There's a lot about Suffolk that appeals to me. The endless marshes and nature reserves, the avocets, marsh harriers, godwits, curlews and egrets. The raw power of the coast that has eaten away entire towns (we make plans to visit Dunwich on the next trip up).
I feel the appeal of a bit of peace and quiet, a sedate pace, but something here unsettles me. Suffolk is the setting of powerful ghost stories, the home of black shucks, and is a green and peaceful retirement home for the kind of English people I can't stand. I couldn't live here; I own no Barbour jackets and I don't drive a four by four. Maybe it's my own inherent prejudice, but these ossified old white people who wear a continual frown, they're cold and lifeless. I wonder if I could ever make a place like this my place. I've been told I have a chip on my shoulder; maybe so.
Last time I was here, the roadside verges were crowded with the smashed bodies of pheasants and badgers. None of that this time, perhaps it's the wrong time of year, but we do keep stumbling on the bodies of rabbits, sprawled out on heaths, on gravel paths and potholed roads. Look close and see the rabbit's eye now a giant red swelling. You step back instinctively, the body recognising disease way before the mind does.
Was this the one we saw yesterday morning? It was hopping manically around in the front garden, it's face already resembling a bare-knuckle boxer's after a pummeling. It's the first time I've seen this disease, myxomatosis, in action. It's disgusting, seems unnatural, an undignified way to go even for a rabbit.
One body we find half-gone, guts spread out near the veg patch. skin and fur stripped clean, clean fat and muscle left to the air. I couldn't tell if it had died of the infection. Other bodies riddled with the disease had been left untouched. They just lay there among the gorse bushes, violent yellow flowers in this land of green and grey.
At Blythburgh, the church is truly impressive, whatever your take on the declining religion of our country. In brilliant sunshine we walk the marshes, spring really beginning; we head into a solitary hide. There's nothing there, says Nina, but patience rewards, and then we see the huge flock of redshank take flight, angry avocets fending off the attention of herring gulls. Perhaps 40 or more of that black and white bird, icon of all that these places mean. Teal and pochard bob on the calm water. Three curlew in the middle distance burbling their strange songs, a little egret that lands only a few metres from where we sit.
Further on, in the woodland, we find a sign announcing NO ENTRY, a research area. But for what, no idea. At a gate that leads to the Walberswick reserve, we debate heading back. Behind us one of those elderly English couples, as silent and unnerving as the walking dead. Eventually we work out they want to get past and carry on through the gate. They say nothing, not even please or thank-you. Note to self: do not become like them.
The second day, in Aldeburgh, tourists like ourselves crowd the windows of estate agent's. The wind off the cold North Sea is brutal, salt spray in the air. The wind whips away the sound of whistling through teeth; look at those prices, as high as London itself. By the chip shop, where a long queue snakes, I watch a young man sat outside the pub opposite. He wears salmon pink trousers and sips his pint of Adnams, talking loudly to other men who look like him. I wonder what he does, what his life is like.
In the rickety secondhand bookshop, Nina stumbles on a real find, appropriate and site-specific. A 1973 Folio edition of M.R. James. Selection and introduction by Nigel Kneale. I check 'A Warning to the Curious' is contained within, read the description of the town we are in; it still fits. I pay the tenner without thinking.
Whilst up here, ever the cliché, I've decided finally to read my copy of The Rings of Saturn. It's suffused with a Germanic doom and meanders, but I find myself loving it. These Suffolk landscapes, clearly, allow the mind to wander and invite a gloomy introspection. Another reason living here might do me in. It makes me remember days at UEA a lifetime ago, being lectured by Sebald himself before his accident. I didn't listen then, was 18-years-old and more interested in beer, women and punk gigs. It's regrettable.
In this nasty weather, few people are braving a trip to the Martello Tower. The wind is like a knife and we can't hear each other over the roar of the waves, the sibilance of shingle being pushed back and forth by the sea. But we make it there, photograph the Gormley sculpture that stands like one of James' spectres atop the tower. I watch the violent crash of the North Sea, spray flying up off of the rocks. There are flecks of saltwater dripping down my glasses, and I can no longer see clearly.