Big Bugs

We’ve had an invasion of psychedelic gorillas, a parade of colourful elephants, the flight of the camp dragons and a husk of vivid hares, not mention the wacky ducks that paddle up the Wensum every year. Now big bugs are swarming all over our local shopping centre. And, really big buggers they are too, like extras from an old Hammer horror film. The kids love ’em. And who could resist the chance to clamber all over some poor giant ladybird minding her own business? With the relentless rise of online shopping, it’s a clever ploy to get parents off their computers and into the stores. Long live pester power.

There’s No Place Like Home

There’s No Place Like Home

While we’re away lotus-eating on Crete, supping and splashing about, here are a few random snaps of Norwich, ‘a fine city’ according to the civic slogan – to remind us that, as Dorothy said in Oz, there’s no place like home. As dedicated friends of Dorothy, we are in full agreement.

Christmas is a-Coming

Christmas is a-Coming

I know it’s a-coming because the Christmas lights went on in Norwich last week, enthusiastically witnessed by thousands of over-wrought kids and their anxious carers. Pushy pushchairs and strident strollers took back the streets and our ankles became collateral damage. The good burghers of Norwich fired up City Hall with a row of giant exploding fountains, and rockets flew from the roof of Jarrolds, the well-groomed department store for the well-heeled. Here’s a taste…

Chapelfield Shopping Centre has also unveiled its glitzy seasonal offering, even turning the word ‘christmas’ into a verb  – punters are ‘christmassing’ all over the shop. The meaning isn’t entirely clear but I’m guessing it’s about people spending money they don’t have on things people don’t need. It was ever thus. They’ve replaced the enormous melodic Christmas tree of yesteryear with something more modest. It’s chic but silent.

I rather miss the camper, older model belting out Yuletide tunes every thirty minutes though I’m guessing that sentiment wouldn’t be shared by the staff and patrons of the adjacent restaurants who’d have to put up with the racket.

After the fun came the fare. We squeezed through the crowd to grab some hot Spanish sausage. Exotic street food has really taken off round these parts and I’ve always been partial to a generous slice of Iberian spice. The chorizo ciabatta griddled with red piquillo peppers was divine. We finished off the evening in a local hostelry, the newly tarted-up Lamb Inn – no prams the size of a small hatchback, no tantrum-ing kids, no over-fussing parents. My kind of advent.

Bottoms up!

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

High HeelI’m a little tied up at the moment (said the the vicar to the dominatrix) with Turkey Street stuff so here’s something silly about shoes prompted by the giant heel currently kicked off in the concourse of our local shopping centre. Cinderella must be massive.

I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear better shoes.

 Oprah Winfrey

 Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.

Marilyn Monroe

 They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.

Imelda Marcos

Because life’s a catwalk.

Clarks Shoes Ad Campaign

 Our incomes are like our shoes; if too small, they gall and pinch us; but if too large, they cause us to stumble and to trip.

 John Locke

Camp as Christmas

What with all the glitter, tinsel and shiny balls, there’s nothing as camp as Christmas and there’s nothing camper than the Christmas tree outside Chapelfield Shopping Centre here in old Norwich. The flashing extravaganza is a symphony in lights and music, brightening up the low grey skies every thirty minutes throughout the day. So, ladies and gents, girls and boys, to brighten your day during the dull interlude between Christmas and New Year, I give you the climactic finale.

The Last Rolo

Fellow author, David Gee, recently uncovered a dusty old silver screen classic while rummaging around the video vault at the University of East Anglia. ‘Come With Me to Norwich‘ is a 1952 documentary presented by Richard Dimbleby, BBC patrician and father to David and Jonathan. It’s a ghostly narrative of a bygone era full of bulldog optimism set against the rising tide of a new world order. Fast-forwarding to 2014, it’s fascinating to see what’s gone the way of the dodo and what’s survived against the odds. Mid-Twentieth Century Norwich once traded in mustard, money, shoes and chocolate. But where are they now?

Colman’s of Norwich

In 1814, mustard maker, Jeremiah Colman, founded Colman’s of Norwich, four miles south of the city. By 1865 production had transferred to a large factory near the city centre where the firm still produces mustard and mustard-derived products as an operational division of that enormous global conglomerate, Unilever.

Norwich Union

In 1797, merchant and banker, Thomas Bignold, founded the Norwich Union Society for the Insurance of Houses, Stock and Merchandise from Fire. The less than catchy name soon became known simply as Norwich Union. Today, the Footsie 100 company is branded as Aviva and is the sixth largest insurer in the world.

Startrite

It was in 1792 that a cordwainer called James Smith made the first off the peg shoes, shoes that ordinary folk could afford. Unsurprisingly, Jimmy’s big idea caught on. The business evolved into the Startrite brand, manufacturing footwear for rug rats. Startrite is still headquartered in Norwich but manufacturing has been outsourced to India. Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of cordwaining in the city. Van Dal still make half a million pairs of gorgeous heels every year for Norfolk broads, drag queens and cross-dressers everywhere. The times they are still a-changing: Startrite is looking for a deep-pocketed investor and Van Dal is being sold to its employees.

Rowntree-Mackintosh

In 1857, AJ Caley established a chemists business in London Street which evolved into a distiller of mineral water and a chocolatier. As the company grew, it moved to new premises in Chapelfield. The firm was sold off by the Caley family in 1918 and sold on to confectioners, Mackintosh, in 1932. In 1937, the first rolo rolled off the production line. This was soon followed by Munchies and Caramac, brands I have devoured with tooth-rotting regularity ever since being knee-high to a grasshopper. By 1969, Mackintosh had merged with Rowntree to make one of the world’s premier confectioners, but it wasn’t to last. In 1988, Rowntree-Mackintosh was controversially set upon by the Swiss food giant, Nestlé. The hostile takeover resulted in a period of savage cost-cutting. The Chapelfield factory was closed with a loss of over 900 jobs and all production was moved to York. The last rolo rolled off the Chapelfield production line in 1994.

There’s still a Caley’s of Norwich, manufacturer of fairtrade chocolate with an online business based in Hampshire and Caley’s Cocoa Cafe in Norwich’s Guildhall. What connection these businesses have to each other and to the old Caley family is anyone’s guess. Still, the name lives on.

Chapelfield Shopping Centre

The old Rowntree-Mackintosh chocolate factory has given way to the posh Chapelfield Shopping Centre. All that remains of the old industrial buildings are the granite millstones that used to grind the cocoa beans, now re-used as seating for the huddled gangs of smoking pariahs outside the rear entrance to the mall. Rolos have given way to Apple, Munchies to Mango. And so our post-industrial world is kept turning by rampant consumerism, conspicuous spending only interrupted by the occasional Costa coffee. Make mine a cappuccino. With a generous sprinkle of Cadbury’s on top.

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The Elephant Parade

The Chapelfield Shopping Centre, but a hop and a spit from our micro-loft, has been invaded by a herd of elephants in multi-coloured livery – all courtesy of local artists and school kids. The parade of florescent nellies is on international tour and aims to raise awareness of the plight of Asian elephants. Can’t argue with that, I suppose.

The exhibition is similar in theme to the last year’s gorillas in our midst  but with a more modest spread and duration. These nellies though, have something the guys never had – their very own gallery and shop. It’s a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of facts and figurines. Okay, the little ceramic elephants are a bit on the pricey side but it’s all in a noble cause.

Judging by the hordes of hyperventilating kiddies, the nellies are proving much more popular than the knuckle dragging guys. Must be the cute Dumbo factor. Follow the herd before it migrates to pastures new on 5th May. What next, I wonder? Tigers? Pandas? Rhinos? Howabout Dodos?