British weather is notoriously changeable – from drab to sparkling, drenched to parched, cold to clammy – sometimes all in the space of a few days. Perhaps that’s why it’s a bit of a national obsession and the staple of many an awkward conversation in a lift. It pays to take full advantage when a fine weather front rolls in. And take advantage we did when balmy air blew up from the Continent to bestow a mini heatwave for Easter. We jumped on a bus and headed for a riverside pub in Thorpe St Andrew, a pretty hamlet on the outskirts of Norwich. Liam wanted ducks, I wanted wine. The wine won. The only duck we saw was on a road sign.
The weather may be a little bit rubbish at the moment with low pressure rolling in from the plains of Northern Europe but this hasn’t held back the wisteria dripping from the railings of St Giles Church. Last year’s show was impressive enough but this year’s lilac pageant is Oscar-winning. A gorgeous smell hits the senses as you pass by. Something to savour while it lasts.
Unlike many houses of God poking up through the mishmash skyline of Norwich, the old church of St Giles, so ancient it got a mention in the Domesday Book of 1086, is still saving souls today. At this time of year, it’s ringed by a dripping abundance of wisteria and very pretty it looks too. As the old saying goes:
Norwich has a Church for every week of the year and a pub for every day of the year.*
I took some snaps on the way to my place of worship, the Coach and Horses.
*Sadly, this is no longer true pub-wise though there are still plenty of places to take communion.
Meandering through the fairground masses in Chapelfield Gardens at Easter, I was stopped in my tracks by two unusual sights standing out from the candyflossed crowd, naff neon, tinny tunes and spinning tops. The first was this sign on the side of the coffee kiosk.
It’s a simple message that speaks volumes. Only the disagreeable would disagree with the sentiment even if the reality is rather more challenging. However, the second sight for sore eyes, a wood-carved totem pole, was slightly more inscrutable. Any ideas?
English weather at its worst is a depressing and insipid affair – no drama or performance, just days of persistent damp greyness. A few weeks of low-lying gloom were brightened by a warm front of visitors to the Norwich micro-loft. The high pressure pushed the clouds aside, to leave the flatlands basking in sunshine. First up were vintage friend, Clive and his partner, Angus. The generous day trippers brought booty : a ‘corkcicle,’ a nifty little ice fairy’s wand that magically chills wine in an instant, and a fabulous hand-thrown bowl that Clive lifted from the souks of Marrakesh. From the practical to the decorative; they know us so well. We lunched in Wild Thyme, a vegetarian restaurant with a Dickensian address you couldn’t make up if your tried – The Old Fire Station Stables, Labour in Vain Yard – and bread and butter pudding to die for.
A few days later came Karen, our very own Mrs Madrigal, who, during our Turkey years, stored us in her en-suite loft on our trips back to the motherland. It was a significant birthday for her (discretion prevents me from revealing which) so we dined at the opulent Assembly House, one of the most gorgeous examples of Georgian architecture anywhere.
Spending a penny found us accidentally caught up on a film set with the cast and crew milling around waiting for the cameras to roll. As I emerged from the gents, a familiar face flashed past wrapped in a white towelling robe. A little digging later revealed that we’d stumbled upon the making of ’45 Years,’ a film starring Tom Courtney and Charlotte Rampling. It was the ravishing Miss Rampling, the classy lead of many a Seventies’ film noir who I’d seen rushing to her close up. Men over fifty will remember that, unlike page three stunnas, Charlotte got her baps out for her art and not for their titillation (or so it was claimed).
After dinner, it was back to the loft for a little more fizz and a lot more gossip. At the end of the evening, we poured Karen into a cab which conveyed her to the Maid’s Head Hotel, reputedly the oldest in England. Next day, Karen’s verdict was that, unlike the well preserved Miss Rampling, the depressing old pile is in dire need of a facelift. Time to call in the Hotel Inspector?
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.