diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 20, 2021

Rather than write the usual travelogue about the Norfolk resort of Sheringham, allow me to show you a selection of interesting signs spotted around the town.

Signs of Sheringham

The phrase 'twixt sea and pine' has been emblazoned in large blue letters across the sea wall below the east cliff. This is an inaccurate translation of the town's motto mare ditat pinusque decorat which really means "the sea enriches and the pine adorns", referencing both the North Sea and the coniferous woods inland. Sheringham is the only town in the UK with pine cones and a lobster in its coat of arms.

The Mo turns out to be Sheringham's museum which is housed on the seafront above a storm overflow tank. It's named after Morag Pigott, the old lady who originally lived in the house on this site (but which the military destroyed for training purposes during WW2). Lifeboats are big draw at the museum, as you'd expect, but it also contains a nationally-significant collection of 40 fishermen's sweaters. Connoisseurs of salty knitwear should note that the galleries and observation tower are out of bounds at present while The Mo is closed for the winter.

At Sheringham station, where the buffers ought to be, a panoply of stop signs warns Greater Anglia trains to proceed no further. This is because the track continues across the taxi rank, over the main street, through a small parklet and underneath a level crossing gate... where it enters the domain of the North Norfolk Railway, a popular steam-driven concern enabled by Dr Beeching, and continues all the way to Holt. Festive passengers are currently being carried aboard the Norfolk Lights Express, an illuminated service running (almost) nightly until January, and which Olivia Colman was spotted riding earlier this week.

According to a plaque at the end of Whitehall Yard, the first bomb to be dropped on Britain landed in Sheringham on a Tuesday evening in January 1915. It was dropped from a Zeppelin by a German pilot who'd got a bit lost on the way from Hamburg to Hull, an easy mistake to make on a stormy night, and the payload failed to explode. Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn were not so lucky. Alas the plaque is incorrect, at least with regard to Sheringham being first, because a German plane had already dropped a bomb on a back garden in Dover on Christmas Eve 1914.

You probably can't read the blue plaque on this photo of The Old Smoke House, but don't worry, you don't need to. It says "This building was formerly used as a smoke house", which may just be the most pointless blue plaque of all time.

No mammoths have been uncovered in Sheringham thus far, but follow the arrow to discover a stretch of sea wall where a local painter has celebrated the West Runton find. David Barber's Neolithic Mural includes sabre-tooth cats and rhinos as well as tusky mammoths, plus dung beetles if you know where to look, but is already looking a little worse for wear after five years of tidal splashes.

Those with king-sized continental quilts may wish to know that the Sheringham Launderette on Beeston Road has the largest duvet machine in North Norfolk. Those with standard-sized bedding may be still be interested to know, via another blue plaque, that it was built on the site of the town's 18th century paper mill.

Many seaside high streets contain unusual shops, but I don't think I've ever seen one specifically devoted to bargain books and jigsaws. The puzzles at The Discount Books & Jigsaw Co Ltd didn't seem especially cheap (it was £9.99 for a 500 piece festive scene of small dogs playing by a Christmas tree) but they do offer a decent price for a Woodcraft Construction Kit of the RMS Titanic.

Of course Sheringham has beach huts, and of course they have supposedly amusing names. Sandy Groyne is one of the better ones, and Seas The Day just about tolerable, but whoever called one of them Wine & Wives should be ashamed of themselves.

It's time for Richard Crabtree to retire and so Major Dunn Revival, the bric a brac shop on Church Street, is shutting its doors. The shop is named after a Sheringham antiques shop called Major Dunn which Richard remembers visiting in the 1940s, and which was a high street staple for many years. Alas everything has its time and a prolonged closing down sale at Richard's store has been underway since April. Anyone needing a military helmet, grandfather clock or ceramic owl should head down fairly swiftly.

Up a quiet sidestreet, Margaret's Hairstylists has instead slipped quietly away. A sign on the door warns that the salon will be closing on 28th June due to retirement and thanks customers for their patronage over the last 57 years, a length of time longer than I've been alive, which sounds like the kind of achievement the local paper should have celebrated but sadly didn't. Most touchingly the sign rounds off with an apology - Sorry For Any Inconvenience - and I truly hope Margaret has her feet up somewhere having a well-earned rest.

Rumours about the complete closure of Peter's Bookshop should be ignored, according to one of a multiplicity of signs blu-tacked to its front door. Another confirms that War books are always needed, two scream that purchases must be made in cash only and another misspells the word "traitional". Most tellingly we learn that "the owner of this shop will not insist that faces must be covered" - a statement which aligns with current UK laws - before concluding that "we must learn to live with the virus not allow it to continue ruling our lives". I might stick with the jigsaw shop in the High Street.

There can be few shops with a more grammatically questionable name than Mr. Tea's, Coffees & Cakes. The only way its central comma could be correct is if this were a three-part list, but that can't plausibly be the case because of the apostrophe in the word beforehand (and its absence in the words that follow). This grammatical tussle overshadows the additional mysteries of who Mr. Tea might be and why his coffees are plural, indeed it would instantly put me off grabbing a cuppa within, but rarely has a combination of punctuation marks been used to such devastating contrary effect.

The Our Price store, which sadly doesn't sell vinyl records, has paired its products in such a way as to suggest it sells Pet Stationery. A quick look at the shelves inside confirms that they don't stock Basildon Bond for dogs, fountain pens for cats or anything similar. On the bright side they have at least spelt Stationery correctly... but then wrecked their credentials by getting Confectionary wrong on the next panel.

The cafe with the roundel outside isn't called Pie Stop, it's called Norfolk's Pie Man, and sells familiar meat-based dishes to daytrippers with no sense of culinary adventure. I don't think Transport for London would be very pleased to see their brand collateral used in this way but thankfully the chance of their legal team ever venturing 120 miles north of Cockfosters is vanishingly small.

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