Normal for Norfolk

‘Until recently, talking about money was like talking about sex – we didn’t really do it,’ said Desmond MacCarthy, the gentleman farmer whose efforts to keep his crumbling ancestral pile afloat proved such a hit with viewers last year.

These days, though, the subject is impossible to avoid: a shabby elephant in the dilapidated room. Wiveton Hall, where Desmond lives with his 101-year-old mother Chloe (whose long life, no pun intended, he puts down to ‘having never drunk milk’) is a money pit with debts running into the hundreds of thousands.

‘Economy at all times!’ trumpets Desmond, as he moves around the house switching off lamps. That said, financial concerns haven’t stopped him ordering bespoke Harris tweed from Scotland (‘ready for the shooting season’), from which his ex-wife Tina will run up the latest addition to his wardrobe of near-identical tweed suits. ‘Do you have anything that’s not tweed?’ wondered the man from the BBC. ‘Hardly,’ said Desmond.

Tina described her relationship with Desmond as ‘happily unmarried’, painting a picture of them as the East Anglian Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. Peter, the ageing gardener, has a good relationship with his employer, too. ‘I’m not gay or anything,’ he stressed. ‘But I do like him.’ Hang on, wasn’t this a long-running gag on The Fast Show?

I like Desmond, too. A Tom Sharpe character made flesh, he’s like a cross between Toad of Toad Hall and a taller, less Scottish Ronnie Corbett, with extraordinary, rampant black eyebrows that look like they’ve been scribbled on by a child.

In order to generate some extra cash, Desmond had to overcome his lifelong phobia of ‘anyone doing anything in lycra’ as Wiveton hosted its first yoga retreat. ‘I don’t know much about yoga,’ he admitted. ‘I think they like cosmic smells produced from ethnic candles.’ I think that pretty much nails it. Anyway, he soon changed his mind after a lovely lady called Pamina laid him out on a bedroom rug and got his chi moving.

If any of this is even remotely normal for Norfolk, count me in.

TV extra:


Horizon: Dippy and the Whale

This lovely film followed the painstaking and, at times, heart-stopping installation of the Natural History Museum’s stunning new entrance hall exhibit: the skeleton of a blue whale beached in Ireland 126 years ago. Sadly, that means the end for Dippy, the replica diplodocus that has stood sentry in the hall since 1979. But what’s more important, asked the tireless Sir David Attenborough: a copy of something that died 65 million years ago, or a magnificent symbol of life on our fragile blue planet today?


Game of ThronesI know what you’re thinking: why is he bibbling on about Norfolk and whales, when the world’s biggest TV show came back this week? Sorry readers, but HBO don’t show previews of Game of Thrones to anyone and let them out of the room alive. But I did watch a YouTube video in which an excitable American man talked over the new series trailer (‘It appears Cersei Lannister is in a very dark-looking room’). So far, it’s had around half-a-million views. I think I’m in the wrong job.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 20, 2017

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