Norfolk hero goes underground to thwart newts: more from the Houseago Diaries

Continuing the earth-shaking revelations from the recently uncovered diaries of Norfolk hero Henry (Fred) “Shrimp” Houseago, whose battles against attempts by great crested newts to destroy the Norfolk way of life were originally chronicled in the Eastern Daily Press.

January 12, 1998

Worrying trend at start of new year: man taken to court for damaging breeding site of great crested newts. Fined £600. Cheaper to hit policeman. More expensive to squash newt, though: discovered squasher could be fined up to £5000. What is wrong with our legal system? Apparently man in court had been sent warning letter, but could not read or write. Typical newt trick. Pick on people who can’t sue back. Told journalist I could read and write (though not both at once). Thought should make it clear, in case. Said Parliament should introduce law to make it illegal to squash people. May already be one. Not sure. Still, you can’t have too many laws, can you?

Dorothea says you can.

January 31, 1998

Very strange and quiet month. Perhaps newts really are hibernating, though doubt if they are that subtle. Went with Dorothea to stay with Mrs Hicks, my aunt, at Erpingham – named after gunfighter Wyatt Earp, who many believe came from Norfolk. Some connection with village school. Well earned rest. Nothing ever happens in Erpingham.

February 9, 1998

Scarcely roused by obviously unbelievable story in EDP about a newt writing in to complain about a national newspaper. Newts almost never do this. Can’t remember what it was about. No news of wholefood chef, and Scheinlich probably stuck in Hingham.

February 21, 1998

Lull before storm. Might have guessed. No sooner had I thought I was getting over Christmas when newts hit front page – well, page nine, technically – with shock demands for huge numbers of new homes in Norfolk. Consortium of newts predicts 50,000 newt homes needed in region by next Thursday. Outrageous! Just the sort of thing newts would get up to. Demand is so ridiculous that everyone believes it. People have capacity to believe anything, the more bizarre the better. If someone discovered part of previously unknown lower jawbone they would probably claim it revealed that five million years ago some fish or other took a look at the land and thought it would make a better place for parties; so grew legs.

Newt claim just as absurd, but claim figure has been arrived at scientifically; so of course everyone accepts it, especially as there was some market research involved.

Dorothea says I get too het up over this sort of thing, but very frustrating. What wrong with intuition and common sense?

Thought showed great restraint in describing newt estimate as “on the high side”. Satire often very useful. Still, just to make sure everyone got it, added: “It’s well known that most of the large pond construction companies are owned by newts. Before we know where we are, East Anglian towns will be nothing but a series of huge ponds. People will be forced out into the country. They will be totally lost.”

Obviously don’t want town people in country. Not only will they be lost, they will get in the way.

February 23, 1998

Brilliant plan. Will construct network of tunnels under site of one of ponds and refuse to come out until newt plans rejected. Dorothea says idiotic idea, but am determined. Will recruit Hardy and Scheinlich as supply team.

March 8, 1998

Am in tunnel. Quite dark, really. Hardy packed me picnic basket of wholefood, but it has odd taste. Also, he is out there with Dorothea. Suspect his motives. Scheinlich provided crate of German beer, but said he thought my tunnel could be wormhole. Man is obsessed. Spent my birthday underground. No cake, except possibly wholefood one. Hard to tell. Torch battery not very bright. Still, have struck firm blow in battle against newts. Will stay down here till they give in.

March 9, 1998

How will I know if they’ve given in?

March 10, 1998

No news. Wholefood smells awful. At least, think it’s wholefood.

March 12, 1998

Surely newts have given in. No word from Dorothea. Or Hardy.

March 13, 1998

Tried to find tunnel exit. Not much wholefood left.

March 14, 1998

Struggled out of tunnel exit, prepared to raise arms in triumph. No-one there. Had bath in pond. No sign of newts, or building work. Or Hardy. Or Dorothea. No doubt Scheinlich back in Hingham. Caught bus home – extraordinary stroke of luck, as only runs twice a week. Dorothea proudly showed me EDP for March 9, with news of my tunnel protest. Also said newts had agreed to divert building work to brownfield sites. Why did no-one tell me? Story said attempts to reach me unsuccessful. Did not notice any attempts. Dorothea strangely vague about it. Hardy came round looking cocky, and then, if I’m not mistaken, a touch disappointed to see me there.

Was not entirely happy with Dorothea’s quote that I “had a habit of going too far”. She has never complained about this before.

March 15, 1998

Have suggested to Hardy he spends more time in Hindolveston, cooking. After all, is supposed to be chef. When is he cooking? Who for?

March 23, 1998

Yet another preposterous claim from newts. This time allege that newts discovered gravity. Ha! If newts had discovered gravity, wouldn’t have known what to do with it. Well known fact that Isaac “Apple” Newton discovered gravity when fruit fell from tree. Newts claim that Newt-on really newt, and story got garbled. Might have had more chance of being believed if had not added that natterjack toad and not apple fell from tree. Toads do not climb trees, and certainly don’t fall on newts’ heads. Only person likely to fall for this is Scheinlich, and then only if it happened in Hingham. Even Dorothea said nothing. She has been very quiet.

Told journalist that to suggest toad fell out of tree “at the precise moment a great crested newt passed underneath is about as likely as pronouncing Happisburgh correctly by chance”. Made point, I think.

March 23, 1998

Had long talk with Dorothea about Hardy. She denied everything and said I had been underground too long. Too long for what? Very suspicious.