Sunday, 20 March 2011

Road Trip

I woke up excited about the planned drive to the coast. It started out a little rocky though. I had organized a rental car and was feeling very pleased with myself for finding Enterprise Car Rentals – with a weekend rate of £9 and they pick you up and drop you off. Enterprise is near the airport – a £12.50 taxi fare from the flat. I know because that’s the way I arrived at Nancy’s on my first day here last September. So it’s cheaper to rent a car for the whole day on Saturday and Sunday than it is to take a cab one way from the airport. Crazy. The young man, Sam, called in the morning to ask if we’d mind meeting him at the train station (a ten minute walk from the flat) because they were picking someone else up there at 11:30. No problem, I said, still in a flush of happiness about their excellent service. Nancy and I packed up and headed off into the bright sunshine. It’s been cloudy all week, so I couldn’t believe our good luck with the weather. We arrived at the train station and started scanning the crowd for someone who looked like they might work for a car rental agency. We didn’t see anyone who looked like they were looking for us. We waited and waited. I then realized that I hadn’t given them my mobile number, only the landline number. I didn’t have their mobile number either, so I went into the station to look for a phone booth and a phone book, which of course no longer exist. But I did find a display with information pamphlets and called the tourist information number, asking the young woman if she’d mind looking up Enterprise Car Rentals for me. She cheerfully produced the number, but when I called it, an automated message said that Enterprise was open from 8:00 am to 12:00 noon on Saturdays – it was 12.20. I went back outside to Nancy, who was still scanning the crowd, and said that I’d walk back to the flat and see if there was a message from Enterprise on the voice mail. Sure enough, when I got back to the flat, there was a message from “Vince” at 11:23 am saying that he was outside the flat waiting for us. I tried his mobile number, but he didn’t answer. Of course, I thought, his work day is over. I left a terse message about how they’d spoiled not just our day, but our whole weekend, and why didn’t they communicate with each other, that we’d been told to walk to the station, so what was he doing picking us up at the flat. I left my mobile number and finished by saying I’d never rent from Enterprise ever again and I’d tell all my friends to avoid them like the plague. Arrrggghh.

I walked back to the train station, spitting mad, and told Nancy the bad news. We were both disappointed, although Nancy was being the mom. She suggested we go inside and have a cup of coffee and think about what we should do instead, maybe walk up to the cathedral and have lunch somewhere. I felt like a kid who’d just been told the circus was cancelled. Nancy said, “I guess that’s why they only charge £9 a day.”

View from the pier towards town.
Looking towards the end of the pier.
Looking back at the town.
Me looking happy.
A windmill B&B.
Horse and driver.
Nancy in the sun.
We were sitting having coffee when my mobile started vibrating on the table.  When I answered, Vince said he was sorry for the confusion and asked where we were and would we still like a rental car. Well, of course, we would! He apologized for the confusion and said he’d pick us up in 10 minutes. So it was on again! Vince arrived on time and drove us to the rental office twenty minute away, got us into a sweet little black Toyota, and off we headed along the Norwich Road to the coast. I loved the freedom of driving after a six-month hiatus and the car, while being a stick shift, was easy to manoeuvre. After less than ten minutes we were in the country, daffodils waving at us from the roadside, freshly tilled fields warmed by the sun and waiting for their seeds.
The lifeboat station - still working.
 Within half an hour we arrived at Cromer, a classic English seaside town with a long pier, at the end of which sits a pub, a theatre, and a lifeboat station. There was a chilly wind blowing, but adults, children, and dogs ran and played on the long sandy beach. For lunch, Nancy and I chose The Rocket House right on the beach, named after the place way back when where the rockets were launched to warn the life boat people there was a boat in trouble. A little like how on the west coast, boaters shoot off flares to attract help. We ordered the crab cakes, which came as two thick and crispy flattened rounds filled with crab and bits of spring onion. They were served with homemade tartar sauce, a stack of lovely French fries (chips), and a mound of lightly dressed leafy green salad. I had a coke and Nancy had a cup of tea. After refueling, we went made our way down to the end of the pier. People sat with their kids and dogs, enjoying cups of tea or pints of beer on the little tables along the pier. We saw two boys who’d been fishing all day, their gear neatly piled against a wall.

An amazing photo - more like a painting.
We then got back in the car for the spectacular drive along the coast on the Cromer Rd, through places called West Runton, East Runton, Sheringham, Salthouse and Cley-on-the-Sea, where we stopped to browse in a second-hand bookstore. Many, many years ago, December 1975, I took my sister to Cley. She was 17 (I was 27), and we rented a car and drove to St. Margaret’s Church, late in the afternoon in the freezing cold, to rub the brasses embedded in the vestibule floor. We had to take off our shoes and put them on the corners of our rubbing paper to keep it in place. While we were reproducing the images of certain ancient saints, a group of schoolgirls came in and started decorating the Christmas tree by the entrance. They had turned on the string of lights and were singing Christmas carols as we gathered our things together in the cold, fading light and left. Mickey has never let me forget that I didn’t take her to London and places like Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and the Parliament Buildings, but to some remote spot in the North of England to rub brasses in an ancient church. Sorry Mickey.

After browsing through the bookstore, we headed off to Blakeney to make a surprise visit to Nancy’s friends, Michael and Susie. They were home with their daughter and their three beautiful grandchildren – Fern, Peter, and Rose, aged four to eight – who entertained us non-stop with their dancing and singing. They had an endless supply of musical instruments that they retrieved from a corner cupboard and played for us – recorders, drums, harmonica, accordion, castanets, and rattles. Funny, outgoing, and talented kids. Then we looked out the window and saw the supermoon rising in the distance – the largest the moon has been in the past 18 years, the closest it’s been to the earth. We ran out of the house and down the path through the gorse to get a good look at it. I’m glad Nancy had her camera (she took all the photos because my camera had run out of memory).

Thinking of Geoff.
We headed back to Norwich along the country roads with the full moon lighting our way, arriving at the flat at 10:30 pm. The end to a perfect day.   

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