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.

Week 2 begins

Just so’s you know, I am definitely busy with Week 2, I have started on my physical stuff.  I thought I would end up cleaning the house in frantic style (very useful, much needed) but when I got home I looked around and thought ‘….nah’.  So then I thought ‘hey, let’s get that Wii fit thingy out that has been propped up beside the TV since Christmas; I can do a little bit while the potatoes boil, job done’.  But of course I’d forgotten how to access the damn thing through the telly, and by the time I had pressed every button on the remote twice (apart from one, obviously, but I didn’t realise it at the time) and had a look at the instruction book, the timer was beeping. So plan C was put into action – I put on my MBT’s and went for a 30 minute walk. Fantastic.  I took my phone (which by accident of saying yes to synchronising everything has all of my daughter’s old music downloads on it) and some little earphones.  So I walked with pounding beat from Idlewild, Jimmy Eat World, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kings of Leon.  I was in the groove, just like being in the gym and jogging away on the treadmill to Eye of the Tiger only better.


The trick is to set myself really low targets – I think I might just be able to do a 30 minute walk once a day for a week, because even when it’s really hard to stick to a routine because life gets in the way, I can be disciplined enough to see it through for such a short time.  And that’s kind of my goal – not to be an athlete, but to learn how not to give up.

The following week I think I might try doing something cultural every day – which will be helped by the fact that I have 2 Japanese students coming to stay.  But it will also be hard to stick to, since I’m working full-time.  Does going to see Alpha Papa count?

I will go back to my Sunday Scribbles, and I also plan to do a guide to the best second-hand and vintage shops, as well as more on the cafés, restaurants and sights of Norwich (with better photos hopefully!)

The fact is, there just isn’t enough time to do everything I want, but I have noticed the huge opportunity cost I’ve been squandering by watching TV – and I haven’t really missed it.

Gay Pride July 2013

The sun was being shy today, but clearly no-else felt like that – what a lovely day of celebration and happiness.  In the park (Chapelfield Gardens) there were lots of people enjoying the good weather because it was very warm and bright even if there was a lot of cloud.  Various activities were centred here for children and anyone who felt like dancing.  There were lots of great costumes although they weren’t compulsory; a little touch of rainbow could be worn as a badge or hat, or even just in your heart.






In the City centre even the trees have been decorated with prideImage

And City Hall was dressed for the occasion:

Imagewith some very proud lions


and I saw some other great costumes outside the Forum, which was also a centre for activities both musical and politicalImage

ImageAll in all a brilliant, colourful, musical, vibrant celebration of equality and diversity in action. The only negative voice I heard all day was when a teenage boy saw the ‘Quakers for Equality’ sign in Chapelfield and he made a grumpy old man harrumphy noise and said ‘why do they have to bring bloody religion into it?’ – which kind of misses the point, young man!