I’ve always liked a mural, ever since Coronation Street’s former resident charlady Hilda Ogden tarted up her back parlour with a sea view embellished with a trio of flying ducks. She called it her ‘muriel’ and she was very proud of it. I was rather addicted to Corrie growing up – all those ballsy northern women slapping back life’s many misfortunes with humour and wit. These days, soaps tend to be all bed-hopping, murder and teenage angst with slash-yer-wrist plot-lines. Humour and wit is in short supply. Not my cup of char at all.
And talking of muriels, they’re being slapped up all over the place round these parts. Norwich is a quirky kinda town, pretty for the most part but few British cities were spared the Luftwaffe’s bombs or the post-war planners. Slum clearance was all fine and dandy but the bulldozers also swept away much worth preserving. Some clever soul had an inspiring idea of brightening up a few uninspiring corners with eccentric muriels. Hilda would have approved, I’m sure. Sadly, there are no flying ducks.
The last of seven murals was recently unveiled on Arcade Street…
Image courtesy of the Eastern Daily Press.
Norwich has more medieval churches than you shake a stick at, a church for every week of the year so the saying goes. You can hardly turn a corner without bumping into a stone steeple or Gothic arch. Back in the day, the cloth trade made Norwich rich and the top of the heap paid their way into Heaven by sponsoring medieval masterpieces. The cassock class were more than happy to indulge the myth and take the bung. But in these more secular times, the Faithful are few: come Sunday, most pews are empty. Some churches have been mothballed – boarded up and padlocked to keep out the elements and the vandals. Many others, though, have been given a new lease of life as arts centres, theatres, museums and exhibition spaces. Such is the case with the Church of St Peter the Less on Barrack Street. The pretty 15th century building miraculously survived the Luftwaffe’s bombs which flattened everything else around one night in 1942, and now sits on a grassy mound by a busy roundabout. Since 1980, the church has been home to the Norwich Puppet Theatre, one of those amazing provincial arts organisations that flourish against all the odds.
Norwich Puppet Theatre
When not stringing up the cast to amuse little people, the theatre is available for hire (including civil weddings, ironically). So, one Sunday we took our pews for a performance of Twisted Cabaret by the Knightshift Dance Company and jobbing drag queen, Miss Special K. The fusion of modern community dance with old-school gay showbiz was inventive enough but a man in a frock and ginger wig singing ‘Your son’ll come out tomorrow,’ in a deconsecrated church was deliciously subversive. Those God-fearing old merchants must be spinning in their graves. I loved it.
Returning from one of our regular pilgrimages to the Great Metropolis, we took a different route home from Norwich Station. Just for the hell of it. Rather than hurry along the Prince of Wales Road and its grubby hotspots of ill repute, we headed for the Riverside development (all commuter flats and chain restaurants) and wandered across one of the fancy new foot bridges that span the River Wensum. The semi-industrial district on the other side is ripe for redevelopment. What the Luftwaffe hadn’t flattened was finished off by Fifties and Sixties planners. Thankfully, the breeze block and concrete grimness is moderated by a sprinkling of treasures, including the Dragon Hall, a stunning medieval trading hall on Kings Street and one of The ‘Norwich Twelve’ erections of distinction.
As we pushed up St Julian’s Alley (pun intended) we stumbled across St Julian’s Church, a tiny shrine now dedicated to Julian of Norwich. No, this Julian wasn’t a fella, but a lady named after the eponymous saint. She was a religious recluse who lived in a cell propped up against the wall of the building, a kind of hermit’s lean-to. It’s no surprise that prayful seclusion was the lifestyle of choice for many folk during the poxy ages.
The Lady Julian has quite a claim to fame. She penned the first ever book known to have been written in English by a woman. Fancy. She wrote her tome, ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, in 1395 after experiencing intense visions of Christ during an illness that nearly saw her knocking at the Pearly Gates. Unlike many of her contemporaries (and ours), Julian talked of love, hope and forgiveness rather than duty, sin and punishment. Regular readers will know that I’m not remotely religious, but I reckon we could do with a bit more of Julian’s kind of divine message. So much better than the my-God’s-bigger-than-your-God world in which we still live.
What does this bog blue box on wheels look like to you? There’s a small clue stamped on the side. Yep, looks like a recycling wheelie bin to me too. So why is that the butch bin men of Norwich City Council (or refuse disposal executives or whatever fancy names they give themselves these days) walk past it as if it were invisible? Several fruitless calls to the over-imposing art décor city hall (the huge building that can be seen for miles and which the Luftwaffe failed to hit during a bombing raid) have not established why the vibrant blue box I share with our fabulous neighbour seems to merge inconspicuously into the brown-red brick backdrop at the very moment the bins around us get emptied. Apparently I’m not on their list and so I don’t exist. So put me on your list, I said. Right away, they said. Must have slipped their minds. I’m waiting for a call back from a very important supervisor-type person. Still no joy. That must have slipped their minds too. Exhausting work, this bean-counting business. I know, I used to be one of them. Over to UB40 who famously sang in 1981 (during the last great depression):
P.S. I know the green glass box (also invisible on collection day), does make it look like we’re a couple of old lushes but I would say in our defence that it’s two weeks worth of empties and our neighbour also has a wee dram from time to time.
On the subject of recycling, you might also like And Then There Were Three.