One of the pleasures of retirement is the chance to spend the summer in Norfolk rather than feeling that the holidays must be used to visit exotic places. It also gives friends the chance to come on see the area, and the first of the summer’s visitors was Judy. Or rather Judy and Jasper. Jasper is the new dog. Big enough to pull a small cart, but young enough to still want to play puppy games, he soon decided that I was his play buddy and came up with this routine where he would run across the room, launch himself like a missile on to me as I sat in the chair, and put his front paws on my chest to look out of the window, or slobber all over me as he tried to lick my face off.
We decided that exercise was the answer, and as we had to deliver some CAMRA newsletters we went south. First stop was Shouldham Warren which was rather more wet and muddy than usual due to logging operations. Jasper didn’t mind, rolling around and jumping in the muddy puddles. Fortunately, the pub we had selected to visit was the Berney Arms at Barton Bendish, with its large garden. Unfortunately, it was the afternoon the tornado appeared over Downham, and we spent 20 minutes in Dent’s farm shop sheltering from the heaviest downpour I have ever seen in my life, while Jasper spent his time scrounging biscuits from the staff. The garden idea was a non-starter, but the pub was good enough to let the dog into the bar, which allowed me to try a magnificent pint of Double Decade by St Peter’s brewery of South Elmham on the Suffolk border. I used to think that this was a vanity project with its old fashioned bottles and ancient hall, but after 20 years of brewing they are still going strong and producing fabulous beer that we do not see often enough over this side of the county.
The plan was a qualified success, so next morning we decided to repeat it, this time going for a walk on the edge of the Wash from the car park at Ongar Hill. My innate sense of direction and rigorous geographical training lead us back through shoulder high grass and this time the rain came just before we arrived back at the car. By the time we reached the Victory where we had booked Sunday lunch, we were rather bedraggled and in no condition to eat in the beer garden. Once again we were allowed into the bar and just as I was feeling relaxed, having consumed my roast beef and sipping my excellent pint of Pig on the Wall from Black Country brewery, a little girl with her toy rabbit was escorted past our table by her mother. Jasper went into full missile mode and almost pulled Judy off her chair as he tried to reach the toy rabbit, which I reckon would have lasted about 30 seconds before being torn to pieces. Fortunately, fen girls are made of stern stuff and not only was she not spooked by the dog, but spent the next 20 minutes trying to find excuses to come past again and again so she could see the doggy.
The dog has now returned home and his hairs have been hoovered up. It has given me a new perspective on visiting pubs, and Judy did bring me a selection of beer from the Cullercoats brewery. They would be welcome to visit again, but I don’t think I will be getting a Jasper of my own.