Images of Norwich

I do not have a good relationship with Norwich Castle.  I am sorry.  I thought I would get used to its odd, sandcastle mould shape on the green hill but I have not.  I find it too sinister.  Edinburgh Castle evokes memories of my happy childhood books by Sir Walter Scott.  Durham Castle brings back recollections of my happy university days.  Castel Sant’Angelo, in Rome, makes arias from Tosca swish though my head.  The Tower of London – with all its bloody past – is, for me, the home of gorgeous, intelligent, sadly maimed ravens.  The first thing I saw in Norwich Castle, during my very first visit, about eight years ago, were the disturbing death masks of men who had been hanged there for murder.  I felt queasy.  Macabre souvenirs of violence punishing violence.  Of wrong in judgement of wrong.  That is all I can think of when I look up and see the square, stout Norman cube of stone on the grass mound.

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Norwich is a treasure trove of small, independent bookshops.  At the top of a winding, cobbled street, opposite a teddy bear shop, stands the Doormouse Bookshop.  It is a jewel of a place, where the owner can tell you all you need to know about Norwich, past and present.  The wonderful collection of unusual, second-hand books covering a wide variety of subjects includes an impressive collection of children’s books.  The kind of books that make you wish you were still a child – or a parent.  You can smell the love of books as soon as you walk in.  Along St Giles Street, there is another inspiring second-hand bookshop, J.R. & R.K. Ellis.  Enter at your peril, for you will not want to leave again without an armful of books.  These are the two I have loved from the start.  There are others.

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When I first went to live there, I read somewhere that The Golden Triangle was Norwich’s answer to London’s Notting Hill.  Well, whoever first said that may or may not have been to Notting Hill…  However, it is reputed for its good pubs and bistrots.  Because of its proximity to the University of East Anglia, it has a large student population, giving the area a youthful feel.  There is also a grocer, in one of the streets off the Unthank Road, where you can buy as much or as little as you want of vegetables, pulses, fruit and spices.  A jewel of a place, where I once bought fragrant, shiny, fresh bay leaves.  The owner just snapped a small branch from the tree for me.

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One of my favourite places for coffee, is Cinema City.  This being Norwich, it is inside a 15th Century merchant’s hall.  In the café, the ceiling is high, arched, with dark brown timber beams holding it up, in stripy teams criss-crossing beneath the vault.

I like going there for their delicious white hot chocolate.  Edith Piaf murmurs broken-hearted love songs through the loudspeakers.  Sunday lunchtimes, though, there is live music.  A young man plays wistful tunes on his guitar, sitting in the bay window seat, below the coat of arms painted on the glass panes, sunlight bouncing off his blonde hair and goatee.  I picture him in a ruff and a velvet cap, instead of his jeans and white T-shirt, and imagine him as a Tudor lute player.  He strums Desafinado.  A Brazilian song, in Norwich, in a 15th Century building.  Anachronistic, but it works.  A guess when beauty of music meets beauty of architecture,  the alchemy produces gold.

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There comes a time when decisions have to be made, and when you realise that perseverance and “sticking things out” would be equivalent to meaningless stubborness.    When a door won’t open, there is no point in ramming your head against it.  It’s your head – and not the door – that’s likely to break.  When all is said and done, you need a job to live somewhere.  A job which I was not able to find.  And so time’s up for the Norwich experiment.  Perhaps we will meet again.  And so I bow to Norwich, give it thanks for its many gifts, and put my belongings back on the London train.

I shall always be grateful to Norwich for holding up a mirror to me.  I would not have seen the unrepentantly urban mouse in it, otherwise.

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Scribe Doll

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14 Responses to Images of Norwich

  1. Anna says:

    Well, Katia, happy way back to London!! There is a phrase in your post I appreciate a lot, and that is “When a door won’t open, there is no point in ramming your head against it. It’s your head – and not the door – that’s likely to break.” It’s so true. It concerns many aspects of life. Thank you.

  2. Dear Katia, I’m so glad that your problem has reached a resolution, though being a bit of a small city girl myself, I’d secretly been voting for Norwich. But even though the first line of Chaucer’s 4-stanza poem “Truth” starts out “Flee fro the prees [the crowd],” his second stanza is the one that really suits your case, as for example when you say you don’t want to break your head against a non-opening door [you can find a key to some of the Middle English words that may be unfamiliar in a Norton Critical Edition or other anthology]. Here’s the second stanza as it reads in Middle English: “Tempest thee nought al crooked to redresse/In trust of hire that turneth as a bal;/Muche wele stant in litel bisinesse;/Be war therfore to spurne agains an al./Strive nat as dooth the crokke with the wal./Daunte thyself that dauntest otheres deede:/And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.” The especial line which says what you reminded me of in your remark is “Strive nat as dooth the crokke with the wal” [Fight not as doth the pot with the wall, i.e., when it’s dashed against the wall]. I know with your expertise in things to do with the English church you may already know Chaucer’s poetry, but I found it irresistible to remind you of this one, because I was so convinced that you might appreciate the quote. If not, I’m sorry for monopolizing the conversation for so long. And happy digs-hunting in London! It’ll be a whole new adventure after your time away.

    • scribedoll says:

      Actually, I have a confession to make: outside the compulsory “Wife of Bath” for my A-Level exams, I have NEVER read Chaucer. There. I’ve said it. Feel free to cast me off – though I shall be sorry if you do. Thank you for sending me the stanza. You have now officially inspired me to remedy my unforgivable ignorance, and start reading Chaucer. I mean it. You’re a literary inspiration.

      • Thank you so much for the kind words, Katia; I look forward to your posts every weekend. Actually, for an English major, I stand shamed: I have never read the entirety of “The Canterbury Tales,” but instead have read only the “Prologue” and a few selected tales, and had others quoted to me by instructors. The “Wife of Bath” is a character I really liked. But “Truth” is easily my favorite short poem of Chaucer.

      • scribedoll says:

        So that’s both of us “shamed” on a Sunday :–)

  3. Katherine, I loved your descriptions of the bookstores and Cinema City. They are places I’m sure I would love also if I were to visit Norwich. I completely understand the need to have a job. I was also secretly hoping that Norwich would work out given that the cost of living there is probably lower than London. And yet, I know I’ve rammed my own head against a door far too many times. I’m reminded of Einstein’s quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I’m glad you feel the Norwich experiment was worthwhile. It does seem that you’ve come to know yourself better. The discovery that you are at heart an urban mouse is an important one. Your passion for the theater would probably be hard to satisfy in Norwich. Best wishes that you are able to quickly find a job in London, preferably one that feeds both body and soul.

  4. Whatever else the adventure changed, your virtual island is now called ‘Scribe Doll’s Musings.’

  5. evanatiello says:

    I agree about the castle – not what I envision when I hear the word castle.

    Well, I have to say you shocked me with the ending of your post.

  6. Liz Stanford says:

    Ahh! Great pity there is no suitable employment for you in Norwich. Had that piece of the jigsaw puzzle been in place, many other things would have also fallen into place.
    However, I must thank you for providing insights into Norwich, a place I have never visited but feel as though I have had a fleeting sojourn there. I can smell the bookshops,feel that chill wind and taste the greengrocer’s wares. Good luck with whatever comes next!

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