Tier 2 (Day 24): Norwich Over The Water

Know your onions and where to get them, as the old adage goes. Minor hole in the Christmas dinner plan was identified late on Christmas Eve, i.e. no Allium of any form to stuff into the chicken.

On the other side of the city is a shop that runs at ridiculous hours, isn’t bound by Christian holy days and has the most fantastic range of foods from almost everywhere in the world. They do not sell alcohol, by the way.

The display of fruit and vegetables along the front is all you need to draw you in. Bright colours, shades of green and orange, intriguing shapes of exotic foods. My brother-in-law wonders whether they might stock Scottish bread.

I get what I need, plus some Swiss chocolate, but a man on a mission does not. No Brussel sprouts. I nearly pointed out that there is broccoli if he really wants to ruin his meal, but stay out of it. Good luck with that search, pal.

Is he doing the heroic thing to save the traditional Christmas meal? Who forgot to buy the sprouts? Is there a perfectionist’s meltdown occurring in the family kitchen? Has the day been spoiled? “…but we always have Brussels! It won’t be a proper Christmas dinner without them!” Make up your own domestic scene.

The man did not return the way he came, but head down, the enormity of the consequences of the omission beginning to cloud his every step, he set off into the maze of the old town with diminished hope. That sort of mission is best undertaken on a bicycle I believe. Your success or failure arrives sooner on a bike.

The shop is located where Magdelan Street begins and runs down the slope from the north into the old city. The area is known as Norwich Over the Water, so technically a suburb. It lies beyond the city walls and the natural boundary maintained by the river Wensum. I understand that the river is tidal as far as the sluices and pumphouse of New Mills. Downstream around Carrow the river is full today and has lapped onto the footpath. Earlier in the morning some of the swans had been drifting back and forth over the submerged bank of the river, enjoying the expansion of their watery realm.

I cycled down Magdelan Street, where all but a corner shop is trading. I passed various family groups and couples strolling around the city during a diluted sun-break in the weather. The cool air carries wisps of Italian, a Scandinavian tongue, French, Polish Arabic and locally accented English.

Norwich has the look, feel and acoustic accompaniment of a Continental city. Utrecht lies on the same latitude and has many connections with Norwich. I must head over to the Netherlands as soon as possible – it is a country still foreign to me, but I just know I will love it there. It will be nice to walk amongst the world’s tallest people, to be able to see eye-to-eye with the locals. It will be a bit like my brief visit to Sweden over three decades ago.

Evidence of Dutch antecedents is everywhere in Norwich, not least at the Adam & Eve pub, reputedly the eldest in the city. It boasts beautifully curved Dutch gabling. It is a modest building of character.

Tiny with a dangerously low door beam. With tables on its forecourt it has been able to maintain some form of trade with hardy, well-wrapped up customers who were able to socialise in the fresh air. I am less sure about the sense of only allowing drinks with “substantial” meals inside such a cramped building. I found the place claustrophobic even pre-Covid-19. Regardless, the building is a good example of Norwich’s cosmopolitan nature.

At Bishop’s Bridge I stop to take a photo of a once fine pub now being gutted and reconfigured for residential use. To the right of the bridge a man is sitting on the landing steps looking at the rising river. He turns and gives me a thumbs up. He greets a passing couple with a good humoured smile and a “Merry Christmas.” One yellow can of strong lager, (Dutch too?) has been drained, another is in hand and two more are lined up he is steadily tops up. I say ‘The river level is high” and we fall easily into conversation.

He is having a moment of reflection, (Is that the right word? he asks). He witnessed the sudden death of a friend a week ago. “He just dropped dead in his chair, right in front of me.” The idea of a swift, painless exit “doing what he enjoyed most” has some appeal when the time comes I admit. He is thinking about his friend, talks about a Desert Island Discs programme he heard the other morning, regretting being an arse when visiting his six children and ex-wife last Christmas, (leading to his isolation from his kids this Christmas Day). I am an alcoholic, he offers. Later things will get a bit messy, you know. I kind of do, but don’t.

We exchange first names. We’ll probably bump into each other again. I think that mid-mornings see the best of him. We part with Merry Christmas.

I cycle around the local football ground. It will be a while yet before away trips will be on the agenda.

My day ends, as it started with reflections on alcohol. This time, me the drinker. I return to my apartment well-fed, glowing and just the right side of tipsy. It has been a while since I enjoyed feeling drunk. A long time since I have been drunk. My brain in neutral. My bed waiting. Clunk! Lights out.


CLP 25th December, 2020