19 February 2009

Norwich


Londoners are ever ready to cast aspersions. When they're not busy trying to make fun of the Welsh or the Scots they sometimes direct their derision towards the supposedly irredeemably provincial and backward denizens of Norwich, who are apparently all in some way related. Comedian Marcus Brigstocke has a line in his routine where he asks the audience if anyone's from Norwich; if he gets an affirmative, Brigstocke cries 'Hey! Gimme six!'

Despite these casual Norfolkist attitudes, I decided to visit Norwich to see the place for myself. I'm already part of the way there working in Chelmsford, and I took the train up through Essex and Suffolk to Norwich on Friday night. The B&B I'd booked turned out to be on a busy road and didn't have double-glazed windows, so I had rather sleepless nights even with my trusty earplugs in.

On Saturday morning I set out for Norwich Cathedral, which was the highlight of my brief visit. Construction of this beautiful Romanesque building was begun in 1096 and completed around 1145, and it's a fine example of the period. The needle-sharp spire is the second highest in England after Salisbury Cathedral's, and in the cathedral treasury you can still see some of the Norman wall paintings.





After admiring the vaulting in the nave and the high altar I enjoyed photographing the adjacent cloisters, which featured in a scene of the recent movie, Dean Spanley - the bit where Peter O'Toole's curmudgeonly old character mischievously trips up a little boy running past. It's a great location, and you can easily take in the centuries of history in the structure.




Close by the outside wall at the cathedral's east end is a small grave marked with a memorial cross. Buried beneath is Edith Cavell, the British nurse who was executed by the Germans in Belgium in 1915 for assisting Allied prisoners to escape captivity. This act of cruelty galvanised the British war effort and Cavell became a well-known war martyr, with a prominent statue of her erected outside the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square. As a result of the incident 'Edith' also became a popular first name for French and Belgian girls; Edith Piaf was probably the most famous example, as she was born not long after the event.



I also visited Norwich Castle, which is a square keep situated in a striking pose atop a mound in the centre of the old town. Like the cathedral, this is an original Norman building: construction began in 1067, the year after the Norman Conquest. While the original medieval stone facing of the keep was replaced by 'tidier' stonework in the 19th century, the sheer dominant bulk of the castle looming over the town is still undeniably impressive. Now in addition to holding the town's museum the castle also acts as Norwich's arts centre, with a strong collection of local paintings and artefacts, including the beautiful Harford Farm Brooch, a Saxon work of art from the 7th century, which was buried about 700AD. A small piece of the brooch was repaired before it was lost or buried, and we might know the artisan's name, Luda, because it was scratched in runic text on the back.



Back at the B&B that evening the traffic noise was compounded by the arrival of a posse of Englishers who had been out on the turps. They arrived back at 3.30am and proceeded to shout and sing in the corridors, banging on doors now and then. Not impressed! Perhaps they had been to a salubrious establishment I had passed by earlier in the day. Outside the Mercy nightclub a sign advertised this classy entertainment:

Traffic light party
Wear RED: NOT available; YELLOW: Buy me a drink and I'll think about it!; GREEN: I'm Gaggin' GO GO GO!


I liked how they decided that spelling 'gagging' out in full was probably too formal.
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