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.
Pret a Manger, a national chain of coffee houses, has one solitary outlet in Norwich. It’s distinguished by the fact that it is one of the few venues in the city with a place in the sun during the afternoons. Bright days are too few to waste so I take full advantage of their £1 filter coffee and sunny aspect whenever I’m able. Pret is also distinguished by the fact that they don’t have a formal loyalty scheme. You know the kind of thing – swipe this, stamp that, tells us everything and we’ll give you a free crappafrappachino with every grand spent and we promise not to sell on your personal data to the Russians (yer, right). Instead, staff are encouraged to give away a free beverage to patrons whenever the mood takes them. It’s company policy. Back in the day, I was a regular beneficiary of a Pret freebie when I ordered my morning fix every weekday and 8:45. I like to think it’s because I looked quite the cock of the queue in my sharp business suit. Nowadays, my bargain bucket look goes unnoticed in Pret. At least that was I thinking last time I offered my pound coin to the nice young man with the hairy chest and pony tail. But then he said,
On the house.
Last month, I posted a little piece about street buskers in Norwich doing their thing along Gentlemen’s Walk and Haymarket. I mentioned a nubile young man who does magical things with his crystal ball and one of my regulars asked to see a picture (I can’t think why). I am ever responsive to the needs of my punters so, ladies and gents, I give you poetry in motion.
Notice the oldie at the beginning of the clip cruising past on his mobility scooter. That’ll be me in the not too distant future.
Yesterday, I left Liam indoors slaving over the final pre-edits of the new book and tootled into town to catch the bank holiday vibe. The crowds were drawn to the Easter parade of stalls flogging fast food with an international flavour – German bratwurst competed with Cumberland sausages, French fromage with the Great British Cheese Company, savoury Indian street food with overflowing troughs of sweet treats. It was as if Borough Market had parachuted in for the day. Naturally, I was drawn to the stall selling Turkish delight, baklava, olives and mezes. The swarthy geezer with tombstone teeth behind the counter wasn’t bad either.
In nearby Chapelfield Gardens, a travelling fair rose up above the neat borders. As I drew closer, the fatty aroma of fried onions and cheap burgers mugged the senses and my arteries hardened with every nostril-full. Distant memories flew me right back to my adolescent stirrings for the tattooed oiks who spun the waltzers, the kind of randy highwaymen who would take you round the back of the ghost train and relieve you of your pocket money (or at least, that’s what I imagined at the time).
There was a time when I would jump on every attraction with gay abandon. Alas, I am Braveheart no more. Not since my nephews dared me to hop on the Detonator at Thorpe Park a few years back and I nearly lost my lunch. Risk aversion comes with age, I suppose. These days, the rickety rackety rides seem way too Heath Robinson for my liking. For me there’s little fun left at the fair. Still, the tattooed oiks still manage to get my loins stirring.
I took up pole position outside Pret a Manger on Haymarket to sip my usual tipple, rest my gym-tortured limbs and people-watch. It was a bumper crop. School’s out and the Easter break delivered bus-loads of bumpkins and charabancs of tourists to sup, shop and promenade along Norwich’s cobbled streets. Dutch lowlanders mingled with landed gentry and the children of the corn while Chinese happy snappers brought up the rear. As I gazed into the crowd, I spotted two middle aged men wandering past the crooning busker outside Top Shop. The pair sported the neo-clone whiskers that are all the rage right now. They were also holding hands so I guessed they were more than just good friends. My, how things have changed since the secret encounters of my wonderfully misspent youth.
Haymarket Down the Years
With thanks to the late George Plunkett and his marvellous photos of old Norwich.