May 22nd, 2003
I found my wife’s secret diary. Helen calls it a journal. She finds it “empowering” to write down her thoughts. I thought I’d do the same though I’m not one for reflection, I just get on with things really.
She hates Wells-Next-The-Sea and regrets moving from London, but it's only been a week! She thinks the locals talk like they're in a Hammer House of Horror movie either predicting doom or recounting it. She still hasn’t fully unpacked. It’s important to respect the shape of your clothes. You don’t want preventable creasing.
May 23rd, 2003
My bookshop opened today. No sales but it's exciting to be taking a risk, putting my heart and soul on the line for something I love. The aroma of new books, the texture of paper, the sound of pages turning, it’s heaven.
Helen said that I've spent a fraction of my dad’s inheritance relocating to Middle Earth so it's hardly a gamble. She said I’ve only read about five books in my life and two of those were Harry Potter.
A local woman came in and told me a crow had flown into her window and died.
Helen wrote the ensuite in our new house “has the soundproofing of a torn paper bag.”
May 24th, 2003
Wells doesn’t have a supermarket, or a cinema and the theatre only opens in the summer, Helen grumbled. She ran out of petrol today. She was driving to the petrol station to get some but the nearest one is 12 miles away in Fakenham. The country lanes are too narrow for her Range Rover and people keep beeping or shaking their fists at her for no reason. Traffic moves faster in the London rush hour, she said. It’s all tractors, caravans and old people driving at 10 mph.
No books sold yet but I got a text message from Trevor in London he sent Tuesday.
May 25th, 2003
Helen says I’m an idiot buying a bookshop. I said that people will always need bookshops and this Amazon malarky is a flash in the pan. She said I should change it to an art gallery. Every other shop in Wells sells pictures of the North Norfolk Coast and charges a fortune. And anyone who’s been to two art classes seems to think they can paint. People buy them by the Range Rover load for their second homes and holiday cottages.
Started the third Harry Potter today.
May 26th, 2003
Helen says that we don’t communicate properly. So we talked about our day. There were lots of silences. She says I mispronounce Hermione. Ann Summers has opened in King’s Lynn apparently. I asked her why she hadn’t unpacked properly. She shrugged like a sulking teenager.
I sold my first book. Woohoo. From the travel section. London A-Z.
Another crow has flown into that woman’s window.
May 27th, 2003
Helen wrote, “His idea of foreplay is gargling mouthwash in the ensuite for twenty minutes like a garrotted duck.” Attention to detail is polite. And she didn’t give me credit for flossing.
I must get paracetamol.
May 28th, 2003
Helen said doing a stock take was pointless as I’d only sold one book. But I love the structure and order of it, the counting and the spreadsheets. I offered to let her help me as she looked so glum. She declined in quite a sweary way and said if I were any use I’d stock batteries!
May 29th, 2003
Helen says she “doesn’t need to go to the Gasworks Museum in Fakenham because we have an ensuite thank you very much.” She says Fakenham was voted the most boring town in the world and I should be its mayor.
Agreed. I’d make a good mayor.
May 30th, 2003
A rather splendid lady, Rachel, came into the shop today and wanted a book on Naturism. I looked some titles up on the computer and ordered some for her.
There’s a Naturist Beach at Holkham just down the coast where she’s staying, she said. If it warms up a bit and it stops raining she’s going to give it a go. She asked if I’d been and of course, I hadn’t, it sounds bloody terrifying, but I heard my voice reply that I live for Naturism. It’s a way to feel fully immersed in the beauty and wonder of the natural world, I said having read those words from a book I’d just ordered. Her beautiful face lit up and she said she felt a connection between us. It was all I could do just to breathe.
Her husband’s currently in Norway with his parents, she explained, and I should join her. She gave me her email address.
When I got home there was a note from Helen saying she had gone back to London. She was not suited to “banal identical Norfolk days.” She missed the chaos and spontaneity of London. She is lonely even when I’m around. She’ll come back for her things soon.
Good! I love it here. I never feel lonely, not even by myself. I love the order, the calm. The whole day set out ahead and everything in its place.
I can tidy up her stuff now. Bliss.
May 31st, 2003
I sent Rachel an email letting her know her books were in. I had a thank you email back from her with a photograph of her naked! Not full on, but like a charity calendar girl picture that preserves modesty. I danced around the shop. The dead bird lady poked her head around the door and asked if I was alright. I said I had never felt better.
June 1st, 2003
I passed the Holkham Estate Naturist sign on the beach. I was dressed in shorts and a T-Shirt. I saw one naturist sitting on a towel at the foot of the dunes next to a low windbreaker. I couldn’t tell from that distance whether it was a man or a woman. l must get my eyes tested, I thought. But this person waved, and I waved back. I could barely breathe with the anticipation. As I approached she stood up, a heaven of femininity. I was a tongue-tied clumsy teenager again. I hurt from the effort of maintaining eye contact as she spoke words I could not register.
The excitement of it all got to me and I gripped my towel in front of my shorts and thought of Margaret Thatcher, no too sexy, then roll mop herring, gravestones, powdered milk, anything. But I needn’t have worried because walking down from the dunes was what turned out to be Helen’s naked husband, Gustav and his naked parents who had come all the way from Bergen. It was like having a bucket of cold water thrown over me. I felt deflated. I shook hands with them, appalled by my idiocy of misreading the situation.
Later, after I had slipped my clothes off and we walked down to the sea together for an exhilarating swim I felt somehow liberated and free. I felt a sense of camaraderie and closeness with these strangers I’d only just met.
It felt like a new beginning.