Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

The traditional high street is under seige from a flat-lining economy, increased rents (no, I don’t understand that either during a recession) and the relentless pressure from the big boys with their charmless out-of-town retail parks sucking up all the trade. Norwich seems to have bucked the trend by preserving its novelty. Of course, the narrow maze of city centre streets has its fair share of chains with their identikit offerings but there’s also a treasure trove of independents to graze. Maybe the city’s relative isolation is its saviour (the last section of the dual carriageway from the Smoke is only now being built and the train service is express-less). Perhaps it’s a benign planning environment by farsighted burghers. Who knows? Whatever the reason, long may it continue. Here’s just a small sample to whet the appetite and loosen the purse.

Jarrolds is a Norwich institution. The family-run business has outlets dotted about all over the shop. The Book Hive is the best independent bookshop in town. Both Jarrolds and the Book Hive declined to stock my book. Jarrolds refused (politely). The Book Hive didn’t respond at all. I don’t hold it against them (much).

The Grosvenor Fish Bar on the corner of Pottergate and Lower Goat Lane offers delicious, artery-hardening deep-fried heart attacks. It gets my vote because punters are welcome to finger the fish over a pint in the pub opposite. Personally, I prefer to nibble on a battered sausage (cue Liam). The public house in question, The Birdcage, has been the scene of our undoing many times now.

Fish Bar and Pub

I doubt Meryl Streep ever visited this corner of the Dark Continent when she was attempting a truly terrible Viking accent in ‘Out of Africa.’  Do they really sell slices of crocodile, ostrich, springbok and zebra? Well, if Tesco’s can flog donkey burgers, why not?

Liam spends endless hours thumbing through the sheet music in this old-school music shop as he contemplates a profitable sideline teaching piano. He’s quite talented with his fingers, my Liam. This little gem is right along the street from our weaver’s cottage.

St George's Music Shop

Finally, my personal favourite – not because I’m a cock in a frock at weekends and call myself Jacky but because Pepperberry’s sell ‘clothes designed with your boobs in mind.’  It’s just as well, as I have noticed that quite a few Norfolk broads do look like they’ve eaten all the pies.

Pepperberry

Miracle Child

At the virginal age of 18, Liam moved from the Smoke to South Wales to study for his music degree at Cardiff University. He stayed in Wales for 15 years. Having paid £5 to get in across the Severn Bridge, he wanted his money’s worth. The Principality has a rich history of musical excellence and this rubbed off on the young Liam. During his long exile in the Valleys, he lost his virtue and used his mouth and hands to creative effect on oboe and ivory. He sought satisfaction for his creative juices and found it with the Mountain Ash and District Choral Society who commissioned him to compose Christmas carols. Eventually, he hitched up his skirt and waded across Offa’s Dyke to return like the Prodigal Son to the bosom of his family. Liam’s never quite forgotten those halcyon days of quavers and choirs. Even today, his long-past association with these talented people brings a tear to his eye and joy to his heart. Imagine his pleasure and surprise when, two decades on, he discovered that they are once again performing one of his 20th Century pieces at a 2011 Christmas service. It’s made his year.

As it’s that Christmas time of year again, I give you Miracle Child for your festive entertainment. It’s a bit ropey as it was recorded on an old cassette recorder at the back of the hall. Hey, it beats the hell out of Slade on a continuous loop.

Miracle Child

The book

Asia in a Minor Key

A real challenge to able-bodied emigreys is to find a gainful occupation that doesn’t involve propping up the bar in some sad, insular expat dive to Blighty-bash and complain ad nauseum of all things local. I have my blog but what of Liam?  An early decision was to order a Roland keyboard from Istanbul. A creative renaissance ensued. Liam spends endless hours tickling the ivories and fiddling with his knobs. Well, if you can’t beat ’em then join ’em, so I have embarked on a set of suitably pretentious lyrics for him to compose around – more Shakespeare’s Sister than Shakespeare, methinks. The lyrics are evolving into a compendium cryptically entitled Asia in a Minor Key.

The title lyric, an ode to the emigrey forlorn, goes like this

Land of my fathers,  don’t you want your son?
Shall I run from you, my kin undone?
To the land of sunrise and chattering minarets
Bizarre bazaars and monkish pirouettes
  
Chase my dream across dusty hills
Past olive groves and neglected mills
To find myself in the arms of strangers
To talk in silence and delight in dangers
 
Erase the pain of past misdeeds
Follow my road to wherever it leads
Land of my father I have done all I can
To find the love of an Ottoman
 
Asia in a minor key
A game of chance
Last chance for me
 
Land of my fathers; don’t you want your son?
I ran from you, my kin undone
To the land of sunrise and chattering minarets
But shall my dream stay unrequited yet?
 

Pompous twaddle or what? I guess Liam thinks so. While his Steps to Sibelius musical palate may be a broad church, classically trained Liam struggles with hooks and the art of a well-crafted three minute pop song eludes him. In any case, his real dream is to complete the requiem he began to write a decade or so ago and to write a score for a film. This is now.

Liam has been experimenting with his keyboard by writing some short pieces as part of his score for a soundtrack. It’s very much a work in progress but you fancy a listen, please click below.

Liam Brennan

Oboe for Hire

Working class lad, Liam, was born with an innate desire to blow things. This manifested itself at the tender age of seven when he learnt to play the recorder with noted skill. A year later, he moved on to the oboe, an altogether more difficult woodwind instrument to master. By 15, he’d learnt to play the piano and started composing simple ditties in a classical genre. By 18 he was studying for a music degree, became an oboe for hire for various orchestras and his then more complex compositions attracted a more discerning audience. A career in serious music seemed assured. But, by 20 Liam discovered the love that dares not speak its name and, with hormones raging, his creative juices flowed in an entirely different direction. His classical career in tatters and with penury looming, he joined the civil service.

Liam rediscovered his beloved oboe in the loft when we were preparing for our emigration. It had been sitting in its sad satin-lined box, broken and unblown for decades. Unable to breathe life back into the lifeless instrument, he sold it on Ebay. It was a sad day. That was then.

Find out more about Liam’s music here.