The annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival is done for another year. The festival delivers something for all ages and tastes – from the highbrow to the frivolous, the earnest to the slapstick, the traditional to the avant-garde, the well-known to the newbie, the orchestral to the bloke with a guitar – in glorious words, music, dance and acrobatics. Liam and I mostly pop along for the eclectic street performers and drinking culture. The festival marks the start of a summer season packed with designer ducks, dancing queens, technicolour floats, frilly tutus, soaring batons, bone-crunching back flips, stunning pyrotechnic wizardry and the celebration of Norfolk’s pastoral bounty. Let’s hope Mother Nature is in a bright mood for the duration.
Of all the shows sprinkled about the city during the festival, the most intriguing was the Museum of the Moon by artist Luke Jerram at the Forum. A giant moon featuring detailed NASA imagery appeared to float effortlessly above the floor. It was mesmerising. Dropped mouths just gawped up in silence, us included.
And here’s the Norwich Cathedral Choir chanting to the man in the moon, kinda medieval and mystical…
I was wandering through our local library last week and came across this intriguing exhibit:
The display was made up of 18,000 forget-me-nots, one for each individual living with dementia in Norfolk. It was Dementia Awareness Week and the library was running a host of creative events for dementia sufferers and their carers.
All sickness is cruel but dementia has got to be one of the cruellest of them all, robbing the victims of their very essence while their loved-ones look on helplessly. We know dementia. Liam’s mother was a victim and died from the inevitable complications of the disease. It’s ironic that as science and wealth has let our bodies survive beyond our allotted three score and ten, our minds often can’t keep pace. But there is hope. Just as cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was, there is every chance that science will one day halt and maybe cure the disease. A healthy older age is something we all want. And while we wait for that time to come, there are some amazing people doing some amazing things to make living with dementia just a little bit easier.
The fourth of May was local election day hereabouts. As in many rural areas, the people of Norfolk are conservative with a small ‘c’, distrustful of change and suspicious of (and sometimes hostile to) strangers. That’s why some farming folk keep it in the family and one or two get way too close to their livestock. It’s called Normal for Norfolk. Unsurprisingly, as a rainbow city marooned in a sea of blue, Norwich itself voted for a weave of red threaded with yellow. Norwich isn’t Norfolk, just like Bodrum isn’t Turkey. Apart from the liberal retirees of North Norfolk, the rest of our green and insular county voted Tory. The only crumb of comfort was the damn good thrashing meted out to the right-wing UK Independence Party which, right across the realm, lost all but one of their seats. After all, as Britain heads for Brexit high on the illusion of sovereignty, what’s the point of UKIP anyway?
Next month’s the big one – a general election – where the great British public give their verdict on the road ahead. I’ve always (foolishly) lived in the hope that common sense prevails in the end. But then I picked up the Metro, a free newspaper no better than a celebrity comic but distracting enough to read on the bus. It featured an article called ‘The Baffled of Britain’, a survey listing the things that most confuse the average citizen. Some get me scratching my head too, such as:
The offside rule in soccer
Getting out of IKEA
What women see in Benedict Cumberbatch
How Trump is president of the USA
But way up there at number 3 was…
Gawd help us all.
Norwich is riddled with old tunnels. Chalk and flint was mined for centuries, and many of the oldest mines run close to the centre of the city. Chalk was used for liming and mortar, and flint was used as a building material. You see flint everywhere – in what’s left of the old city walls, in the medieval Guildhall and in the 17th century weaver’s cottage we rented when we first paddled up the Wensum five years back.
Who knows what snakes beneath our feet? Many of the older shafts are uncharted, and sink holes appear without warning. Such was the case recently when a hole opened up close to the entrance to the Plantation Garden, Norwich’s sunken Eden, itself created from an old chalk pit. Babes in buggies and picnicking pensioners dropping into the abyss wouldn’t be good for business so the gardens were closed to the public while council surveyors did what council surveyors do. The hi-vis boys poked about a bit with their equipment and declared the area safe(ish). The gardens have now reopened and, once again, we can all look forward to a balmy summer of cream buns and string quartets.
A more famous example of that sinking feeling happened in 1988 when the ground collapsed beneath a bus along the Earlham Road, close to the gardens. Shaken but not stirred, neither the bus driver nor his startled charges were hurt. Pictures of the scene were beamed around the world; sleepy Norfolk gained international notoriety not seen since 61AD when Boudicca gave the Romans a bloody nose and razed Londinium to the ground in the first great fire of London. The whole area around the gardens is a death trap. The papal faithful at the nearby Catholic cathedral best get down on their knees to prevent the congregation going down like the Titanic.
Not to miss a trick, confectioner Cadbury, used the incident to promote one of their products with the line…
Nothing fills a hole like a double-decker.
I couldn’t agree more.
Norfolk has its very own community television station called Mustard TV. Why Mustard? It’s a nod to Coleman’s mustard, the city’s famous hot and spicy condiment. The station is run on a wing and a prayer, and presented by those at the very start of their broadcasting careers and others at the very end. With Liam on family duties in London and me with thumbs a-twiddling, I channel-hopped onto Mustard and stumbled on ‘East Angrier’, a vox pop show for local yokels to vent their spleens. Here we go, I thought, another rant by the ignorati spitting out their fake views. But, no, I was pleasantly amused. No bigoted salvos about Johnny foreigners, Islam or Brexit. A few fine citizens had a go at Trump (that works for me) and annoying self-service tills in supermarkets (that works for me too). One Norfolk broad whinged about the number of spam emails she gets (tell me about it) and a grumpy old git reflected on the appearance of his fellow Angles…
Blokes over 30 wearing skinny jeans with the knees cut out look like bleep, bleep.
Bald blokes with ponytails. What the bleep is that all about?
Clearly a man after my own heart.
And then there was the scruffy student fretting he hadn’t finished his essay on David Hockney. He was standing astride the line of blue and green glass tiles which flows down Westlegate marking the course of one of Norwich’s lost rivers – the Great Cockey. This is not to be confused with the Little Cockey which isn’t worth parting your legs for.
John Hurt, the first Chancellor of the Norwich University of the Arts, was a talented, versatile and prolific character actor. His superb portrayals of John Merrick, the Elephant Man, Max in Midnight Express and Caligula in the BBC’s I, Claudius immediately spring to mind. There are many, many others in a career spanning six decades. But for me, it was his role as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant which resonated the most. It was 1975 and I was 15 and fretful. The film was a revelation. Not because I wanted to do a Crisp by slapping on, dragging up and renting myself out for a few shillings. No, because I suddenly realised that if Quentin could live an unabashed life during the most hostile of times, then my own coming out might not be so traumatic. Apparently, John Hurt was strongly advised against taking the part. It would be career suicide, he was told. Hurt ignored the doomsayers and I’m so glad he did. And despite a few initial wobbles, my step from the closet turned out just fine.
Our flat is like a weather chamber. When Mother Nature decides to throw a wobbly, we hear every eruption. So last month when Storm Doris (Doris?) huffed and puffed with 90 mph winds, we feared she’d blow the house down. We decided to abandon the microloft and seek refuge elsewhere. Usually this would be the pub but on this occasion we choose the Bridewell Museum. The Bridewell charts the civic and social history of Norwich – from its modest beginnings as a few Anglo-Saxon huts on the muddy banks of the river to the pillaging Vikings, conquering Normans, religious glory days of spires and steeples, economic salvation by Flemish refugees, a spectacular rise to become England’s second city, a slow industrial decline and the city’s renaissance as a financial centre, cultural hub and UNESCO City of Literature. It’s a ripping yarn of churches and chapels, friaries and priories, martyrs and merchants, weavers and cobblers, chocolatiers and mustard makers, fire and flood, black death and blitzkrieg. Norwich was the first British city to build social houses and the first to have them flattened by the Luftwaffe – two of the many things catching my attention as we meandered through the exhibits. And what fun we had dressing up.
Football? What’s that then?
Yellow really isn’t my colour
Shiver me timbers
Top hat, no tails
If you’d like to know more, check out Norwich Museum at the Bridewell.
Afterwards we did make it to a local hostelry for a few jars. Well who am I to argue with the lady?
And so we survived Doris’ rage in one piece. Which is more than I can say for the roof.