Let’s face it, 2020 has been a tough gig for everyone but I think I spot a dim light at the end of the tunnel. So time for a little festive cheer from Norwich, a fine city, as they say.
Edinburgh, Scotland’s elegant capital, was on the agenda for my sixtieth birthday. Alas, with the latest lockdown it wasn’t to be. That particular jolly has been postponed until 2021 – a bit like life really. But Liam wasn’t going to let the most important celebration since the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pass without marking the occasion. Oh no. A veritable festival of delights came a-knocking.
A concert production of Hair, The Musical in a big tent in the grounds of the University of East Anglia featuring an ensemble of rising West End stars. Great show but no nudity. Just as well really. The COVID-secure tent was open to the elements so any dangly bits would have shrivelled up in the cold anyway. Not a good look.
Afternoon tea in the garden of Rosy Lee’s, Loddon’s famous bijou café. Or at least that was the plan. Mother Nature had other ideas so our hosts packed the goodies into takeaway boxes and we scoffed the lot at home instead.
A trip to the local leisure centre to sign me up for a fitness programme to work off Act One. There wasn’t a bar so I took a rain check on that one and headed into town where there was a bar.
The actual day was a deliciously indulgent whirlwind – so many messages, cards, calls, gifts and flowers from family and friends, including a portrait courtesy of our niece. I also received enough wine to sink the Queen Mary. The day continued with posh nosh in Norwich and a mini-tour of our favourite city watering holes. I laughed, I cried, I drank, I took calls. My head spun. I felt rather humbled, not something I experience every day.
Lunch at our local to receive the warmest of welcomes on a cold autumnal day. Hearty fare was topped off with cake, candles, a rousing rendition of that song and the scariest face mask ever. I even got a hanging basket of pansies. Now there’s a first.
I was exhausted with all the excitement but what a gig. Now I’ve come up for air, it’s a huge thank you to all those who made it so memorable. You know who you are. Extra special thanks have to go to Liam. Who knew he could be so devious?
Finally, I got to pick up my first free prescription, making my status as a senior citizen – and grumpy old fart – official.
All masked up, Liam and I jumped on the bus to Norwich to take a gander at In Memoriam by artist Luke Jerram, flapping about in Chapelfield Gardens. The installation premiered in Belgium and is now on tour across Europe. Made up of bed sheets arranged in the form of a red cross, In Memoriam is a tribute to all those health and care workers who risk their own lives caring for the sick during the COVID-19 pandemic. We meandered through the forest of sheets in grateful silence. Lest we forget.
We wear face masks when required – on public transport and elsewhere – not because we want to. No one wants to. We wear them because it helps protect us and those around us. That’s the socially responsible thing to do, the civilised thing to do. We don’t think wearing them is any more of an infringement of our civil liberties than, say, wearing a seat belt or stopping at a red light. So my message to those ignorant refuseniks who think they’re striking a blow for freedom, don’t be a twat, wear a bloody mask.
My teeth were the first casualty of the pandemic. Both my routine check-up and appointment with the hygienist were cancelled as dental surgeries up and down the land shut up shop and the nation’s drills fell silent. But dentists are now back in business – just – and I went into town for my first scale and polish of 2020. Health and safety measures were in full swing with a new check-in app, a strict one way system, sanitisers everywhere and the poor hygienist dripping in enough PPE for a trip to Mars.
It was only our second trip into Norwich since lockdown so we made the most of it, picking up a few non-essential must-haves. Face masks must now be worn in all shops and indoor shopping centres. Most folk complied, with a rich array of styles from the unimaginative to the truly outlandish. Our little black numbers were at the dull end of the spectrum. And, unlike the man who was recently caught strolling down Oxford Street in London, the masks covered the right appendage.
But I couldn’t help thinking that they gave a false sense of security as shoppers weaved through the crowd pretty much ignoring signs and social distancing.
We also took full advantage of Chancellor ‘Risky’ Rishi’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ discount scheme to jump-start the hospitality sector after the leanest of months. We lunched late but before we were shown to our table, our temperature was checked by the maître d’. Very reassuring, I thought, and the only time I’ve been pleased not to have been called hot, hot, hot.
It was a warm but rainy day for our first forage into Norwich since March’s lockdown. I must admit we felt unexpectedly anxious at the prospect of leaving the sanctuary of the village and heading into town on a bus. We girded our loins, with masks and sanitisers cocked and ready.
It was actually fine. Because of social distancing rules, bus capacity has been reduced and, as we were two of only six passengers, there was plenty of room. This didn’t stop a young couple sitting together in non-designated seats and removing their masks to chat. What is it with the young? They may feel indestructible, safe in the knowledge that the dreaded lurgy is unlikely to bring them down, but that won’t stop them super-spreading to the rest of us.
It was good to get back into the city again. Norwich was busy but not packed – almost normal. Big Issue sellers were back on the streets and most cafés and shops were open. The only thing noticeably missing were the buskers and artists who, in better times, provide a weird and wonderful addition to Norwich’s street life.
Wherever we went seemed well-organised and COVID-secure with lots of one-way systems going on. Most people complied. No one was overwhelmed with punters, though. It’s an anxious time for traders, I’m sure.
After a bit of retail therapy, we headed to the Lamb Inn for a cheeky bottle of blush and some hearty pub grub, using a handy app to order and pay. Our food and drinks were brought to our table by a delightful young waitress. It was all done efficiently and with a reassuring smile. I think this continental style table service might catch on – until winter sets in that is.
Norwich in sunnier days…