Closer to home




I booked this short break on the Suffolk coast in an effort to get my R&R closer to home. For my last few holidays I have spent the best part of a day driving somewhere beautiful beside the seaside, but then I remembered that I wasn’t that far away from some stunning areas of coastline right here.

Following that logic, I could have stayed home and had my holiday in a series of day trips; it took less than an hour to get to Southwold, driving slowly. But staying home meant nothing being different, and I needed a change in order to make things happen. I wanted to have no excuses: to make myself get out and about, tramping the footpaths and coming home to write, maybe even getting the pencils and paint out to capture a scenic view. I’ve walked enough that my feet hurt, although hardly long distance. I’ve breathed in the fresh air and listened to the mournful calls of wading birds on the marshes. I’ve done the things I had in my imagination, and do feel in a different mental space, which is the basic requirement of a holiday I guess.

I didn’t have a great start.  My first day filled me with sadness and a small sense of dread about my future. I was early for getting access to the flat I had booked, so I walked along the High Street to a little tea shop to get a bite for lunch. It was cute looking (if a bit dark) in an Olde Worlde sort of way, with a sweet shop at the front. There was a moment when I walked into the second room where I could have turned on my heel and walked out. For the life of me, I can’t explain why I didn’t. Maybe I thought that first impressions could be wrong. Anyway, I sat down and ordered my soup of the day. The only other people in this café were three ladies of a certain age, with their short grey hair, sensible shoes and coats and a slightly shrivelled look about them, each at a different table. It suddenly struck me that I made it a fourth. They were all having a proper meal, and all I could hear was the scraping of knives as they ate. On the windowsill to my right, there was a collection of badly knitted bobble hats and baby matinee jackets for sale, all in pastel colours. I felt as though I was in a care home. The décor didn’t help – it looked as though nothing had changed since the 1950’s, and I wondered if the same clientele came here daily for their sustenance. How do old ladies eat so much? They each progressed through a substantial main course on to the pudding, while I scoffed my soup and roll and made my escape. By then a middle aged couple and a young family had taken another two tables, although the deathly hush seemed to continue. I wandered along the high street and discovered other coffee bars and cafés that looked so much more inviting, and I wondered why I had been fool enough to stay in what felt like the time warp from hell.

I do think Southwold is a really odd place. So many rich people live here. Why? Some of the houses are lovely, so perhaps it is just the availability of a des res and the comfort of neighbours with money. I’m not sure I understand the attractions though. It seems lacking in life – by that I suppose I mean young life. Sure, people bring their children for the beach in the summer, but I’m talking about youth and creativity. It doesn’t feel the slightest bit dynamic.  It’s disappointing that so many houses are clearly second homes or holiday lets and the shops are full of what I would call temporary treats and tat. I know that it is mean to be so critical of what is essentially a beautiful place, but it just doesn’t feel real.  All the same, I have to say thanks for all the free parking (although I’m guessing they can afford it).

        the market  south green

        the pier  back to ferry road

        sun on river  boats on ferry road

        path through the gorse  the crossroads


I’ve had a lazy, undemanding time, with no access to the internet. I’ve had reasonable weather and gone for walks, and driven down to other places along the Suffolk coast – Aldeburgh and Woodbridge.  I have frequently thought about moving as I get closer to retirement, and I thought it might be somewhere by the sea. I’ve tried to imagine myself living in these seaside places  – and realised that they are just another place to be, with a view, and I can take my choice of them by staying exactly where I am.


        alde estuary         path through the warren

        out of the warren on to the marsh         arriing at snape maltings  aldeburgh beach

I realise how lucky I am to be in Norwich.  I am slap bang in the middle of the county, an easy distance from the beautiful north coast resorts of Wells and Holkham, Blakeney and Cromer, the lovely east coast at Winterton, and a trip down to the Suffolk coast whenever I want.  So because the weather was lovely, I did another quick trip to Winterton.  I was worried that the beach café would have fallen into the sea during the winter storms, but it is still there – there is some obvious damage to the beach levels, but everything was gorgeous as usual. We are truly blessed to have this little piece of heaven virtually on our doorstep.


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        DSC04665  DSC04668


Nature to the rescue

I haven’t blogged for a while – I haven’t felt any inspiration and have had periodic bouts of feeling blue for no apparent reason.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not depressed as such, just a bit flat and grey.  Was that the weather perhaps?  All those weeks of endless rain and grey skies meant I didn’t even feel like going out for a walk, and I do know that a bit of Outdoors once a day is essential nourishment. Pounding my local pavements is what I often do for exercise, and I do have a habit of just mooching into town because I live so close, but it really doesn’t hit the same spot as the wild and green stuff. 

Now that Spring is officially here, I ‘m hoping I can get out more and let the charms of nature feed my soul and revive me.  I don’t really want to drive for miles to get access to the wonderful Norfolk countryside or beaches (much as I love both) because it’s not a very green thing to do, polluting the atmosphere for my bit of pleasure, so I’ve been looking at where I can walk closer to home.  Last weekend I got out my walking boots and discovered parts of Mousehold Heath I had never been to, and this weekend I went to Marston Marsh, which is between the suburb of Eaton and the Ipswich Road.  It’s a little wildlife reserve popular with dog-walkers and not very big, but amazingly, I could not hear any traffic.  I must admit I was lucky with the weather, because the sun came out and smiled for me.  It always makes a difference.






ImageI need places where the air is a living thing, full of interesting smells, I can hear the twittering and rustling of wild things, and preferably where I can sink my boots into lovely soft and yielding earth rather than tarmac.  This little reserve has a stony pathway and boardwalk all around the edge for those who want to avoid the mud, but also has plenty of other little routes that go criss-cross.  It was a good find.  Next week I’m in Southwold (for a short break), so hopefully I will find lots of nice places to walk along the coast. 


The Treasures of Magdalen Street

OK, I know this has been a long time coming – what can I say, I lost my blogging mojo for a while – but here is the long-promised post on the Magdalen Street area of Norwich.

There’s no use pretending.  Magdalen Street has a reputation of being down at heel, and it is true that you can find all the usual suspects of  discount and cheap shops (not even a Poundland, but a 99p store!) in and around the charmless Anglia Square, as well as that horrid little moneypit that is Spinners. But there is a certain spirit even to Anglia Square.  I’m assuming the ‘Welcome Home Alan’ sign was for Alan Partridge, as his UK premiere of Alpha Papa had not long taken place in the Square when these pictures were taken.

welcome home alan          anglia squarespinners moneypit                       odeon

But I prefer to look at Magdalen Street in the light of its incredible diversity, creativity and energy; it is an absolute treasure trove of goodies.  Keep reading, and I hope to enlighten you with this little taster, hopefully to encourage you to visit and try something different from what you find in Chapelfield and all those boring chain stores.  I started at the Wall, near the Artichoke, right at the end of Magdalen Street, although I’ve probably mixed a few things up.

wall lane

First off was a shop so new they literally had opened that day and so they had to tell me the name as there was no sign – E&J Euro – and they specialise in food from several European countries, including Latvia and Russia according to their sign.  The staff were very friendly and welcoming, and wanted to press various little sweeties on me, although don’t blame me if they are not still doing that 6 months later.

  romanian shop                                   sign outside romanian shop

A little further down the road is another small supermarket catering to Eastern European tastebuds, alongside a Turkish corner cafe, and several other foodie heavens all the way back to Fye Bridge Street.  And I can say from personal experience how helpful and welcoming they are, explaining different unusual foods if you ask.

Image   moonlight cafe and haider halal

euro foods             babylon marketasian bazaar               Ajman Miah and Spice Land

That has got to beat the Sainsbury’s experience:

unhealthy basket

There are some lovely cafes:

the street cafe  namaste india

The Dandy Horse is really interesting – unlike the trendy Bicycle Store on St Benedicts, this one actually does combine a bike repair shop with a lovely cafe (more seats upstairs).

dandy horse  inside dandy horse

upstairs dandy horse

One of the main reasons I go to Magdalen Street is to browse the junk shops – wow, what a wonderful selection, some of it over-priced but some of it cheap as chips and just brilliant for ideas.  I have to start with Looses – a flea market emporium that is always good for a rummage – and check out their fancy toilets!

looses emporium   inside looses emporium

looses loos

but try these too:

retreat vintage  beatniks  junk and gems

rspca, aladdins cave and beatniks      inside aladdins caveshrunken secondhandland  now-n-then  stalks  longs pledge centre

That last one is a pawn shop with the traditional three gold balls – calling itself a Pledge Centre, I guess it is just a prettier version of Cash Converters.

Also worth a browse are the incredible number of charity shops – Oxfam, RSPCA, Scope, Salvation Army, Barnardo’s, Pact, Daisy International, Store House, Sense etc.

There are also some actual proper shops selling new things like this clothes shop, which I liked a lot even though isn’t really catering for my age or pocket.

mod one

The other main reason I go to Magdalen Street is for the craftiness of it – the best fabric shop in Norwich, and lots of ideas:

anglian fashion fabrics  inside anglian fashion fabrics

sew creative              make place

It’s not really my thing, but I have to mention that there are several rather chi-chi little beauty, hair and nail bars.

beautique    carxel

one touchnail boudoir

The other random things you will find are some really pretty little courtyards, such as the Gothic House B&B which you  can see through the Kings Head courtyard, and Gurney House courtyard:

kings head and gothic house  gurney house courtyard

There is also Epic Studios in the old Anglia TV building, home to a second life for some old bands (Visage, anyone?) and occasional tribute bands and even wrestling events.  And even the local pubs have gone European.

epic studios  escape european bar

I have to digress into a mention for the architectural highlights not so far away – Fye Bridge is said to be the oldest river crossing in Norwich with records suggesting a bridge from 1153 onwards, although the bridge you see today dates from the 19th century.  This was also the site of a medieval ducking stool, used to punish women who were ‘scolds’ and also to test for witchcraft (if you drowned you were innocent – hmm, wonder what evil bastard thought that one up).  You have to go to Bishop’s Bridge the other side of the Cathedral to see the oldest bridge still standing – that was built in the 1340’s.  Also keep walking towards Tombland, and special mention can be made for the wonderful crooked house that is Augustine Steward House, seen here back through the Erpingham Gate that leads into the Cathedral Close.

fye bridge                   crooked house in tombland

When I first came to Norwich from London (about 30 years ago) I heard it criticised for being a little ‘middle class toy-town’ that was white and bland.  Well I think things have changed, but especially here in Magdalen Street, which is becoming the heart of multi-cultural Norwich.  It has always had its share of Indian restaurants, and some have lasted and lasted because they are so good (yes, Ali Tandoori, I’m talking about you).  But now there are lots of different nationalities living in Norwich, and many of them have found that Magdalen Street is a great place to start their own small businesses.  This means a fantastic range of food, and the freshest spices you can get. Good luck to them all.

Apologies for all the photos getting jumbled and being in odd places – not my fault, they didn’t look like that when I was editing, and I can’t seem to improve things!

Week 4

Last week’s cultural treasures included a visit to Dragon Hall, although I am sorry to say I missed the City Boats trip.

It’s a bit late but here’s a few of the pictures I took on my  guided tour (my picture on the right is from the same angle as the poster, taken round the back on the river side of the hall, and you can just about see the big arch that allowed carts to drive straight into the storehouse under the merchant’s hall upstairs):

Dragon Hall 1427

    courtyard and arch

Unfortunately over the years the grand hall had been sold, messed about with and re-used for a long time as several separate houses.  You can see here what it looked like in the 1930’s, when it was split into a butcher’s shop, a priest’s home, and a pub.

1930s version

For a long time no-one was aware of how important this building was – they only started to realise it when work was done on removing some of the more recent additions, and they saw how grand the roof beams were.  It was named ‘Dragon Hall’ quite recently, in honour of the little carved dragon you can see here (one of many that would have been part of the roof beams) and the importance of the image of the dragon in Norwich history.

                            roof beams   the dragon

                            2013-08-18 14.55.41    2013-08-18 14.57.06

It took some major restoration to uncover what you can see today.  Take note that chimneys had been added over the years, and these have been taken out to restore the building to its former glory.  I don’t know if that is why the roof is so wibbly.  Most of the windows are later additions:

                               wibbly roof    corbel 2

Robert Toppes had actually built his grand merchant’s hall on top of an earlier building, and you can see that he intended for it to impress his visitors – the earlier small doorway you can see below was obviously not grand enough, so he had an even larger archway built around it.  He was incredibly successful as a merchant, and became one of the richest people in the county.  Typical of his time, he was also very religious, so vast sums of money were spent on his death so that prayers could be said for his soul, and he paid for a very splendid stained glass window which can be seen today in St Peter Mancroft.

                                    the double doorway   toppes window

Anyhow, that was last week.

This week I thought I would tackle one last tough subject (for me).  You might think this is trivial, but for me, it is huge.  I am spending the entire week doing housework with pleasure.  Well, ok, with an attitude that is as far removed from ‘sod it, life’s too short’ as I can muster.  It is seriously one of my least favourite things.  It’s not as though I live in squalor, but I can’t say I do it without being driven by necessity – thankfully, people come to stay with me now and then, so that is usually my driver.

I read an article recently that was about encouraging creativity in children, and it made the point that creativity generally creates mess, and that it is important to spend 15 minutes a day clearing up on account of ‘when we clear the physical space, we literally make room for clarity and inspiration’.  I also like the idea of doing these tasks ‘mindfully’ – this is a Buddhist concept I know, and I am not a Buddhist, but there is something to be said for paying attention to doing something willingly and well.  The hardest thing by far is getting started,

So I’m trying to do these things with a certain intensity and regularity.  I do love being in a clean, uncluttered environment.  Usually I just wish that someone would do it for me.  Doing it myself makes me feel incredibly virtuous.

The other good thing about housework is that it can be as energetic as you want it to be.  I really liked my week of physical exercise, and I have continued going out walking two or three times a week.  I really got into walking after dark – not something I would be able to do if I lived in the country, but here in the city it is great.  It makes me feel more alive.  And I go round all the posh bits of my local area and daydream about what it must be like to live in a house like that.  Seriously, there are some amazing houses here!

                                   0e282dd96966221ea5c0058137320db57450f038  NRS120139_01_gal

That house on the left might be absolutely horrible inside, but don’t you just love the idea of having a house with a turret?  It would make me feel as though I was living in a fairy tale.  I haven’t yet dared to go up those side roads that are marked ‘private’, but I do plan to uncover ‘hidden Norwich’, so watch this space.

I think next week I will come down to earth, and write something on that wonderful but unappreciated street in Norwich – Magdalen Street.

Sunday Scribble No.5

“Listen to this, she said, reading from a cheap magazine: “You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club – Jack London, 1876-1916″.    I like that” said Sarah.  “I’m going to use it as my motto”.

“Don’t know what that’s got to do with anything.  He was talking about writing, not this.  Don’t you think we should just wait for the money?” asked Luke.

“Hey, they ain’t going to give us the money any time soon.  It’s got to go through probate and mum said that takes ages.  And I don’t know for sure how much Daft Em left us.  Can’t we make a plan without the money?  Then it will be brilliant when we get it.  Charlie’s made a mint out of this already – we don’t need to wait.”

“Charlie’s dodgy and you know he is.”

“God, not that again.  He’s fine.  He got us the fucking tickets didn’t he?”

“Dave Snagell said he ripped him off…”

“Dave Snagell is a loser.  Even I would rip him off, he makes it so fucking easy.  Let’s just decide how much we want to start with.  I’ve got the rest of the rent money, and I can easily get that back off dad.  He doesn’t know mum gave it to me in cash last time I was down.  That’s 600 quid – how much have you got?”

“Jeez, you get away with murder.  If I did that…” he started, getting ready for a major whinge.

“God’s sake Luke, can we just stick to the point?  she interrupted, “we need to get the money together, so what does it matter where I get my bit from?  Just tell me what you got.”

He let out a long breath.  “Well, I still don’t know if I want to do it.  We need some kind of plan that involves not getting nicked.  Can’t you think of anything else?”

“I’ve got that covered, will you stop worrying!”

“What do you mean?” he said, suspiciously.

“I’ve thought of it.  I told you – it’s a plan.  So I thought it out.”

“So, were you planning to include me in on it?”   He looked exasperated.  “I’m not just your fucking side-kick you know”.

“Well.  Just imagine this, and tell me I’m not a genius.  Charlie can get us the Black Mamba and…”

“That’s Class B you idiot!” he interrupted.

“Wait, wait, this is gonna work…we put it in tea bags and I can stick them all over me with bits of tape, and we do the crowds and you get the dosh and I kiss the guy, or kiss the girl, whatever, and they feel me up – I don’t mean heavy stuff, they can just stick their hand up my t-shirt, and they just peel it off…seriously, it’s genius.”

“And how the hell are we gonna smuggle all that past security?”  His voice was a pitch too high, and far too loud for safety.  He looked around, and started to virtually whisper.  “And you’re planning on walking round covered in tea-bags?  Christ, I just can’t see it working, it’s crazy.  You’re crazy”.

“We get it in with Sparky”.

He looked at her for a long minute.  Sparky was going in a camper van, and would be in the disabled campsite.  Were the cops really that stupid to think that disabled people didn’t do drugs?  “Did he say he would?”

“He’ll do it for me”.

Luke shook his head, whether in disgust or disbelief was hard to say, and looked at the floor, thinking.

“I’m not going to sleep with him, doofus!  I just mean he’ll do it for me if we give him a decent cut.  We’re buddies”.

“You and Sparky?”  Luke’s voice had gone up again.  “How the hell did that happen?”

“I met him on my field trip, we got talking.  Christ’s sake, what does it matter?  He’s not a banana, he’s just in a wheelchair.  And he likes drugs.  Medicinal, he said”.

“Tea bags?”

“You can get them – empty ones.  Easy peasy.”

“Stuck all over you?  What if you get sweaty?  Won’t they all peel off?”

“We can try it out, I don’t see why it won’t work”.  She looked smug.  “Anyway, it’s bound to bloody rain, it always does at Glasto”.

Luke was still thinking, looking at his devious, spoilt, clever little sister.  It could work.

Sunday Scribble No.4

Sunday Scribble No.4

I don’t know if you noticed, but Casual Perfection, Marion’s Day and Aunty Em were all chapters in a story – and although that was part of my Daily Despatch during my week of writing every day, I wanted to carry it on.  So here goes….

The listening ear

She was deep in her sense of grief and, if she was honest, panic about her own future, when she bumped into Angela.  She was unable to keep the news to herself, even though she had been told to keep quiet for as long as she could.  They accepted that the press would get hold of it before long, but Marion and Mr Tate were working hard to come up with ways to manage the news.  Angela was too perceptive to accept ‘I’m coming down with something’ as a reason for the black cloud that seemed to surround Thea.  It came spilling out.

Angela put her arms around her, aware of Thea’s need for comfort and support.  Thea hadn’t been comforted for so long – or was it ever?  She found herself shaking and weak.  They went into Angela’s house; her tidy shiny kitchen.  All of a sudden the difference in their circumstances became irrelevant, and all she could feel was Angela’s concern and kindness.  Tea and tissues were produced, and Angela listened as the whole sorry story came out.  Thea wasn’t completely out of control, so she edited any information about the management of Oakdale Grange, but she felt the need to unburden herself of the weight that had fallen on her shoulders since she had discovered Em’s cold body.

Angela listened to the tale of discovery, medics and Coroner, Gordon and Iris, the police and the threat of legal action, the questioning by inspectors, and the paranoid suspicion that she now felt towards all of the staff.  It was likely the Care Quality Commission would close them down and she would lose her job – they were already making plans to move all of their residents.  The team drafted in by social services were all very nice but the residents were upset and needed someone familiar to reassure them, but all of the people they trusted had been suspended and weren’t allowed to talk to them. One thing seemed to lead to another, in a sickening chain that didn’t seem to have an ending.  She couldn’t believe that someone she knew could be capable of, at the very least, manslaughter.

Angela’s gentle questioning wasn’t intrusive, it was just designed to clarify as the facts came tumbling out, and she gave reassurance and perspective.  It was cleansing, and bound them together.  “I’ll come and see you tomorrow and we can go for a walk” she said, as Thea left.

When Gordon came home, it was natural for Angela to tell him what Thea was going through.  She was completely unprepared for his response, which had never even occurred to her.  His mother had died in that home.

Week 3

This was the third week of a project to do something interesting with my spare time, and I decided that my theme this week would be ‘culture and the arts’ and wouldn’t you know it, but there were two really interesting events on this weekend – one was Mind’s Festival of Cultures at the Forum, and the other was an event to support protection for bees organised by Subud in the Cathedral Close.  Here’s a few pictures to give a flavour of the events.

       stall in forum          stalls in forum

This is my masala dosa being made to order by the lovely folk from Namaste:

         my masala dosa     stalls outside forum

This was a lovely African jewellery stall, with the small person responsible for the ‘Mini Embira’ line.

           african jewellery stall     mini embira maker

People were sitting on the steps waiting for the Salsa lesson to start.

waiting for salsa

I couldn’t help noticing a couple of Gorilla’s in the Forum – the big one is Chromezilla, but the little fella is called King Comm.  Geddit?

          king comm chromilla king comm back view

There were activities for children – I just caught the end of a Rangoli finger painting session.  I liked the chart Mind had created for social inclusion.

           finger painting social inclusion poster

Then I walked over to Cathedral Close and was able to visit the lovely gardens that Subud (a multi-faith organisation that I am afraid I know nothing about) has used/lived in for many years.  On the way I passed the talented ‘space eagle’ and also the very nice Pandora’s Kitchen – highly recommended, especially on a sunny day.

           pandora's kitchen  space eagle

This is the outside of the house in Cathedral Close where this garden party was taking place:

        beautiful buildings in close  subud for bees

It was a charming event, all for a good cause.  There was live music and circle dancing as well as stalls with various interesting projects and information about preserving our bees.

          circle dancing  circle dancing 2

foe pic 2

I start my weeks on Thursdays, so I have already been re-learning a few basic words of Japanese ready for my students who arrived today, and I watched a recorded Culture Show all about the Venice Biennale (is that cheating?  It was really interesting!) and I’m off on a guided tour of Dragon Hall and perhaps a City Boats river trip.  The rest of the week I have my hands full with helping two young Japanese girls feel at home, but I also want to get my drawing pencils out.  I absolutely love art, so I figure I should start participating rather than just collecting.

It was hard working out what I could do on a daily basis – I wanted to re-visit museums I hadn’t been to for ages or take part in events or go to exhibitions – but most of what I found was only available during the week, during working hours.  There are quite a few things on, but things are organised around school holidays and kids needing to be entertained, rather than working people who can only do stuff in the evening.  I even considered going to Cinema City to see Billy Budd (which has been given a 5 star review) because I thought I should challenge myself to do something I wouldn’t normally do – I’ve never seen an opera and only know the most popular bits of the most popular ones; it’s all very well going along to things I know I like, but I wanted to learn and surprise myself.  But hey ho, it’s only on in the middle of the afternoon, on a working day.

I also began to question ‘what is culture’.   One definition said this is ‘the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively’ which is a bit of gobbledegook to me, so I prefer ‘characteristics of a particular group of people defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts’ – just the way different people behave and express themselves I guess.  It’s interesting that people often think that culture is intellectual – or maybe what is more interesting is that the word ‘intellectual’ has been hi-jacked.  Apparently culture is passed on by learning, and genetics by heredity, and both make a difference to how we turn out and how we decide to live our lives.