Gateway to the East

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Grunty Fen has long been a source of mystery. For years it lurked in the dusty lumber-room of memory, unvisited and all but forgotten, its faint miasma lingering slightly, if unpleasantly, until all that was left was the name, only the name. Like Adelstrop, you might think, as immortalized by Edward Thomas; though until recently, all the two places had in common was that once, long ago and for a short time only, each boasted a small, branch-line railway station.

Now, however, Grunty Fen has acquired its own brand-new patina of fame, thanks to the work of another gifted writer. Though arguably not quite in the same class as Edward Thomas, Christopher South is, like him, a countryman and one with a real, all too intimate knowledge of the land of which he writes.

My own connection with the fen came about by means of a couple of serendipitous accidents, the kind of thing that the old Fenfolk apparently describe as ‘hadnabinfers’. The best way to explain this useful concept is to illustrate it. If it hadnabinfer the prospect of the mother of all family rows, Grunty Fen would have meant less than nothing to any of us. This is how it happened.

One summer’s day, long ago, we were setting off on holiday to Norfolk, as we always do. We love Norfolk, and its glories never pale. We feel about it as did Noël Coward when describing it, appreciatively, as ‘very flat’. On this occasion, the picnic was packed and the car stuffed full of people, general clobber and the dog. We always used to take a picnic on such a trip, and we always had a problem finding the right spot in which to stop and enjoy it. That day, the driver was being unusually difficult about the best place to choose, or – which is nearer the truth ‒ to have chosen, and to have just swept past. A mutinous atmosphere was developing, with hungry people complaining of low blood sugar and intimating that at this rate we’d have reached the perishing sea before he could make up his mind. Exas

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About the contributor

Sue Gaisford is an all-purpose journalist who has dipped her toe into many a field. Her contact details can be found on a postcard in Miss Edwards’s Post Office, just above the appeal for girls to work in the offal sheds.

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