Anyway, the point is, there was a gap in Miss Emily’s calendar collection: none of them had a single picture of Norfolk. We had these same lectures repeated a number of times, and I’d always wonder if this time she’d found a picture of Norfolk, but it was always the same. She’d wave her pointer over the map and say, as a sort of afterthought: “And over here, we’ve got Norfolk. Very nice there.”
Then, that particular time, I remember how she paused and drifted off into thought, maybe because she hadn’t planned what should happen next instead of a picture. Eventually she came out of her dream and tapped the map again.
“You see, because it’s stuck out here on the east, on this hump jutting into the sea, it’s not on the way to anywhere. People going north and south”—she moved the pointer up and down—“they bypass it altogether. For that reason, it’s a peaceful corner of England, rather nice. But it’s also something of a lost corner.”
A lost corner. That’s what she called it, and that was what started it. Because at Hailsham, we had our own “Lost Corner” up on the third floor, where the lost property was kept; if you lost or found anything, that’s where you went. Someone—I can’t remember who it was—claimed after the lesson that what Miss Emily had said was that Norfolk was England’s “lost corner,” where all the lost property found in the country ended up. Somehow this idea caught on and soon had become accepted fact virtually throughout our entire year.
Not long ago, when Tommy and I were reminiscing about all of this, he thought we’d never really believed in the notion, that it was a joke right from the start. But I’m pretty certain he was wrong there. Sure enough, by the time we were twelve or thirteen, the Norfolk thing had become a big joke. But my memory of it—and Ruth remembered it the same way—is that at the beginning, we believed in Norfolk in the most literal way; that just as lorries came to Hailsham with our food and stuff for our Sales, there was some similar operation going on, except on a grander scale, with vehicles moving all over England, delivering anything left behind in fields and trains to this place called Norfolk. The fact that we’d never seen a picture of the place only added to its mystique.
This might all sound daft, but you have to remember that to us, at that stage in our lives, any place beyond Hailsham was like a fantasy land; we had only the haziest notions of the world outside and about what was and wasn’t possible there. Besides, we never bothered to examine our Norfolk theory in any detail. What was important to us, as Ruth said one evening when we were sitting in that tiled room in Dover, looking out at the sunset, was that “when we lost something precious, and we’d looked and looked and still couldn’t find it, then we didn’t have to be completely heartbroken. We still had that last bit of comfort, thinking one day, when we were grown up, and we were free to travel around the country, we could always go and find it again in Norfolk.”