Saturday, 3 July 2010

Cardigans and sandwiches or magical waterland?

cuckoo book

I’M READING “Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo” by Michael McCarthy. It explores the mystery and the history of bird migration in a very readable way ..even to birding novices like myself.  I’m not even half way through it yet, but the reason I mention it here is because on page 69 you get this description of the Norfolk Broads:

“Throughout most of my life I had thought of the Norfolk Broads as a joke. Try as I may, I cannot recall any other landscape whose mention triggered mirth, but this complex of shallow lakes and winding rivers behind the coast always seemed to me irresistibly comic, probably because its principal purpose appeared to be the fostering of a peculiarly English summer ritual; the boating holiday. Not the sort of vacation afloat which nowadays takes place off somewhere like southern Turkey, with bronzed bodies, chilled rose and a keel sweeping through the sea; this was an altogether more cautious affair of cardigans and ham sandwiches in a craft called a cabin cruiser – a damp version of a caravan – which chugged from broad to broad with Dad at the helm in a sailor’s cap. Not sweeping but chugging. Pretend-adventure. It seemed to encapsulate the timorous smallness of English life in the 1950s and 1960s when thousands upon thousands of families went safely a-chugging in these 150 miles of lock-free waterways. I still find it hard to believe they never made a Carry On film about it all: Carry on Boating or, more probably Carry On up the Broads.”

Oh dear. This guy is “one of Britain’s leading writers on the environment” including spells as environment correspondent for both The Times and The Independent. He writes beautifully and knows his stuff, but is at least a generation out of date on what’s going on up here. Admittedly, he does go on in his book – published last year - to be utterly captivated by the River Yare, indeed he is introduced to what he calls “the soundscape of birds” by the Yare’s official ambassador Mark Cocker.

But in the very week that the Broads was rebranded “Britain’s Magical Waterland”, it’s this “cardigans and ham sandwiches”  view  that still sends a shiver down my spine. Not everyone liked the rebranding. “Mandarins at Minitrue will be busy. We have always sailed on Britain's Magical Waterland. The Norfolk Broads never existed,” snorted one tweeter.

But while new brooms at Coldham Hall and Hardley Mill and Langley Abbey show the way ahead, Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo shows that old-fashioned perceptions of the Broads remain remarkably resilient.

* Britain’s magical waterland EDP report.

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