It’s been a pretty dismal summer, weather-wise. The shortest of heatwaves in June, a washed-out July and a blanket of low cloud for most of August. Still, we didn’t suffer the death and devastation of flash floods, wilting temperatures and rampant wildfires that afflicted Turkey and much of continental Europe so I guess we should count our lucky stars. And who needs the sun anyway when the streets of Norwich are lit up by brightly coloured dinosaurs?
Over the last few years we’ve had an invasion of psychedelic gorillas, a parade of glittery elephants, the flight of the camp dragons, a husk of vivid hares and a swarm of big bugs. Now it’s the turn of dazzling dinosaurs on the Go Go Discover T Rex Trail inspired by the arrival in Norwich Cathedral of Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplodocus cast. It’s the final gig of his nationwide tour.
Twenty-one individually designed T Rex sculptures meander through the centre of the city as a guided route to the Cathedral – just in time for school’s out for Summer. If God can’t tempt the kids into church come Sunday, Dippy surely will.
Here’s a small sample. I guess my favourite ought to be the rainbow T Rex stomping all over Millennium Plain but actually it’s Sherlock on Cathedral Close that gets my vote.
As usual, the trail is all in aid of Break, a charity providing support to young people in care. They’ve also covered Cambridge in a herd of colourful cows. That’s a lot of painted udders.
We were to meet up with the fragrant Roving Jay for one of our regular bloggers’ food-and-drink conventions but our plans were scuppered at the last minute. As we’d already bought the bus ticket, we went into town anyway for a wander around. Tombland, Norwich’s historic heart, is looking splendid after a recent wash and brush up. You might think the name comes from something spooky but it’s actually old English for ‘open ground’ (or such like) and is where the old market was held until those dastardly all-conquering Normans moved it to its present location a little after 1066 and all that.
It was a great day for a stroll so we decided to check out Cathedral Close, the substantial grounds of the grand Norman church. The Close is full of statues – of men mostly, as is the norm. However, one woman, Edith Cavell, has pride of place at the entrance. Ms Cavell was a British nurse in German-occupied Belgium during the Great War. She is remembered for tending to soldiers from both sides of the trenches and for helping about 200 Allied soldiers escape. Arrested by the Germans, she was tried for treason and shot by firing squad. It caused quite an international incident at the time as it wasn’t the done thing to shoot women – only horses. As she was a Norfolk lass, Edith Cavell is buried in the cathedral.
Doubtless, someone will discover something about Ms Cavell’s words, views or deeds that wouldn’t quite be cricket by today’s standards and demand she’s knocked off her plinth. That would be a shame.
Naturally, a chilled bottle was waiting for us at the end of the trail. We settled down at the Red Lion Pub on the river next to the Bishop Bridge, built in 1340 and the city’s oldest, to watch people messing about in canoes. Bottoms up!
Our next family do since the end of lockdown was to Liam’s lot. A fun family BBQ in rural Hertfordshire, a night or two in Cambridge and a visit to Ely, a teeny-weeny city with a vast cathedral dominating the flatlands. ‘The ship of the Fens’ can be seen for miles around, demonstrating just how important He used to be to the prince, the pauper and everyone in between. There’s been a house of God on this spot since 673.
Ely sits on a small plot of high ground at the heart of the Fens, a once expansive marsh long since tamed by dykes and ditches, and drained for agriculture. The city has a quirky feel to it and, despite being only 14 miles from Cambridge and 80 miles from London, projects an air of splendid isolation and self-sufficiency, perhaps inherited from times past when it was an island, cut off for much of the year.
Obviously, the huge church is the main event. I’m not even remotely religious but its sheer scale forces you to look up to the heavens in utter astonishment.
“Chloe the lovely donkey who has led the Palm Sunday procession from Alpington School to Yelverton Church for many years, has left the area. We would be most grateful if anyone has a donkey in the area who would be willing to fill this important job to please get in touch.”
Nextdoor, the neighbourhood hub
I’m guessing Chloe’s understudy is no longer required as tomorrow’s gig will have been cancelled just like tonight’s performance of ‘I Remember it Well’ with the incredible Judi Dench at the Bridge Theatre in London. The great dame was a surprise anniversary present from Liam. That’s pandemics for you – a monumental pain in the ass.
Apologies for yesterday’s ghost post. I pressed the wrong button – duh!
Our little house is one of a small row of four workers’ cottages standing proud next to the 12th-century parish church of All Saints. Built in 1852, each dwelling once consisted of just four rooms – the original meaning of a ‘two up, two down’ – with water supplied by a well at the end of the row and, in all likelihood, a single outside latrine shared by all and sundry. There must have been quite a queue when cholera struck. The well’s still in full working order but, these days, only used for watering the roses.
One of our neighbours, a sucker for genealogy, obtained the entries for the 1911 national census. It provided a tantalising glimpse into the lives of the residents of our little terrace at that time.
While Liam was lapping up a concert by a local ladies choir at our spitting-distance church, I took a look through the documents. I really hope Mr Jackson the wherryman*, widow-woman Maria, James the omnibus driver, Mr Kerry the jobbing gardener and all their assorted families had happy and fulfilling lives. I guess we’ll never know, but the chances are their day-to-days were hand-to-mouth, horribly insecure and plagued by illness or the fear of it. Life expectancy at the time was about 56 for women and 52 for men, though this average was skewed by high child mortality rates which meant if you did manage to survive to adulthood, you had a better chance of growing grey.
Still, this was a big improvement on the situation when the houses were first chucked up. Back in the 1850s, life expectancy was only 42 for women and just 40 for men. As life was short and often grim, it’s little wonder people took to religion for solace. Thank God for the doorstep chapel.
*a wherry is a shallow-draught barge with a large single sail once used to transport cargo on the rivers and broads hereabouts.