Date: 17 November 2013
Franchise: Greater Anglia
Depart: Ipswich, Suffolk.
Arrive: Oulton Broad South, Suffolk.
I’m typing tonight from the slightly-sterile downstairs bistro-bar located just across the way from my hotel accommodation in Oulton Broad, Suffolk. My target destination for today was actually Lowestoft, which is the next village over—although since the mid 20th Century the two towns have grown together into one.
Lowestoft itself is the easternmost point of the United Kingdom. When I finally get there, I’ll be 110 miles out of London Town, on the very edge of the Norfolk Broads, and I will be standing in a community that has been settled by humanity for at least 700,000 years. (Yes, that long!) Oulton is a couple of miles inland. It’s the boondocks.
Ipswich Railway Station was pretty gorgeous
Here is what I just posted on Facebook:
At less than £30 for a night, the fact I’m staying in a huge open plan apartment w/ full kitchen facilities could easily offset the fact that the wi-fi doesn’t work, and neither does the heater for that matter.
And I can handle the long white hallways with fire doors all the way along, flicking from pitch-black to fluorescent illumination thanks to motion sensors on the ceiling
Simply stride dramatically through the hallways in my long black jacket going “DUN DUN DUN, DUN DUN-DUN, DUN DUN-DUN!!“ and hope someone hears and gets it
Yep, I can handle everything about this eerily-silent, ultra modern rabbit warren hotel built in a small village on the distant, easternmost tip of Great Britain.
But I really, REALLY wish I hadn’t looked up from the bar just now and noticed that I am sleeping directly above a funeral home.
Then I wrote a letter to the undertaker
Frankly, I never, ever expected today to end up this weird.
On the contrary. It began happily. Another six hours sleep. That wonderful room in Ipswich. The complimentary breakfast. When I walked out the door this morning I felt great. I headed straight for the marina, because I felt that when I dropped in the previous eve, perhaps I had missed part of it? I didn’t want to say it was dead, only to later find that I was misrepresenting it through my lack of knowledge. It wouldn’t be right.
I was right though, it was dead during the daytime too. Many, many boats. Yachts, some cafes, restaurants, some facilities for the local university, but nobody. No kind of population density to speak of. Nothing to warrant busking.
It was then I realised that my busking brain maybe needed to shut the fuck up for a little while and simply enjoy this tranquil marine atmosphere on a cool but clear Suffolk morning. I looked at it for what it was and realised that it was good.
Then I headed straight for the main drag—the Buttermarket—where I had been yesterday. Full of people as before, and although the markets had gone, street vendors sold gourmet hot-dogs from carts, and the town was bustling again.
Spied myself a little pitch outside the Vodafone store and began setting up, with my bags propped up in the background. Decided I was going to sit for a bit first, psych myself up, then I would play. But before I could do that, three local kids about 12 years of age rolled over on BMXs and started talking.
“Do you have a guitar?!”
“Are you gonna play it?!”
“Go on, then!”
“Yeah man, just give me a tick…” I hadn’t planned on this.
“Do you make much money?” – this guy was clearly the leader of the group. Before I could answer, he continued.
“You don’t need money.”
Oh lol, I thought. I was wearing my goodshirt. It’s important to look good.
“Mate,” I said to him, “you always need money.”
“Well,” he responded, “play us a song then!”
So that was it. It was on. I played ‘em Worst Day Since Yesterday. I played ‘em another. And again. Then they asked if I knew any songs they’d know. I asked ‘em what they knew. We established we all knew Smells Like Teen Spirit. I showed ‘em some bits, and explained it was going to sound terrible with just a guitar and no bass.
Realised what needed to be done. With no introduction: About A Girl.
“That song,” I explained, “was written by the same guy.”
They seemed to dig that. One of the guys suggested I go on X-Factor.
“I write my own songs,” I said, “and they’ll try to tell me what to play.”
A song or two later, the kids apologised for not having any money, but said they’d give me some if they could. Jesus, I didn’t expect these young fellas to have money at hand! So I said it was OK, because it was.
I kept on playing. They were always going to leave at some point. Before they did though, the leader of the group dropped his sunglasses into my case. The next guy dropped a wristband. The first countered with a wristband of his own.
Finally, the third dude – who had suggested I go on TV – dropped an army dog-tag style neck chain. Then they got on their bikes and rode away, telling me that if I ever went on X-Factor I should give a shout-out to Conor. Duly noted!
My haul from the lads. Thanks lads!!
Rest of the set was great. Introduced a couple of new songs. Very satisfying. This is what I was looking for the day before. I’d done Ipswich proper now. Enjoyed a sausage in the town square, watching a production crew put the finishing touches on a stage that had appeared overnight in front of the old town hall.
Ipswich has a large arts community, I remembered.
Then Xmas carols started playing through the PA.
Oh, hell no! I thought. And then – What the fuck!? – they tested out a fake snow machine that launched god-knows-what kind of weird plastic foam bullshit into the air. Sure enough it began snowing in the general direction of my hot-dog.
It was time to go. An hour wait for the train to Lowestoft, but that’s OK. Two carriages. Diesel powered. Jesus, we’re getting regional now. An old man in a beanie sat opposite me. There was a poor fellow with Down Syndrome who made seemingly random noises at top volume. Then just before we were to depart, sheer insanity hit.
Some kind of psychotic argument was going on between what I initially assumed was a mother-and-son duo – he no older than 20 and her at least 55 – but it’s possible they were actually lovers. I don’t even know. But I’m talking screaming unintelligent nonsense about whether the train was going to stop at this-or-that station, or about who paid for lunch? (Whoever didn’t was a “THIIIIEF!!!”)
For fuck’s sake. They were so far down the rabbit hole it was embarrassing. Beanie Man and I looked at one another. God, I felt so over-dressed. The horrible noise started again. Without even thinking, I turned around and said “Oh, shut up!!”
Then I pretended nothing happened. Fired up the laptop and listened to the UK cassette version of Raw Power, then some ZZ Top as we rolled through culverts, past fields, under grey, grey skies and rain, beneath ancient archways, past towns where kids were playing football in the park. Ah, England. This is what it’s all about.
The accommodation I had booked for the night was an absolute fucking steal, and it turned out that there was a station closer to it than Lowestoft. Good, I figured, better than walking for yonks again.
So I got ready to disembark at Oulton Broad South – and so did that weird woman and her ‘son’. I packed my shit into the vestibule for ease of departure.
Ridin’ the rails: Holed up in the vestibule ready to hop off
Then I saw him lean over from the seat in front and grab her boobs.
Mother of God, I thought. If they’re related, then I don’t even want to fucking know what is going on here.
After all the psychological violence of earlier, they bid one another fond, creepily affectionate farewells. Then, as the train rolled out of the station, she thumbed her nose at him. He rolled off to Lowestoft. She stood there on the platform.
And so did I. Looking around. An unmanned platform. No map. No local info. A stone road bridge soared above. Around it, mossy trees and rotting wooden structures sagged together in the greenish-grey light of a distant Suffolk afternoon.
Jesus tittyfucking Christ, I thought. Where am I?