April 17, 2020

Who Killed Cock Robin? (film) (Coronavirus Murder Mystery) Series 1

Who Killed Cock Robin. A Grumbling Appendix.

T.S. Eliot’s explanatory notes to his Wasteland achieved the difficult task of making the work even more elusive and complicated than it already was. I have every sympathy. The Notes were imposed on Eliot after the fact by a publisher and having packed every syllable of his masterpiece with myriad meanings and possibilities, he wasn’t about to close down any of them just to make up the page numbers.  However, given the average reader’s postmodern attention-span, here are a couple of non-prescriptive pointers in the least-wrong direction.

Little England in the Styx is a fictional Norfolk village, locked down during the Corona epidemic. It has a local stately home, Cock Hall, the seat of Lord and Lady Peacock, where the murders occur. Cock Hall is an homage to Christie’s Styles with nods to her Chimneys (the espionage) and Cluedo’s Tudor Hall. It was built using the materials and on the site of an ancient Saxon Hall and the late Squire Peacock was keenly aware of his prestige as “one of England’s oldest Saxon families.” He invited scholars to explore his belief that six decades into each millennium, the village resists a new epoch – in AD61 the British resistance to the Roman Empire by Boudicca; in AD1066 the English resistance to the Norman Conquest led by Hereward – on his land. Hall and As a result of this, Little England in the Styx also has a long-running archaeological dig tracing the development of ‘Little England’ from its beginnings in the Bronze and Iron Ages to the First World War. (The Welsh visitors in Scene 1 are a reminder of a Britain older than England.) All its pasts haunt the present; time frames blur and the Saxon boneyard gains a modern corpse. 

The Cock Robin of the title (from a nursery rhyme whose hero has been claimed to represent Robin Hood, Robert Walpole and Christ) is the recently murdered Squire Peacock. The Brown Lady is a West Norfolk ghost who haunts Houghton Hall, Raynham Hall and adjacent country lanes. After Walpole’s splendid domicile, the palatial and splendid Houghton Hall stood dark for a century in its isolated Norfolk backwoods. Something of that casts a shadow over my Cock Hall. In her real 18C life, the Brown Lady was Dorothy Walpole, sister of Robert (the country’s first Prime Minister) and wife of ‘Turnip’ Townshend. Mrs Wight assumes she is Indian and therefore ‘not part of the culture’ and even when an intoxicated Dr Blak explained that under Walpole’s colonial Whigs, the East India Company’s shareholders and the British governing party were largely the same people, she merely asked him did he want another change of towels for his room.

This is a Murder Game in a Haunted Hall and with stock characters moving around a ‘Clued-Ouija’ board. Visitors come in search of their various versions of our Norfolk Paradise up “The Boudicca Trail” but because of their own demons and the spirit of our age are drawn instead down the wrong road to (Dante’s) Dis and fetch up at Cock Hall. Taking a postmodern liberty Christie herself never took, both the Queen of Crime’s ‘Eyes’ (Poirot and Marple) work the case together and along with maverick local DI Ken Hill battle against petty village tyrant and xenophobe Colonel Mustard to find who is spreading this global virus through their little world.

April 09, 2020

Lockdown Rock (The Phezant's Tail)

Sedgeford duo the Phezant’s Tail (poet and percussionist Gareth Calway and singer Melanie Calway) are using the lockdown to create an album and video project based on the ancient nursery rhyme “Who Killed Cock Robin?” “One impetus was to entertain our toddler-granddaughter online with films and recordings during self-isolation. The tracks and videos have passed that particular dancing test. But like many nursery rhymes, it has a sinister edge.” 

Recorded and filmed in their home studio and with the family cat contributing scary cameos, the album and film includes a rocked-up version of the nursery rhyme itself, matched to stills of the recent supermoon over a pitch-black Sedgeford. This suits the Celtic origins of the nursery rhyme (‘Coch rhi ben’) as the death of the light god Lugh and later Christian interpretations as the mourning of Christ. Other historical interpretations include the Death of Robin Hood and (of particular interest in a village so close to Houghton) of the Fall, in 1742, of Robert Walpole, MP for Lynn and Britain’s longest ever serving Prime Minister.

 A second haunting vocal “Brown Lady of the Haunted Halls” narrates the local story of Walpole’s sister (and Turnip Townshend’s wife) Dorothy as the supposed ghost of Raynham and Houghton Hall. Owls recorded (in the garden) under that supermoon join in the spooky rendition.

A series of home videos extends the story. These are ‘set’ at Cock Hall, the seat of the recently murdered Squire Peacock in the fictional Norfolk village of “Little England in the Styx.” Cock Hall is a sort of combined Cluedo and Ouija board over which the characters move.

Two out and out rockers “In The Court of the Coronavirus King” and “Revenge Narrative With Farm Views Planetary Extinction Cul de Sac” narrate the Covid 19 pandemic as a Cluedo-meets-Christie-in-Norfolk comedy whodunit in which Marple and Poirot try to track down its source. Channelling his inner Vincent Price, the poet rants and rails over a drum and bass backing track. “It’s bass, Jim, but not as we know it,” commented a musician friend.

The Brown Lady

March 04, 2020

BBC Upload, BBC Radio Norfolk Interview and Norfolk on Film (tumblr)

Great to see our bicentenary commemoration of the 1819 Thunderstorm and the tragic story of Susan Nobes now has a permanent home here on BBC Norfolk.

As featured on https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0832p98 (exactly one hour in) 

For those who have come to this blog from those links, here is some extra information from last summer. I particularly recommend this 12 minute extravaganza a one off dramatic representation of the 1819 storm and its accounts  


A small group of historians and creative artists will on Friday July 5 2019 mark the bicentenary of the Thunderstorm That Took Place In Sedgeford in the County of Norfolk on Fifth July 1819” a storm so violent it was recorded in the Register of World News blasting a yardwide hole in the Church tower and taking the life of Susan Nobes, a 14 year old village girl. There are 2 events planned.
  1. At the Ladywell, a memorial for Susan hosted by village historian Tim Snelling. Sedgeford residents poet Gareth Calway and harpist Vanessa Wood-Davies will share their "Ballad of Susan Nobes" (https://soundcloud.com/gaz29-1/the-ballad-of-susan-nobes-performed-loveheartsredwine) along with Gareth's reading of Janet Hammond's distinctive verses about the tragedy and the Ladywell boulder. Finally, Andy Wall and Gareth will sing and play their new especially composed "Elegy for Susan Nobes."  All of this event will be filmed and be made publicly available online.
  2. At the Boneyard Field, in starting at 7.30 pm, in a showcase evening Gareth Calway, Melanie Calway, Vanessa Wood-Davies and Andy Wall and will perform an evening of musical histories. The centre piece of this evening event will be  a one off dramatic representation of the 1819 storm and its accounts at 9 pm (online films of much of this are also available) 
During the dreadful thunderstorm on the Evening of July 5th the electric fluid struck the top of Sedgeford Church Steeple on the West Side, and precipitated to the ground several stones of considerable magnitude making a breach in the wall of about a yard square. The lightning also passed through the Church entering in at a window near the porch on the South side; and after crossing in a North East direction, it made its escape at two places in an upper window near the Chancel on the North side". (as reported in the Times, the Ipswich Journal and the Register of World News 1819-20)
"Come the evening, folk were going about their daily tasks, working in the fields while birds sweetly sang. The teacher sat in the porch waiting for the schoolmaster to appear before Bible reading class could begin, meanwhile the attending children happily played, running up and down the churchyard, little knowing the impending doom that was to befall them. The schoolmaster duly arrived, readings began and when done was followed with a final hymn, 'Oh let me, heavenly Lord extend, My view to life's approaching end... . "(Religious tract 1819, probably by the then Curate of Sedgeford.) 

February 29, 2020

The Book of Margery Kempe of Lynn

The Book of Margery Kempe is believed to be the first autobiography in the English language. In this new Poppyland pamphlet by Gareth Calway the author examines the history of the book itself and the manuscript that emerged in 1934. He explores its content and explains why it was such a pioneering work, the places that are still associated with Kempe and its influence on modern day writers, historians and dramatists. A selection from the full Bhas Allan photoshoot (see below) supporting the text is also included in the pamphlet.

The anchorhold in All Saint's, South Lynn, Lynn's oldest church.

Lynn Minster, whose foundation deed as St Margaret's refers to the building in honour of St Mary Magdalen, St Margaret and all holy virgins. Perhaps, as a tribute to its pioneering parishioner, Margery, independent wives should be added to that roll!

Fourteenth century brasses from St Margaret's, showing the Mayor and his wives. Margery's father was Mayor and MP a generation later.

St Margaret's from the south.

St Margaret's tower - with a sense of Margery's visionary eye.

The Whitefriars Gate, the only survival of a building in which the illiterate Margery is believed to have dictated her Book to a scribe. With a plaque containing at least two howlers addressed in the pamphlet.

Lynn mediaeval waterfront, from West Lynn. Margery's merchant father and burgess husband worked here and Margery sailed from a point somewhere in the middle of this view, which would have been marked then by a large pilgrims' cross. However, she sailed on her most famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Great Yarmouth (whose plaque - also reproduced in the pamphlet - accurately describes Margery as the author of her own Book.)

Richard Castre, Vicar of Sedgeford, and later of St Stephens in Norwich, was a friend and supporter of Margery.  She certainly needed support against some very powerful opponents, including the Archbishop of York (and the Mayor of Leicester) who charged her with heresy.

Post script. In response to the third comment below, here is the passage in which Margery describes her meeting with Julian in her cell in Norwich. (chapter 18, Book 1)