Coming home to my beloved East Anglia by air, bus and car

The sound of waves at Scolt Head off the North Norfolk coast which gave Bernard Phillips the feeling

The sound of waves at Scolt Head off the North Norfolk coast which gave Bernard Phillips the feeling that he was home at last. - Credit: Archant

Flying home: Air travel from Paris to East Anglia in 1962 was still something of an adventure, as Bernard Phillips relates in this archive EDP essay.

The glossy green folder had promised a solution for all our travel problems. At last, the family pointed out, you will be able to fly over from Paris, perhaps even for a long week-end. So when a sudden illness made a flying visit necessary I checked in the little green pamphlet and telephoned a reliable travel agent for a reservation.

On Friday morning, as I arrived at the Paris terminal, I was held up at a road block by conscientious policemen who sniffed suspiciously at the selection of ripe cheese and wine in my case. However, it was obviously not dangerous, and they seemed satisfied that I had no ill intentions concerning a visiting Head of State. I was waved through with a bon voyage.

I reached Le Bourget an hour before the flight and was not surprised to find that the airline had no departure desk. My reliable travel agent had been unable to book a ticket to Norwich. Nor had a less reliable one. Nor had telephone calls to the head office in England produced any tangible result. Finally, a frantic call home brought an assurance that a ticket would be waiting for me at Le Bourget. Good. But where?

The information girl interrupted an involved telephone conversation to gesticulate, as information girls are prone to do, in the general direction of Aeroflot, the Russian airline. It was a drunken porter who finally directed me to a desk where a girl told me that she was not the representative of my airline but that perhaps she could help me. Perhaps she could: had she received my ticket? She had not, and she explained that if the plane arrived from England my ticket might be on board and that if there were not too many passengers I might be able to go. But that situation had never arisen because not many people used that line.

At that moment the plane arrived, complete with ticket and I pushed my way through the Wisconsin Association (50 strong and six feet high, all wearing blue jackets proclaiming names like 'Backwash' and 'Splitlog' in bright yellow letters) to the smallest passenger aircraft I have ever seen. We took off immediately, taxi-ing down the runway behind an RAF transport and soaring above the shimmering ground haze.

An hour later Dungeness was to starboard, then Sheerness and the Isle of Grain refinery as we dropped down over the Thames to Southend. I left the baby plane with regret, feeling that this was indeed the way to travel.

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At Southend we cooled our heels for a good deal longer than the advertised 20 minutes, waiting for the connecting flight to Ipswich. I dawdled in front of the desk, discussing the situation with a liquid air manufacturer from Ipswich.

Granted that the serve was not as impressive as that of the big airlines, but who want to be impressed by cocktails and dazzling hostesses? We had been welcomed aboard by a polite young girl who had served us a plastic mug of coffee with biscuits. We had travelled comfortably

and fast.

I pointed out to the office that it was tiresome not to be able to buy a ticket in Paris and they agreed with me that it was tiresome . . .

After two speculative hours watching homecoming tourists in straw hats and suntans and attempting to wheedle information from the staff we were ushed on board the Ipswich plane.

For those who have not become to blasé about flying, a journey above East Anglia is a fascinating experience. Bright sails hover among the moored yachts and dinghies clustered in the estuaries below like flies on a summer stream. Woods emerge, clumps of underwater weed, from the close textured pattern of the fields: a cubist composition of brown and green, gashed occasionally in mustard yellow.

We swoop low over the salting, banking round to Ipswich airfield, bumping over the rough turf and stepping down ankle-deep into dandelion and clover. A lark drops unconcernedly into the middle of the landing strip. The smell of oil and disinfectant is replaced by a delicate breath of drying hay. A heron cruises lazily overhead towards the Orwell marshes.

The Norwich bus leaves with all three passengers, dodging the crowd of bicycles from an emptying factory, moving along the well-disciplined, casually signposted roads. I react instinctively, reaching for identity papers as a policeman holds up his hand, but instead of a machine gun muzzle and a tight-lipped interrogation that is a stammered question from a freckled student: had we used the by-pass? Where had we come from? Where were we going?

I would have told him that I was going home and that this made it all worth while: the anxious frustration, the tedious, wasted hours in anonymous waiting rooms. Now familiar names appear on the pub signs. Thatched houses, like advertisements, wreathed in roses and honeysuckle. The driver waves to friends, a postman, an Eastern Counties driver, providing a commentary in his soft accent. Splendid cock pheasants rear insolent heads from the young corn.

At Norwich Thorpe Station my young sister is waiting with a brand new driving licence. She drives proudly home through the series of unforgettable village names: Bawdeswell, Guist, Walsingham, through the rainless countryside, a cloud of dust swirling behind us between unkempt hedgerows bright with poppies.

Then home. Familiar faces smiling round the ill-fitting kitchen door; the old blind dog asleep beneath the hedge; partridges calling across the fields. I walk beside the creek, city shoes smeared with salt mud as the tide turns and boats swing on their moorings. Gulls shriek above the line of foam advancing slowly across the sandbanks in the harbour. Beyond Scolt Head the surf in the sea's jaws pounds the shingle banks like distant city traffic.

This is a special Friday evening, and however efficient the airline may be, I know that Monday morning will seem more like Monday morning than usual. It is as if I am hearing these noises for the first time, as if I have never seen these things, this place before. And perhaps we never do. Perhaps I never have.