Last Chance Ice Creams and a Mild Apocalypse

The North Sea and associated weather systems regard the Norfolk coastline with a kind of rugged ambivalence all the year through. August was tepid, September was a washout, that’s just the way it goes round here. God is clumsy with the weather machine in this part of the world despite the massive church built in tribute in the middle of town. There are constant hurricanes. The locals with their salt whipped cheeks call it “bracing”, Jane Austen called it “very pure air indeed.” Not many people dress appropriately.

At this time of year there are no holidaymakers, it’s all day trippers. Coachloads of elderly folk are shuttled in for one last suck of life extending gale force before everything finally shuts down. They’re tearing up strips of the promenade with a gaggle of orange diggers, the sort of maintenance work which would be folly during peak season and impossible at the bottom of winter. The Fairground went to sleep weeks ago and in the evenings and at the weekends the diggers gather round it, protecting peeling helter-skelters and canvas clad teacup rides. There was no lust to extend season into the fickle territory of a British Indian Summer. The adjacent arcade stays active a little longer, sucking in the dregs of custom with its kaleidoscope lights and sirens. Toddlers demanding to be lifted by fast unwinding parents, so that they might feed half a lifetime’s worth of change into the 2p machines. Somebody wins a tired lollypop, somebody else doesn’t. It doesn’t matter, what’s important is the smell of candyfloss and the traction of sticky carpets.

At the base of the pier they’re lining up a dozen deep to buy ice creams and even longer at the toilets. There is something grimly British about a queue, especially when it’s for ice cream in the drizzle or for public convenience. But queuing up on a pier is heaven for some people and even more so as the rain thickens and stiffens against a brisk north easterly. The professional Crab people are gearing down to go dormant but up and down the pier the damp masses are casting off their rigs festooned with mouldy bacon and hamster heads. Somebody reels in a tired lollypop, somebody else doesn’t. It doesn’t matter.

Booming clouds of headache grey are knitting themselves together above the Hotel De Paris and somewhere above the empty caravans of West Runton firecracker thunder echoes back off the sea. There’s a mild apocalypse on top of Cromer town today but you can only see it if you’ve got the right kind of eyes. I do the only sensible thing and head to the Pavilion Bar.

I order a poorly poured Guinness (for the vitamins) and take a seat by the window. The wind is whipping now and the hoods of people’s anoraks are flipping up and down as if on strings. Sideways rain smashes into the old and young indiscriminately and ice creams become unmoored from their cones and splat the wooden struts and die uneaten. There is no queue for the toilets in here. There are reasonably priced muffins.

I’ve been in here for a while now. Nobody knows how to pour a Guinness, nobody has bought a muffin. Outside it might very well be the end of the world. I fear for George the bastard cat in these conditions, Mercedes Man never checks underneath his motorcar, a natural hide for the felines. But I’m loath to go home, dressed as I am in shorts and T shirt.

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