Norfolk days that turned out to be moving experiences
PUBLISHED: 19:46 15 November 2017
Two moving days, two unexpected near-calamities. In this vintage EDP essay from 1964, Ida Fenn recalls her memorable moves across Norfolk.
It was our first move, our first launch into the unknown. We had decided to dig up our roots and go “foreign.”
“One thing, you won’t want to worry about the beds getting wet,” my husband said, for we had gone a step above being moved in an open wagon drawn by two horses - we were travelling by furniture van.
It was to be our first move, our first launch into the unknown, for through the death of our employer we had decided to dig up our roots and go “foreign” namely to Swaffham, a place we had heard of yet never seen; in fact it seemed akin to going to Australia.
“They’ll be here at nine.” That meant getting the children their breakfast in good time and a tin of sandwiches packed for our dinner in the new home.
Nine o’clock, ten, 11. Something must have happened. Billy, my four-year-old son, had stood on the bank all morning, watching the loads of furniture which from time to time drew slowly past the gate, mother and the children seated in armchairs among the hotch-potch of bedsteads. But we - we were going by pantechnicon.
“What is a pan - what you said, mummy?” Billy asked and was rather disappointed to hear it was merely a furniture van.
Then at long last came a whoop. It was coming, past the Buck Inn and - there it was. From then on it was a case of hurrying to put right those former wasted hours. Carrying, fetching, upstairs and down, out to the shed; brooms, buckets, the sewing machine, whilst bed irons clanged their demonic uproar. “Be careful of my linen basket, it’s full of crockery!” But they were well wrapped in towels and teacloths. Voices echoed eerily upstairs, strange men banging about - a laugh accompanied by a swear word or two. Fortunately the baby had slept in her pram through it all, she slept till everything was safely stored away.
“The wood! We haven’t got the wood! And the hens - oh dear!” The tailboard had been securely fastened.
“We can’t take anything else!” But my husband was not leaving all that wood, not after he had sawn those branches by the light of the moon, and I certainly was not leaving my hens, nor the wire netting which belonged to their run. So, after much swearing and arguing, most of our miscellany was stored, except for a few odd-job lots we gave to the neighbour in return for a welcome cup of hot tea. The chains were fastened, goodbyes waved, and I with the baby wrapped in a shawl climbed up into the seat beside the driver with Billy crushed in between us. My husband had climbed in among the beds.
It was a steep pull up the street to the Buck Inn at the end of Honingham street, and we had not been able to really get into our stride. It would be better, the man said, when we go on to the straight road, but we did not arrive at that straight road, for as we jolted over a pot-hole in the road, a horrifying crack sounded and I could hear my husband yelling “Woah!” the same way he halted his horses.
The driver muttered, and then began a terrible argument as he walked round to the back and viewed our wood, our hens and the dog kennel, all lying in the road. The back chain had burst, and the tail board was damaged.
Billy all at once wanted his father, and would not be quietened. Then the lady from the Buck came out and invited the children and myself indoors. I looked back down the street to where our former home stood, its empty windows bringing back the thought that now we belonged nowhere. The landlady of the Buck tried to cheer me by announcing it didn’t get dark till seven. Seven! And it was almost six before the tailboard had been mended, and a puncture mended, for they had come away with a punctured spare.
At last I sat in the cabin once more, the baby mercifully once more asleep. I sat and gazed at the red, grazed knee of my son beside me, his oily hands from “helping,” until once more I was put through another sense of nervous strain when we came to that awful Dereham hill and the driver muttered that he just wanted his brakes to fail to cap the lot. It seemed our wonderful pantechnicon had seen its best days, and had we travelled the old way we might by now be having supper in our new home.
However, bad luck cannot dominate all of the time, and at last we jolted up a rutty drive by the light of the moon, and saw a strange house with dark chimneys, thrusting skywards. Then began the muddle and turmoil all over again. The lamp - where was the lamp? Not even a solitary candle could we find.
“Here’s the sewing machine!” the man said hopefully, and after a while my husband came forward with the kettle, but where was the teapot?
Twelve months we stayed at Swaffham, a long year of misery and homesickness, and my husband was not happy in his work, so the following Michaelmas found us once more awaiting our removal conveyance, which turned out to be an undersized lorry, the big one having “gone out on a job.” Our wood had all been used up and the chickens sold, thank goodness.
Higher and higher went tables and beds, whilst two large trunks were tied to the cabin roof. As before, the lorry was four hours late, but it was an Indian Summer day, so to pass the time I and Billy set off walking with my little girl in a push chair.
Over and again we looked back, but no sign of a lorry was to be seen. Tired after doing two miles, we sat on the bank and waited. We could have waited and travelled by lorry, but I felt I had to get away from that house I had grown to hate.
Alas, something must have gone wrong again, for the sun was setting before we at last heard them coming. By now the children had had enough and were irritable and quarrelsome. Thankfully we climbed into the seat beside the driver, and set off amid rattling and creaking. We were almost into Dereham when, bang! And with an awful sense of foreboding I saw the driver gaze up at the roof of the cabin, which was slowly but surely drooping drunkenly on to our heads. Were we to be crushed to death? It seemed our heavy trunks were just too much for that crazy cabin roof.
Snatching the door open, I and the children scrambled out, and although I was sure everything would crush down in a second like a smashed matchbox, it somehow decided to move no further, but just hung there drunkenly. I am afraid I joined in with the children, tearfully wailing that nothing on earth would make us mount that running board again.
“Then what are you going to do? You can’t stay here all night!” My husband had lost what little patience he’d had left.
Then, just as it happens in stories, a car pulled up, the driver offering to help. Seeing my tears, he offered not only to take us to Norwich, but to drive out to our waiting cottage at St Faith’s.
I don’t think I ever thanked him as I should have done, and it is too late now, for the baby is approaching forty, and besides, he never said who he was.