Picture of the day: Mary Janes, Cromer [2017]

A sacred place

Imagine the best fish and chips you’ve ever had. If it wasn’t from Mary Janes in Cromer, you’re wrong.

I believe that there is an ancient gnostic scripture held in the cathedral in St Davids that says eating fish and chips from Mary Janes in Cromer is akin to 400 pilgrimages to Rome. I was here in on this day in 2017. By all reckoning I’ve made something like 2000 trips to Rome now.

I am blessed and have the belly to prove it.

Behold its saintly visage.


[Crossposted from Livejournal with some text alterations and whatnot]

All I want to do is escape to the seaside at the moment. Don’t know why.

I looked at Google maps today and worked out that it would take me 46 hours to walk the 141 miles from work to Cromer although I’m not sure entirely how much of that walk would be practical. Moreover, as Google Maps says it would take me just shy of 6 hours to walk home the 19.3 miles along the A361 and Jurassic Way, I don’t think I’ll be walking to Cromer in any hurry.
I could catch a plane for £180 return for a three hour flight to Norwich from Birmingham or catch a combination of buses and trains on a 6 hour journey via Central London for an unknown cost or I could drive 150 miles for 3 and half hours and ramp up the mileage on my leased car. Either way that would be costly.

Of co​urse, once there, what would I do?

fullsizeoutput_c71.jpegWell first off I’d have fish and chips at Mary Janes. It would be a large cod-like fish with a bread roll (buttered) and a pot of tea. Even though fish, chips and bread roll is quite filling for me these days, I’d probably have room for an ice cream. So after my meal I’d meander down Garden Street towards the Esplanade in search of ice cream.

While I’d prefer to eat a sundae seated indoors, ice cream parlours in Cromer (or at least my knowledge of such) are lacking so I’d settle for a cone, scoopy rather than whippy, with a Flake™ , nut topping and green or red syrup. I could then take it down to the sea front to sit and eat while the world passes me by. Elderly gentlemen on their bikes will greet ladies promenading, children will laugh and play in the distance in a non-irritating fashion and somewhere on the pier, a brass band will play “Tiddly Om-Pom-Pom”. Seagulls would swoop and dive, eating discarded chips and fighting over cigarette butts and the sea would lap the shore rhythmically but calm.

Ice cream eaten, I’d walk along the pier to the bar at its end, taking in the smells of freshly cooked doughnuts and candy floss along the way. I’d pass young dads teaching their eager to learn young lads how to fish or catch crabs using a crab ladder from the pier. The sounds from distant penny arcades and fair ground rides mixed with the clopping of shoes against pier boards.

Reaching the bar, I’d have a pint of whatever local ale was on offer and sit near the window to read and watch the distant wind turbines. Newspapers these days are trite and full of misinformation so instead I’d have a book with me. Probably something by Scott Meyer, Mark Billingham or James S. A. Corey. Or maybe a British seaside travelogue akin to Attention All Shipping or Pier Review. It would be relaxing, unrushed and no pressure.

An hour or so later I’d be sufficiently relaxed enough to move on and I’ve not really thought about where I’d stay. Ideally I’d have a flat above a shop in the town centre, or maybe access to a little cottage down one of the back streets on the outskirts of the town. Failing that extravagance, I’d settle for a room in a B&B.
The B&B would be run by a couple in their late sixties. A typical guest house with a bar and a dining room for breakfasts, that strange fusty smell one might also experience in old caravans in the communal areas. The room itself cosy with pictures by local artists hung on the walls, tea making facilities and a table and chair in a bay window to facilitate writing. The view would be of the street below stretching down towards the coast, a tease of blue sea taunting from the distance and the occasional squawk from a seagull to remind me I’m by the sea.

Relieved of my belongings and refreshed by a shower, a return to the town in search of an evening meal would be on the cards. Something light though as the weight of fish and chips for lunch would be lingering. I imagine light refreshment in the form of a high tea of crab sandwiches, tea and cake would be most fitting but as such dining is not fashionable these days, I’d probably have to settle for something more substantial.

Again, my geography and knowledge of Cromer’s nightlife is lacking. Places to eat of an evening may be diverse but they may also be limited. The safest bet would be to head to a chain pub for a steak or something, alternatively British towns nearly always guarantee a Chinese or Indian restaurant nearby. Either way I wouldn’t really starve. If I wasn’t staying in a B&B, I might even consider a take away pizza or perhaps just something basic like home cooked bacon sandwich with sausage and chips. The chips covered in salt served from a cellar with a white plastic top, and vinegar from a fluted bottle with a glass stopper.

Post evening meal, retiring to a room where there is a TV would be in order. Crap evening TV, classic Doctor Who, Juliet Bravo or a British film full of tense drama from the golden age of British movie making. Something like Ipcress File. Feet up on the sofa, cosy and reflective of the days adventures.

Next morning, following either a hearty B&B cooked breakfast or a substantial home compiled bowl of cereal and cup of tea, thoughts would turn to the journey back. But who really wants to go home? Nobody writes about going home with as much passion as going away. What would I need to sustain this existence of fish and chips, beer and evening strolls? Even on the most basic subsistence the costs would add up and the life of a vagrant is not one anyone in their right mind would choose to follow.
So what would be needed is a two prong plan of attack. A job that pays enough and a house to live in. What jobs in Cromer? Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 would suggest a career in reiki, my former careers advisor Mr Brophy probably doesn’t have any literature on the careers on offer in coastal towns of Norfolk. I could write, but every Tom, Dick and Harry is a fucking Jeffery Archer these days. Similarly with everyone channelling the spirit of Lord Snowdon and taking photos, photographer is also off the cards and nobody really makes money from Youtube except Google.

Shop work is tiring, poorly paid and retail is on its last legs anyway. Farm work and labouring is joyless. And with industry on its knees in the UK, there are no factories anymore. Teaching is for mugs so office work, although mundane, is the only option really left for me yet once again, nothing really worthwhile. Ideally, I’d hope for just a few days a week, four long days with Friday off perhaps. If I could paint, maybe I could sell watercolours on the pier. If I could entertain, perhaps I could ride up and down the prom doing magic tricks and being rude to tourists. Beyond that, apart from inheriting from a long lost relative, winning the lottery or finding the proceeds from a heist, the only realistic way to sustain a life like that is through regular work, especially as there are no high street banks to rob anymore.

In real life, realisation would hit and I would probably end up gloomy returning to my job and home. I’d also have to consider Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 who would also be joining me on this escape to the seaside. But this is a fantasy. A fantasy where I run away with my wife, away from work and the ties of occupational commitment. A fantasy of a better life with three kitties, a wife and where a daily diet of fish and chips and ice cream wouldn’t end in a tragic death by heart attack or diabetes. So I can fantasise about any job or occupation. Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 would probably want to run a book shop, opening every day except weekends, while making a tidy profit from not having any people come in to bother her with stupid questions like “Is this a bookshop?” or “Do you have that book, I think it’s got a green cover?”

Me? My fantasy job would be rural Post Office clerk in a village stores, or maybe a specialist pizza restaurant, opening evenings only with dining by sitting rather than “random off the street when you’re quite ready Mr Chef” dining. Two sittings. Fancy pizzas. Expensive because they’re worth it. I would come in for a couple of hours a night, make the pizzas then go home, leaving the other staff to wash up and marshal the diners. Of course I’d get someone in to make the pizzas at weekends because only mugs work weekends. And, because I owned the place, I could choose when I worked and take 90% of the profits to sustain my lifestyle.


So there I’d be. Living in a seaside town with my lovely wife and kitties, making pizzas, existing on a diet of crab sandwiches, fish and chips and ice cream. Drinking beer at the end of a pier, watching the world go by and a television that’s somehow stuck on broadcasts of early 1980s Saturday evening TV. Living in a flat above a shop or in a cosy little cottage. Having escaped from the East Midlands in a lease car containing nothing but my gym kit and a dash cam.​


It is well known, perhaps written in ancient scripture, that a day out to the British seaside is something everyone must commit to at some point in their life. In that regard, I am blessed for I try to make regular trips to the seaside.


Living in the centre of the UK, where nearly everything is three and a half hours away, means that I am the furthest away from the seaside as you can be at any point in the UK. Moreover, the selection of seaside destinations reachable within a reasonable time from this point is a little bit grim. Hunstanton is one such place, with its miles of coastal caravan parks; Skegness is another, again with miles of coastal caravan parks. And yet for just a half hour extra drive, one can reach beautiful Cromer, which is where Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 and I have just spent our bank holiday weekend.

Cromer Pier
Cromer Pier

Regular readers (if there are any left) will know that I have visited Cromer before – a small sleepy Norfolk coastal town famous for its crabs. Cromer’s tiny streets are littered with shops selling curios, knick-knacks and tat that most people will only use once, a place which once enjoyed a grander time of bathing machines, day trip ferries embarked via a pier and swanky hotels staffed by gentlemen in smart uniforms. A place as yet unspoilt by amusement arcades, kiss me quick hats and leery youths on drunken stag weekends.

Cromer seafront, pier and approach

A trip to the British seaside comes with a checklist of things to do. Over the years I have pared down my list to three things:

  • Fish and chips
  • Ice cream
  • Walk along the prom

While I might also occasionally chuck in “a paddle”, “Cream tea in the afternoon” and “A play on the penny cascades”, the core holy trinity of food and a walk does me just fine these days, and this weekend I managed all three successfully. The waters around Cromer are Norfolk brown in colour and not the tropical azure that I am used to these days and the thought of dissolving my feet paddling in effluent still does not fill me with joy. Cream teas, while abundant at British seasides, are only really any good when in Devon or Cornwall (sorry, I’m a jam first kind of heathen) and the lack of (or inability to find) arcades in Cromer saw away any chance of chucking away half a tonne of copper coins in the hope of winning a bottle opener in the shape of a naked lady.

Fish and Chips
Fish and chips @ Mary Janes

Mary Janes, Cromer
Mary Janes, Cromer

None the less, our trip to Cromer was most enjoyable. The seaside ennui began with a late lunch of fish and chips in Mary Janes. Quality, no fuss large cod and chips and a roll and butter for me, with an unbattered haddock and chips for Zoe. I tell you, providing you do your research well, fish and chips at the seaside never fails to please. Unless you’re one of those strange people who doesn’t like fish and chips. Mary Jane’s is a favourite of mine, with Scarborough’s Golden Grid and Whitby’s Magpie Cafe also in the top five fish and chip shops in the UK. Naturally, as any Yorkshireman would testify, the best fish and chips in the world are from Yorkshire, but alas, when it’s a four-hour drive to the Weatherby Whaler, Mary Jane’s will have to suffice. Oh, and don’t let anyone tell you that Harry Ramsden’s is quality fish and chips either. If they do, slap them with a wet piece of huss and tell them to get hence to McDonald’s for a Fillet-o-fish.

Further sights of Cromer

Next on the checklist was an ice cream. Now I’m a sucker for a whippy ice cream with a flake, but I’m also a sucker for locally produced ice creams as they tend to have unusual flavours. So we took a brisk walk along the pier and the prom (sadly, no brass bands tiddly-om-pom-poming) in hope of finding something worthwhile. Now, as the sun was out in all its glory in Norfolk this weekend, it seemed that every man and his wife, four kids and dog, were also out in force. As a result, the more ideally placed ice cream shops were rammed or had a line of queues outside. Indeed, the pier was quite busy, especially at the embarkation end (where the RNLI lifeboat station is) were middle-aged fathers tried to terrify their children into enjoying themselves by threatening them with freshly crab-laddered crabs. There were even a couple of armed policemen, but such a sight is the norm now that the British Police State is under martial law.


Henry Bloggs, Bigger hero than you

Cromer was also home to the bravest man who ever lived, Henry Bloggs. Bloggs and his chums would fearlessly brave the elements, row a wooden boat far out to sea and rescue drowning townies from watery deaths while smoking a pipe and looking rather cool in a sou’wester. In force 10 gales. For free. With rain lashing his chops. Now you don’t see people doing much of that these days do you? No. You don’t. Now that’s bravery. And, when you’re that brave, you get medals, your own monument and a museum named after you. Not bad eh? Oh, and you also have lots of murals drawn around your town in your honour. Makes helping an old biddy with their shopping seem a bit limp.



More Cromerian sights


Sadly parking is a premium in Cromer on popular days, so three hours is not enough to enjoy a sit and a watch of the world going by so we had to leave. Previous visits to this part of the coast, however, had involved a stay or visit to Sheringham and being a stickler for tradition, it was only fair that we popped in to see what the place looks like in season, even if it was only for half an hour.


Sights of Sheringham

Sheringham is the upmarket sister of Cromer. Middle classes, mostly with nearby holiday homes, price out the locals and swan about like they own the place. Mostly because they do. The stark difference between Cromer and Sheringham is evident from the upmarket theatre and selection of nearby restaurants in Sheringham. While Cromer’s fish and chips attract some diners, it is Sherringham’s mix of Nepalese, Thai and European restaurants that mark the contrast there. Indeed, short of organic, artesian gluten-free neo-paleo hypoallergenic ice creams, it is hard not to delight at the pomposity of some of the patrons. Children with names such as Pompidu, Sefton and Chanterey freely express themselves while aloof mums swig large glasses of Prosecco and dads pander to Parmesan and Chigley’s ever increasing demands in an attempt to be the best fathers ever.


Indeed, much like Cromer, there are rows and rows of chalets lining the prom. For non-Brits reading, a chalet or beach hut is basically a really expensive garden shed which you’re not allowed to live in. However, it is this quirk that makes this part of the coast so picturesque. The sight of painted wooden huts often with unusual names being cracked open for the first time in six months is a delight to behold and, much like the bathing machine houses in Scarborough and Cromer, is an important part of British seaside heritage.

With bellies full of noms and a distance to travel to our B&B, we left the Norfolk coast once more and headed inland for further bank holiday adventure.

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