Norfolk's not normally a county associated with mining. There's no coal, no tin, no precious metal lurking conveniently beneath the surface. But there is flint, which Neolithic Britons used for weapons, tools and building, and before the Bronze Age flint was as good as it got. They mined a site in Thetford Forest between four and five thousand years ago, digging hundreds of shafts in the ground for the extraction of this precious mineral. It's called Grime'sGraves, and is now to be found in a remote forest clearing near an army firing range under the protection of English Heritage. There's no tearoom, just a hutlike visitors centre with a shop and a small but informative exhibition. Outside is a lumpy field pocked with 400 bunker-sized circular dips, each the filled-in remains of a flint mine pit. And the thing which makes the site worth visiting? One of these pits has been fully excavated and is open to the public. You wait your turn at a green hut on the surface, then don the regulation safety helmet and descend into the darkness. Some people crumble at the thought - I met a lady here who'd chickened out on a school trip forty years ago and had come back yesterday to prove a point. Hold tight to the ladder, it's 30 feet down to the mineshaft floor. As your eyes grow accustomed to the dark you see several low tunnels leading off in all directions, painstakingly dug out using picks made from deer's antlers. Some tunnels are short and stunted, others extend rather further, linking up with neighbouring shafts somewhere in the labyrinthine distance. You can't crouch far, only shuffle and peek, then it's back up the ladder to escape the ancient pit. It's the Norfolk underground, a subterranean survivor, from an era most history books forgot.
Norfolk postcard: Butterfly Brain (Norwich Playhouse 21/10/11) Colin Sell is playing the piano. The Colin Sell, of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue fame, is improvising and extemporising like a master on the Norwich Playhouse stage. Colin's an unexpected treat, because this evening we're here for Barry Cryer and "a stream of unconsciousness and sit down comedy". The great man enters, banters with the audience and even proves he can almost sing. The concept of Butterfly Brain is a simple one - using the alphabet from A to Z as a hook to hang an otherwise unconnected stream of jokes, puns and anecdotes. From Arthur Askey to the Zimmer Frame Blues, this is a laid-back genial show with regular laughs (plus the occasional musical interlude). Some letters merit several references, as Barry checks his notes for another "ah yes", while other letters get short shrift. Indeed M and N vanish altogether, failing to appear on either side of the interval, which by my calculations means I'm due a £1.35 refund. But where else (outside ISIHAC) could you whip up an audience to sing the words of one song to the tune of another, or lampoon American preachers with a sermon about Cheeses? Colin has the shinier shoes, and a rather funny ditty about flirty parrots, but the evening belongs to the endearing Mr Cryer. He's 76 now, is Barry, but still a consummate comedy legend. And you can catch him on his national tour... ah, sorry, it ended last night, so by now he's probably back home in Hatch End penning a few more class wisecracks for some future project.
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.