One Wednesday in February, just to celebrate the fact that we could (I became freelance at the beginning of February, and now mostly work from home) we went for a jolly little midweek jaunt to Great Yarmouth. I’d been before, but not for nearly twenty years, so it was more or less completely new to me this time. Unfortunately the Pleasure Beach was closed when we got there, so I was unable to repeat the experience of last time by going on the famous 1928 wooden rollercoaster. (In all honesty I don’t have a single memory of ever going on this, but clearly I must have done, as my mother sent me this photo of me and my father to prove it.) What a shame. In truth I’m a lot happier looking at the picture than I would ever be sitting in one of those cars again.

Rollercoaster, Great Yarmouth, 1995

However, it might surprise you to learn that I didn’t go to Yarmouth with the intention of visiting the Pleasure Beach. In fact, I went to broaden my cultural education and go to my very first auction. I’d been wanting to go to an auction ever since seeing and hearing about all the wonderful and bargainous gems that my parents-in-law regularly pick up at such events, and also, more recently, since viewing a large and tantalising collection of textiles that was about to be auctioned off, and discovering that not everything was completely out of my price range. It was a dangerous realisation. Anyhow. The auction house was in an unlikely location, smack bang in the middle of the old port, now an industrial zone, or, as the Yarmouth Salerooms website puts it, “in the southern part of Great Yarmouth between the main seafront with its host of leisure activities and the picturesque harbour’s mouth”. While that may be true, geographically, the scene that description conjures up is somewhat removed from this bizarre setting:

But, as any regular auction-goer will surely know, the exterior of the auction house should bear little to no relation to the content of the sales. Sadly, though, this week’s auction left a lot to be desired. Apparently the quality and interest of the lots in Yarmouth varies enormously from week to week, so perhaps I will have to go back another time and keep my fingers crossed. But even if I didn’t achieve my ambition of bringing home a lovely, or at least renovatable, cupboard to re-house my fabric collection in, I certainly made some unusual discoveries. Firstly, there was this box of glittery neon clowns, on foam swings of sorts. A whole box full of them! Just think what you could do with all of these…   …I’m still thinking…

Then there was also this box of miscellaneous books, including Taxidermy: A Complete Manual, which looked as though it had been quietly rotting in a garage for the past decade, as it almost disintegrated when I picked it up; What To Do In An Emergency – a volume that, on reflection, I really ought to have bid for, since it might really come in handy one of these days; and, perhaps most intriguingly, a Mills & Boon guide to Easy Embroidery. Who knew that they ever published craft books? And no, it wasn’t just a clean cover for a pulp fiction novel – I checked. So, needless to say, I came away from the auction empty-handed, and my fabric collection will remain homeless (i.e. in bags) for the foreseeable future.

The other reason we went to Yarmouth was to visit the Museum of Time and Tide, because I wanted to catch the very end of the textile exhibition that was on: Frayed. As it turned out, the museum’s permanent collection was so good that I was satisfied before I even got to the textiles. It covers the history of Great Yarmouth in general, herring fishing and processing (brilliantly well in fact, since the museum is housed in an old fish curing works, and so has all the original elements including a smoking tower), seafaring, seaside holidays (including some fabulous handknitted swimsuits), the lot.

Even after the full visit around the T&T museum, the Frayed exhibition was excellent. It was all about the therapeutic nature of textiles and needlework for people going through difficult times, from bereavement to mental health issues and suicidal feelings, to living with terminal illness. Since the exhibition is now closed, I recommend visiting the exhibition blog here, as it makes very interesting reading. Unfortunately there wasn’t a publication to go with the show, so the blog is all there is. The sampler by Elizabeth Parker, below (apologies for the poor photo – light levels were very low, and it was behind glass), was the piece that touched me the most. It was loaned by the V&A, and is a sort of brief autobiography in stitch. At the time of stitching this, the maker was in the midst of contemplating suicide, whilst simultaneously going through terrible angst for letting such a notion cross her mind, since it would anger God, the idea of which makes her even more torn up inside. It’s a terrible thing to read, and I can only hope that Elizabeth got through this period of her life and found peace again afterwards. The label noted that she became a teacher and lived into her seventies, so I’m hopeful that this is indeed what happened, though I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

Then finally, on a brighter note, and to round off our day trip, we finished up with fish and chips on the beach at Gorleston-on-Sea, just a short drive down the coast from Yarmouth. For a February day it was a really gorgeously sunny afternoon, and from this photo I don’t think you wouldn’t know it wasn’t the height of summer. Except perhaps from the fact that there’s no one on the beach but us.

So I think a great day out was had by all. I would heartily recommend a trip to Yarmouth if you’re within striking distance. The Museum of Time and Tide is well worth a visit, even sans textiles (and even if, like me, you didn’t know you had an interest in the history of the herring industry), and it will make your journey more than worthwhile if you don’t manage to pick up any gems at the auction.