Now their kids have flown, Liam’s sister and significant other have sold their north London nest and migrated to a chocolate-box cottage with half an acre or so in rural Hertfordshire. Brother-in-law’s sixtieth birthday BBQ provided the perfect opportunity to survey the estate for the first time. It was gold stars all round from their Norwich kin, and a marvellous afternoon was had by all. I’m sure the birthday boy won’t mind me mentioning he was rather upstaged by the astonishing sight of a herd of wild deer trotting past the garden fence. They stopped and stared for just an instant before bolting off. This city slicker has never been up close and personal to a herd of anything before. Be still my racing heart. Apparently, the stag often makes himself at home on their lawn. I wonder if Bambi poo is any good for the roses?
To make the most of the weekend, we lodged overnight in Cambridge and the next day took a ramble around the famous city streets, following in the footsteps of some of the greatest thinkers of all time – Darwin, Newton, Hawking and our PhD’d niece, to name a just a few. The ‘city of perspiring dreams’ (a nickname coined by the student’s union) is truly impressive and the ancient colleges tightly packed along one side the leafy River Cam are simply stunning. But the flow of weekend tourists was overwhelming, the cyclists annoying and the price of pretty much everything inflated. In my romantic mind’s eye, I had a vision of floppy-haired scholars in straw hats punting down the river like a scene from Brideshead Revisited, but this was rather spoilt by an armada of long-lensed Koreans in baseball caps. In the end, these drinkers abandoned the thinkers and we caught the train home. And we made it to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival’s Party in the Park just before last orders.
Some snaps of the lovely Cambridge as we dodged the cyclists…
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.
Of late, boozy gigs with ancient comrades from old London Town have been as rare as ginger imams. Somehow life just gets in the way. So, one evening I fired off a text.
“Boys. It’s high time we had a coven.”
After a flurry of replies, it was game on.
I always get down to the big city a tad early – to imbibe the vibe and cast my spell over the Soho boys. I know, hopelessly deluded. Gay scene wise, Soho isn’t quite what it was. Online ‘dating’ has seen to that. Nevertheless, a few old haunts stumble on, attracting the after-school crowd. I wandered into the Duke of Wellington (or the Welly as it’s affectionately known, my spiritual home back in the day). As I headed for the bar, I spied a former squeeze in the corner of my eye. By the time I’d been served, the hairy old crow had taken flight, leaving half his pint behind. Clearly, my magic wand has lost its vigour. I wouldn’t mind but it’s over twenty years since we stepped out.
After a sherry or two with my London witches, we pitched up at a local brasserie for a bite and a long natter. We wittered on for hours about everything and nothing and by the time we were hoarse, the staff were sweeping up and stacking chairs around us. It was time to mount our broomsticks, and as befits three old sorcerers whose powers to bewitch have all but withered, we were tucked up in our beds by the stroke of midnight.
This is what we looked like twenty years ago before our allure had faded. Obviously, that’s not yer actual Taj Mahal. We were in Blackpool for a dirty weekend. And where better?
And this is what we look like now. No wonder our wands have dropped off.
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.
We were in London for cake and fancies to celebrate my Mother’s 88th birthday. The old girl was in fine fettle – fag in one hand, brandy and coke in the other. I was going to post a video of her blowing out the candles to Happy Birthday, but with the lights off, it came out like a scene from The Blair Witch Project (the cult horror film not the dodgy dossier that did it for a former prime minister).
On our way home the next day, we had a couple of hours to waste before catching the train back to old Norwich so we took a wander round Spitalfields and Broadgate in the City. Last time we were there, we were richly entertained by Tangoing couples. No such luck this time, more’s the pity. So instead, I’m posting a few random shots from our meander. As with much of London, the area is a mishmash of styles old and new, tall and short. It’s what makes the City what it is and I rather like it.
Bankers in the Sun
Nanny on Bishops Square
Large Lady Reclining
Verde & Co
While supping coffee in the afternoon sunshine, Liam spotted a tiny bird nearby begging for a tasty titbit. Pigeons are commonplace in London but this little birdie was a pied wagtail, or so Liam told me. Liam is hardly well-acquainted with birds, so I had my doubts.
Back to Liverpool Street Station in time for our train, we stumbled across one of the Kindertransport memorials which commemorate the rescue of around 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Nazi persecution just before the outbreak of World War II. It was an age when Britain and others were a little less shoddy to refugees.
There’s a much grander statue on Hope Square in front of the main entrance to the station. But I like this one better as it seems to merge with the ebb and flow of the crowd. There are similar memorials in Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Gdansk. ‘Lest we forget,’ as the saying goes. Trouble is, I think we already have.
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.