Aldeburgh without the festival was music to my feet

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The Independent Online
I WAS in East Anglia at the weekend, not far from Aldeburgh, and almost the last thing I did before leaving home was read a piece in the International Herald Tribune about the music festival, which had just finished; which meant that I would have no chance to get involved with the Aldeburgh Music Festival, for which I gave hearty silent thanks, as on the few occasions I have been involved with classical music celebrations I have wished heartily to be elsewhere.

So there I was in Suffolk after all the music pilgrims had departed, and very pleasant it was too. The ostensible reason for my visit was to attend a meeting of the George Borrow Society at Norwich, a secret and anarchic brotherhood whose transactions it would be dangerous to reveal, but the real reason was to buy a pair of slippers. I didn't realise this until I spotted Aldringham on the signposts and it flashed on my inner mind that Aldringham was the very place I had purchased my only pair of slippers, many years ago. Normally I despise slippers as they tend be nasty little things like tobacco pouches with trodden-down backs which drop off your feet at every stop unless you make an immense effort to keep them on.

These slippers were different. They were leather on the outside and thick wool on the inside, and although there are only about 10 days in the year cold enough to make them worth wearing, that is justification enough. The sheer comfort of knowing, as you drag yourself out of bed on the first real day of winter that at least your feet are going to enjoy the next half hour, was enough to make up for the shame and mortification of being a slipper owner.

These slippers, bought at a craft centre at Aldringham, had long since split at the seams and ceased to do their job. I had idly kept an eye open for replacements. No dice. And now here, years later, I was back at the very place where I had got them. Casually, nervously, I made a detour via Aldringham. Yes, there is still a craft centre there. Yes, it has all the things you expect in a craft centre. Yes, it even had a photograph for sale of a man who looked like a world-weary bank manager and who turned out to be Benjamin Britten. But they had no slippers. Never go back, they say about childhood homes and first loves; it is true about slipper-purchasing as well.

Otherwise, summertime East Anglia does not seem to have changed a lot. Norwich is still full of couples on Saturdays, the men carrying large bags, the women carrying lists. The main roads are more full of blandishments to fetes and fayres and Gardens Open and regattas and jamborees than any part of England I know,so nothing changes a great deal.

Certainly not the odd weather. Just when you think you have got the day sorted out, East Anglia can play strange jokes on you. On Sunday afternoon, at exactly the time when Mr Sampras was putting everyone to sleep at Wimbledon, we had got as far as the beach north of Aldeburgh at Thorpeness on one of the hottest days of the year, only to find that the entire coastline covered in a thick sea mist. One mile inland, blazing sunshine and cornfields. On the beach, thick mist blowing dankly along the shore with shapes dashing in and out of it, like an invasion army in bathing costumes coming ashore on D- Day. And, this being England, everyone was lying on the shingle pretending it was sunny, while inland there was nobody at all.

We drove back into the sunshine. For a moment it rained heavily. But it was only one of those enormous mobile fountains which Suffolk farmers put in their fields to water sugar beet, placed too near the road. We came past the Maltings at Snape, a noble range of buildings which my father, a brewer, once described as having sunk from the fine art of malting to the pedestrian pursuit of counterpoint.

And as the festival at Aldeburgh was safely over, we drove into the Maltings at Snape to look at the arty-crafty shopping mall it has now become, and I would make sneering comments about it except that my wife suddenly said: 'Good God, they've got your slippers]' And so they had, a woolly pair of winter corn-warmers, not as good as the Aldringham ones, but good enough, which I bought. Now if anyone makes snide comments about music festivals in my presence, I shall say: 'Yes, you're right, but on the other hand they do do good slippers.'

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