My friends call it a town, and there are a good number of shops, not to mention pubs, but my AA guide book to East Anglia calls it a village.
For those readers across the pond, AA here stands for Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous.
We went for a stroll on Christmas Day morning. Naturally I had my little Olympus in my pocket. The guidebook talks tantalisingly of how in summer, ‘the great spread of a rose nursery blazes from the green slopes just outside Harleston. The valley is a froth of blossom in the spring, and in summer is a sparkle of cottage gardens.’ Purple prose maybe, but as it was December, I was in no position to judge.
I saw a very pretty town/village with handsome Georgian buildings, some lovely pargeting, modest cottages,and a contender for the country’s smallest museum.
The sun shone in a cool blue sky. The Christmas tree might not be to everyone’s taste and is said to be a choice made on economic rather than aesthetic grounds, but it worked for me. The local estate agents bore my family name so I felt a sense of belonging. My name is a Huguenot one, the ancestors having the good sense, when ordered to wear white armbands to identify their non-conformity to the Roman Catholic faith after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, to quit France rather than be slaughtered. One of my more surreal moments a couple of decades ago was sitting in a London cinema watching La Reine Margot with a French friend on either side of me, both catholics, and realising, as the story unfolded, that their ancestors are quite likely to have been busy wanting to kill mine.
Time heals most things, as they so correctly say.
Anyway, the ancestors came to England and settled mainly in East Anglia and the South East. It’s a very common name in France, and was jolly useful when I lived there, but here I still find it mispronounced much of the time.
Harleston is on the border between Norfolk and Suffolk. My friends who have a house there also have a flat in london. I was working with one of them today.
“We’re going to spend New Year in Suffolk,” she told me.
I didn’t correct her.