Page published 13 May 2011
Today The Proper Jobbies were starting on the first leg of their World Tour, claimed Glenn. What that meant was that the band was doing its first gig outside of the Pleasure Boat Inn at Hickling.
Putting it another way, Glenn, licensee at The Pleasure Boat, had decided it would be a good idea if he turned up at the Nelson Head, in the neighbouring village of Horsey, that his good lady runs, He was to bring with him a handful of regulars and a motley crew of unrehearsed musicians that, on the first Friday of the last two months, had successfully amused his locals and a few holiday makers. Transport for this first, and so far only, leg of the tour round to Horsey was to be by an informal flotilla of craft, hence the excuse for this report appearing on the "Greg Afloat" site.
The Proper Jobbies pose for the camera before departure from The Pleasure Boat Inn.
I arrived at the Pleasure Boat at 18:00, in good time for the scheduled 18:30 departure. It turned out there were to be three boats making the passage and there would be room for me aboard the Lady Ann. This is the vessel that Ross Warrell uses for his wildlife boat trips from Horsey and with whom the Pleasure Boat has developed a relationship over the last winter. The others were Happy Daze and Lil Ol Gal each of which belonged to members of the band or friends of band members.
Band members and audience relax aboard the Lady Ann while our helmsman Ross regales us with tales of the many birds he spots.
I had my full one man band kit in the car and even my bike, so I could cycle home if I thought my driving licence would be at risk on my return, but Glenn pointed out that we were not to be returning by boat and there wouldn't be enough room for all my gear in the car on the return journey, so most of my kit was left behind! Glenn then encouraged anyone with a camera to photograph the band outside the pub door, crying "Make sure you get the Pub Sign in!" Then it was off to the boats and departure for Horsey.
The Flotilla of three boats makes its way across Hickling Broad.
Shortly after we slipped our moorings I found myself saying, "It's the first time I've been on the Broad this year", but it probably was for most of the rest of us on Lady Ann and the remark failed to kick start general conversation. Ross was already regularly snatching binoculars from their perch and saying things like, "Wow, a lesser spotted gutter snipe! The first I've seen this year". I teased him saying, "I thought you had promised not to go into wildlife tour mode", to which he responded, "I'm not. This is the ordinary me!"
Someone aboard Lady Ann must have been waving at those aboard Happy Daze.
That's when I got out my camera and started taking photographs of the other two boats in the flotilla. The folks on Happy Daze seemed to be in full holiday-maker mode. Point the camera at them, and even when my telephoto lens was at full stretch, up came most hands in a wave.
The boats bunch up while they pass through Meadow Dyke. Moments later Ross spots a Marsh Harrier out hunting.
After getting quite spread out across Hickling Broad we bunched up more along Meadow Dyke. Ross was impressive, able to name every ditch that flowed into the dyke and, it seemed, point out the location of every nest in every tree and which bird it belonged to. I felt there was something very different about Meadow Dyke since I had last been down it. It wasn't till we passed a short length of bank where the reeds had been cut right back that I realised it was their height, but Ross dismissed the idea that they were unusually high, saying that it was more likely that water levels were extremely low.
Once out in the open waters of Horsey Mere we make for the far side and Lady Ann's mooring in the dyke near the famous mill.
From Meadow Dyke you pass into Horsey Mere. By this time the band members aboard seemed to have congregated at the back of Lady Ann, but in keeping with Proper Jobbie tradition nothing about music or the forthcoming gig was discussed. Instead the conversation was about the joys of navigating Hickling in fog and where you end up and how you can tell where you are. Related to this had been the story of the night Adrian, the accordion player, had tried to escape from Horsey in fog, had taken the "false" dyke to the left of Meadow Dyke as you leave the Broad, and ended up spending the night there as it was safer than trying to find the right way out.
Lil Ol Gal strikes me as a rather civilised boat. Being able to brew tea aboard an open boat is so refined!
We briefly drew alongside Lil Ol Gal and it was only then that I spotted that she had a galley with stove and kettle aboard. It all seemed so civilised in what I had taken to be a simple day boat. As we came into the Mill Dyke, Ross skilfully executed spinning the boat through 180° and mooring stern on to his special docking bay, designed to make it easier for wheelchair access onto Lady Ann. With Ross happy that the boat was secure we all disembarked, band members grabbing their instruments as they went ashore.
It's about a hundred and fifty yards down to the road and the car park for visitors to the famous Horsey Mill. I stopped to chat to someone on a rather interesting boat, that I had first thought might be a Cornish Shrimper, but obviously wasn't, by the time I got close. At the road there were cars that had come to collect us and take us to the pub, but David, our main ukulele player, knew the cross country route and decided to walk rather than wait for the cars to return when they had room for us.
David and Mary, who had come over on his father's boat, Lil Ol Gal, the two youngsters from Happy Daze and I set out over the fields. The route turned out to be simple. You go straight across the road from the car park. Walk until you reach a dyke blocking your way, go over the stile on your left and follow the track until it reaches the road. The Nelson Head is then a hundred yards to the left.
David takes us on the cross-country route to "The Nelson Head". It avoids a narrow lane with no pavement that the local traffic seems to treat as a speedway.
David had been constantly offering to help carry my instruments for me. When I decided it was time for a photograph, I managed to distribute my guitars and stands, ukulele, and bag with assorted harmonicas, kazoo and other stuff you blow or hit amongst the party.
It's a bit of a relief to escape the young and very lively cattle as we cross the stile half way across the fields.
We had only gone about a hundred yards when I noticed the cattle. No ordinary docile and quiet cows were these, but a mixed group of male and female youngsters who charged at us from the far side of the field. But they were more curious than dangerous and they stopped ten yards short of us and then followed us as far as the stile.
Adrian, the accordion player, sacrifices being in the picture to take a photograph of the rest of the band as it puzzles about what to play next.
The Nelson Head is a classic old fashioned country pub, the kind I remember from my youth. You enter the main door and immediately find yourself in the bar, which could have been the front room of a farm house in earlier days. The place was already packed and we made our way through the throng to drop our instruments by the fireplace. We then retired to a small spartan back room that serves as the pub's restaurant, where we were fed with one of Neil's excellent chillies. I know Neil from his days as chef in the kitchens of the Pleasure Boat. Both pubs are now owned by the same man and Neil had transferred to the Nelson Head.
I returned to the bar to get my instruments and check that they were still in tune after the journey from Stalham. Working through the crowd gave me a chance to make out more of the pub. The bar itself stretches across the back of the main room. To the right the bar room has been extended with an opening cut through to the neighbouring front room. Both have tall ceilings made to look lower by being painted a dark red and from which are hung all manner of stuff associated with Nelson's navy days, mainly a concoction of weapons. The walls are similarly clad with both Nelson related material and things with a more local flavour. An enormous punt gun rests on the mantelpiece. The floor of both parts of the bar is mainly bare boards, the furniture hard chairs and pine tables with bleached tops from many years of having spilled drinks wiped dry. The only thing you felt might have changed since the 1960s was the price of the ale.
Once we were all back in the bar, Glenn asked me to open the night, so being a folk, blues and skiffle man, I did with renditions of "Putting on the Style" and "Midnight Special". After that Glenn distributed the song sheets we were into the Proper Jobbies usual collection of sing-a-long numbers, derived from anything from Music Hall to traditional rounds and folk songs and even modern pop songs.
Most of the night is led by Adrian on his accordion, with the rest of us making up the chords as we go along on ukulele or guitar, and a whole lot of added percussion from home made instruments. This time the band featured a new bass, to replace the traditional tea chest - made from a plastic water butt. The builder, a friend of Adrian, comes from East Dereham. I had never met him before the night and now realise that I failed to learn his name, but we had a great time trying to do a Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt together, merrily rocking in unison to Glenn's guitar playing, during one number.
It's standing room only for some of the adoring Audience! OK, I'm kidding! They weren't all adoring.
Exceptions to this general format for the night will be solos from ten year old Archie, on mandolin, or Bodhran. He's a real wizard with the second of these instruments, the traditional Irish hand drum. On this night Archie found himself duelling bodhrans with our bass builder and I joined in in an otherwise unaccompanied medley of skiffle and work song numbers known to Lonnie Donegan fans, "Cumberland Gap", "Pick a Bale of Cotton" and "Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham". With things like that going on, and in these days of karaoke, it's much easier to encourage members of the audience to take the microphone. We succeeded in finding one woman who took the lead for a couple of numbers. A local lad also took the stage borrowing Glenn's guitar and singing a couple of his own songs. It all made for a splendid night of fun - if not the very best of music.
As we reach the end of the night we go into full crowd pleaser mode. For the Proper Jobbies that means Glenn insisting on no "Nah, nahs" until the right moment in "Hey Jude", David doing a rendition of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band number "Jollity Farm" which requires everyone to make weird animal noises and, top favourite, Adrian leading "The Music Man" in which the entire audience is required to act out the playing of musical instruments in an ever-extending chorus. The idea is to get as many in as instruments possible before someone sings out "I can play the Archers", when everyone sings "La-di-dah" to the radio soap opera tune or, better still, "I can play the Dam Busters" when apart from singing the famous march tune you expect to see outstretched arms, fingers wrapped round round the eyes to look like pilot's goggles and much machine gun noise.
It was near midnight by the time the evening was finished and the Proper Jobbies had had their fill of free beer. In spite of giving away the beer, Becky, the landlady, was smiling as the lifts were arranged to get some audience back to Hickling. It seems she judged the night a success as the tills had been ringing all night with record breaking takings.
All in all the only disappointment was that we couldn't return to Hickling by boat - and I really must learn to pace my voice so it doesn't completely crack by half way through the evening.