Monday, 3rd November 2003.

What happened in Sheringham

Somewhere near the ring road, Friday, 9:30 p.m.

"No, I can't stand it when people talk to their pets and refer to themselves as 'Mummy' or 'Daddy'. It's completely wrong. I hear them talking to dogs in that patronising baby speak, which I can stomach when it's with children because it sometimes seems appropriate. But addressing your labrador with 'Yes, look, it's me, it's your mummy!'. I mean, honestly."
"I know what you mean," said Emily.
"Were I the dog....I'd be thinking 'No! I'm one of a litter! My mother was a bitch! Another dog! Nothing to do with you! You just look after me!'. It's not as if it works in reverse, is it? I mean, you don't go around saying 'This is Woody, my son'."
"No," she said. "Actually, Woody's not my son, he's my lover."
I nearly choked. "That's lovely. Can I put it in the diary?"

I'd driven to Cambridge listening to Leonard Cohen. Thanks to one of Jon's sermons last week and the subsequent discussion, I have had "Hallelujah" floating around my head in various forms for the last week. The lyrics - the few that I know by heart - weaved in and out and every so often I could hear a choir singing the chorus. Earlier in the week Sarah Kennedy played it on the Songs From The Shows portion of her Dawn Patrol programme, and then on Thursday, when I thought it was at last fading away I watched Basqiuat, where it played over the end credits. "Hallelujah" is one of those rare novelties, a song that improves with subsequent playings and a deeper understanding. It's the sort of all-encompassing anthem of healing that thoroughly deserves its accolade of "Canada's best song".

I've come to the conclusion that Leonard Cohen is a wonderful lyricist - one of the best in the world - but a lousy singer. It's not the resonance of his earthquake-inducing voice - Johnny Cash was just as guilty in that department. However, unlike Cash, Mr. Cohen seems to carry very little emotion in his deadpan delivery. There are some artists who can pull off deadpan and make it into something beautiful. He isn't one of them. But a two-and-a-half hour greatest hits collection has a curious effect: it's interesting to listen to his voice change over the years from the reedy, slightly pale Cohen of the late sixties and the "Famous Blue Raincoat" era, through the drum machines and synths in the eighties, where his tone becomes gruff and worn through, like an old coat. Finally, it matures into the rich, throaty sound that we're familiar with. It's like watching someone go through puberty in fast forward.

After the nightmare that was the A1M I finally met her in the church, and we went for dinner in a nearby Italian before retiring. The next morning the rain had subsided and as it seemed to be a nice day we took a drive up to Sheringham, on the Norfolk coast. Sheringham, for those of you who haven't been there, is halfway between a market town and a tourist trap - undecided as to which it prefers. The main streets are awash with charity shops, pet stores and cafes, with the occasional discount store thrown in. (One, we noted with some amusement, had a sign reading "Everything inside one pound, unless otherwise priced".) Emily took a photo of me standing outside Woolworth's (a Baldock family tradition) and I snapped one of her standing outside a fast food establishment called "Stanley's Steak and Ribs". No doubt Stanley the dog would be mortified.

The promenade itself is a few hundred yards of white-washed concrete and stone. It was windy and cold, the north sea a vast expanse of grey, froth glinting slightly in the afternoon sun. I was perplexed at the appearance of several pay-as-you-look telescopes when all you could see was the ocean, with no ships for miles around. We wandered down to the beach and stood on a boat ramp that slid down into the tide, which was high. The surf crashed and made foam with a big voice, and then Emily decided that we should walk a little further down the ramp, dangerously close to the rocks and the water.

"No, this is a bad idea," I said, as we inched forward. "You know why? Because it's a really bad idea."
But it wasn't. We stood as near to the ocean as space allowed, and I thought about my attraction to coastal towns in cold weather, one that she shares with me. It stems from a close association with The Goonies as much as anything else - I've always adored billowing winds that rustle grass and cause waves to cascade up and down in great, sweeping moves.
"It's funny," I said. "Scenes like this. It reminds you who's in charge. This is about as primal as it gets. We've done so much but we'll never match the awe of something like this great expanse....this is where we came from, you know."
As if to stop my pretentious rambling, an enormous wave jumped up from beneath, splashing us both.
"It's also where we'll end up if we're not careful," I added.

Further along the beach we visited the lifeboat station. Oh hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea. And then I found a pebble, and asked her to pick one out that she liked, and we stood near the water's lapping edges.
"Do you remember," I said, "that beach in Blackpool?"
"You remember what we did?"
"Not really. We were both very drunk."
"No, seriously. With the flowers."
She nodded.
"I want you to take this. And I'll take mine. And don't mention it again. And then years and years from now, when one of us is gone, whoever's left behind will remember this moment. And we'll come back here and cast both of them into the ocean, and that way we'll always be together."
It might have been the wind, but I thought I saw her eyes glisten.
"It's kitsch...but well, you know."
She put her arms around me, and against the elements, I managed to whisper "I love you, Emily."

It was kitsch, in a way. But it was one of those moments.

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