James Marston: Abba, hen nights, Napoleon and tapas - just another week in Suffolk


“My my at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender,” as Abba famously said though I’m not so sure they had the strongest command of the English language at the time.

Nonetheless I’ve been immersed with things Napoleonic this week after a visit to Mildenhall Museum in the west of the county.

It was there I interviewed a local historian called Marjorie about the memoirs of Sir Henry Bunbury, a Suffolk man who encountered and recorded his conversations with the defeated French emperor just after waterloo and just before he was exiled to St Helena, Napoleon that is not Sir Henry.

Unlike the French Emperor I’ve always rather liked the idea of going to St Helena, it must be one of those real get away from it all holidays, and in fact I once got offered a job on The Sentinel – the island’s weekly newspaper – but I wasn’t quite brave enough to take up the offer and remove myself to the South Atlantic – one of those great unwritten what if chapters we all have in life.

Anyway as I was in the museum chit chatting about this part of history I noticed part of my own history on the wall - a small painting of my family’s flour mill in the village of Icklingham where I spent my boyhood and occasionally return from my small flat with sea views (distant) in the Edwardian Spa town of Felixstowe to play the organ in the ancient church of St James – donations to the roof appeal always welcomed.

The picture of the little watermill was executed or imagined, at, I suspect, the turn of the century roughly the time when my family bought it.

Photographer Gregg, whose usually quite professional went all artistic and bizarrely, and complete unnecessarily as far as I was concerned, turned off the lights in the museum plunging my interview with Marjorie into darkness, apparently it was something to do with the light, and took a picture of the picture.

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While we sat somewhat awkwardly waiting for our eyes to adjust to the gloom and I struggled to make sense of my shorthand notes, he somewhat cheekily suggested that the portly figure in white in the front of the picture might indeed be me. I gave him short shrift and told him to turn on the lights forthwith.

In other news my plain-speaking-photographer-friend-Lucy-whose-getting-married has been discussing her hen do.

Apparently I am coming to this rite of passage in order to squire her and her friends around London – call the cabs and open the doors - for what I initially thought to be a meal out which has turned into something more complicated and involves a discotheque and tapas - not my favourite dining experience because you have to share and rarely end up with what you actually want.

Nonetheless plans are afoot for a shin dig, though I have told Lucy the merest hint of a veil or an L plate and I shall high-tail it back to Suffolk.

As Abba also said “Couldn’t escape if I wanted to,” so I better do as I am told.

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