We moved to Norwich in 2012 after our four year adventure in Turkey. During this short time, the city has become busier, buzzier, more welcoming and more diverse – from Chinese students studying at the University of East Anglia and South Asians working for Aviva, to the rucksacked troupes of Spanish school kids wandering around thanks to direct flights from Spain to our very own little International airport. Tourism is on the rise, ably assisted by the merry band of volunteer ‘here to help’ street hosts handing out smiles and leaflets. We might even get a bumper crop of visitors from Vietnam – now that the CEO of Vietnam Airlines described the city as ‘irresistible’ and ‘serene’. Same-sex couples can and do walk down the street hand-in-hand and the Norwich Pride event is a firm fixture on the city’s annual social calendar.
Things aren’t perfect – far from it. The increase in rough sleeping and substance use is the most visible sign of this. Not that there’s any cash to fix the problem in the barmy blond bombshell’s big pre-election giveaway. There are very few votes in helping the homeless. And, even in liberal Norwich, small minds still exist. A case in point is the silly man who refused to drive a bus because the route number was displayed in rainbow colours. He allegedly told passengers, ‘This bus promotes homosexuality and I refuse to drive it.’ As we all know, the mere sight of a pretty rainbow can turn even the most red-blooded bloke in an instant. Just like the pealing of church bells makes us all fall to our knees to pray. He was reported to the bus company and suspended, pending an investigation. Good. I have no wish for him to lose his job but he really does need to leave this bigoted nonsense at home and get on with what he’s paid to do.
It was that time of year again when I joined my partner in crime and the force of nature that is Jo Parfitt for our annual general meeting to discuss this publishing malarkey and plan the road ahead. It also provided a welcome excuse to have a proper natter. Previous AGMs have been on this side of the North Sea and so Jo suggested we pop across the water to her elegant gaff in The Hague. We bit her hand off.
Not that it was all work and no play. That would make Jack a very dull boy. Naughty gossip was definitely at the top of the agenda, accompanied by tasty fare and free-flowing wine. Jo and husband were generous hosts. The ‘any other business’ involved a walkabout. As our lodgings were city-centre chic, we had plenty of time to amble round the cobbled streets of the tidy and graceful City of Peace and Justice. We had to keep our wits about us – looking left not right, eyes anxiously peeled for the trams and cyclists coming at us from every which way. We were lucky with the weather: warm and breezy with a few heavy rain clouds that failed to burst, and we took full advantage of the café culture spilling out all over the bricked pavements.
We even got the chance to hop on a tram to delightful Delft, a mini-Amsterdam without the reputation, criss-crossed with pretty canals and home to blue pottery and the House of Orange. The still waters were distinctly green in places: a quick dip would have been unwise.
Just to demonstrate we’re not total lightweights, cultuur-wise, we took in the cute and bijou Vermeer Museum to sample Delft’s most famous artist. Liam was definitely plugged in to the Vermeer vibe.
We flew the KLM City Hopper to and from Amsterdam’s manic Schiphol Airport courtesy of the rather sedate Norwich International which is more of a hut than a hub, but then we were home 30 minutes after landing, chilled white in hand.
One gloriously sunny Sunday, Liam chucked me on a bus for one of our regular jollies to the small towns of Norfolk. We caught the right 5a to North Walsham, not the wrong 5a run by a totally different bus company going nowhere near North Walsham. Why two different routes with the same number? Beats me. Must be a Naarfuk thing. The right 5a bumped along twisting country lanes past spooky woods, grassy pastures and bountiful fields of glowing rapeseed. 45 minutes later, we landed in North Walsham’s market place.
According to Wikipedia, North Walsham is…
…an Anglo-Saxon settlement, and with the neighbouring village of Worstead, became very prosperous from the 12th century through the arrival of weavers from Flanders. The two settlements gave their names to the textiles they produced: ‘Walsham’ became the name of a light-weight cloth for summer wear, and ‘Worsted’ a heavier cloth. The 14th century ‘wool churches’ are a testament to the prosperity of the local mill owners.
Sadly, North Walsham’s glory days are long gone. We took one look around and got back on the bus. 45 minutes later we’d returned to Norwich, drowning our sorrows in a bottle. The bus fares were a tenner. That’s ten quid I won’t see again.
A family ‘do’ took us cross country to Hertford, north of London – three trains there, three trains back. On the way, we changed at Cambridge – ‘the City of Perspiring Dreams’ as it’s known to the top-notch scholars who tread the hallowed precincts. Last year we took the same route and stopped off for a look around. This time we didn’t pop in – too many perspiring tourists for my liking. On the return leg, we changed at Ely, a tiny city with a vast cathedral dominating the flatlands. God’s house can be seen for miles around, demonstrating just how important He used to be to the prince, the pauper and everyone else in between. The city sits on a small patch of highish ground at the heart of the Fens, a once expansive marsh long-since tamed by dykes and ditches and drained for agriculture.
A sign at Ely station caught my eye.
I’ve had a bit of bother with my own Office package of late so it amused me. My picture-taking caught the eye of a ragged local with a lumpy face.
‘Take my picture,’ he insisted. ‘I’m famous, you know. I’ve been on the telly.’
It cost nothing to oblige him and I showed him the snapshot. He smiled and shuffled off down the platform. He may never have been on the box but at least he’s now on the blog.
As for teeny-weeny Ely with its oversized church, calmed waters and bobbing boats, it’s on the bucket list for next year.
Queuing is as quintessentially British as fish and chips, a Sunday roast or chicken tikka masala. I’m all for it. It appeals to my first-come-first-served sense of fair play. And it makes city living just a bit more bearable. Every-man-for-himself is where chaos lies and the Devil thrives. But even I have a limit. Regular readers may recall I recently spent a few days in Sitges, near Barcelona, visiting old friends who’ve just become newbie expats and purveyors of apparel to the queens. Being there was fun, getting there (and back) not so. The entire journey felt like one long, dreary line – through security, through passport control, at the departure gate, up the steps to the plane in the drizzle. All that shuffling just to board a flying bus so stripped back that clinging to the undercarriage of an RAF troop carrier would hold more appeal. This was no frills, no thrills Ryanair, an airline that bombards its punters with emails, changes the rules of the game just for fun, befuddles with an incomprehensible cabin bag policy and pisses off by ‘randomly’ allocating seats that all seem to be in the middle. Statistically, how likely is that? And the flight was an hour late both ways. Oh, the glamour of it all. I drank through it.
Ryanair’s current strapline is ‘Low Fares Made Simple’. Navigating your way through the endless maze of ‘extras’ on their website ain’t simple and, with a monopoly on the London Stansted to Barcelona route, it ain’t cheap either.
Hell won’t be all torture and torment; it’ll be an eternal Ryanair queue going nowhere.
Ironically, real buses here in Norfolk often now come with leather seats, free WiFi and charging sockets for fancy phones. And this is supposed to be a backwater.
With low eastern skies the colour of Milk of Magnesia, I’ve been pining for the hazy days of last summer when we were giants of the steam age, quite a result for a hobbit like me. It was the hottest August bank holiday in years when we rode the Dinky toy Bure Valley Railway to…
…experience a nostalgic trip by steam on Norfolk’s longest narrow gauge railway which runs between the historic market town of Aylsham and bustling town of Wroxham, at the heart of the Norfolk Broads…
… as it says in the blurb. We choo-choo’d past lush, glowing pastures. Our green and pleasant flatland had never seemed quite so green or quite so pleasant. For the spotty trainspotters among you, here are a few snaps to put you in the picture.
And, as per, Liam had to do the silly arty video. It’s enough to make you travel sick. No, really, it is.
Ours was to be a two-centre beano, or so I’d been promised. At the end of the line, Liam had intended to press gang me onto a double-decker pleasure boat to cruise the Norfolk Broads. For the uninitiated, the Broads are a network of flooded medieval peat excavations popular with those who like to mess about in boats. As much as I love a landscape of reed-beds, grazing marshes, rare wildlife and wet woodland, it was the on-board bar which really drew me in. Sadly, the rest of Norfolk had the same idea and we couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money. We settled for a bottle by the Bure instead. Daffy, the nosey duck wasn’t too impressed by the vintage. I don’t blame him.
Wells-next-the-Sea was the venue for this year’s works outing with Jo Parfitt, my partner in crime and the force of nature who is Summertime Publishing. We love a day out at the seaside when the weather’s set fair. Getting there was a bit of adventure in itself. The first stage was a stately railway journey through the ripe fields, reedy wetlands and sleepy hamlets of North Norfolk. My sedation was only interrupted when I spotted the large station sign at Gunton. Well, it didn’t look like a G to me. The two-carriage train deposited us at Sheringham, a bucket and spade resort where undertakers and vets never go out of fashion. Then onto a little bus for a white knuckle ride along the curvy coast, through flint and stone villages with impossibly narrow streets called ‘Old Woman’s Lane’ and the like. There was little time to admire the view. I held on for dear life, wishing I’d worn Pampers.
Well-heeled Wells is a gorgeous little resort and working port surrounded by pine forests, sandbanks and saltmarshes. We lunched aboard the Albatros, a genuine Dutch cargo ship serving up fake Dutch pancakes. They were delicious. The tide must’ve been out because the boat had a distinct starboard list; I felt quite tipsy even before a drop had passed my lips. Happily, I managed to regain my sea legs after half a bottle or so. We didn’t make it down the agenda to the 2016/17 marketing strategy. We got stuck on gossip. Can’t think why.
The train back to Norwich was packed with sunburnt kiddies and lively country cousins out on the lash. The painted ladies opposite shared shots of raspberry liqueur and a Bottecelli babe squeezed into the aisle next to me. As the crowd nudged past, the shapely Norfolk broad fell off her heels and tipped her ample rack into my face.
‘My, my,’ I said. ‘A total eclipse.’ How she laughed.