I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog due to another shift of base, this time away from the vicissitudes of London to the gentler climes of Norwich, the jewel city of East Anglia.
There are a number of reasons why I’ve headed out here, one of them is familiarity with the city (my parents lived here for many years).
My strongest memories of Norwich are rooted in the early 1980’s straight after I graduated when I spent two blissful years in the city, roaming the profusion of antiquarian/second hand bookshops, running a local rock fanzine The Blue Blanket and playing miniature wargames with my local mates. That was a long time ago, my old friends have moved on to pastures new and much has changed in the city. Many of my old haunts have been replaced by lifestyle select shops and fashionable cafe’s, but these in their turn add a charm to the city in a whole new way. The back streets of Norwich are full of curious little corners, 1990’s boom-years development is everywhere in evidence, though recession could mean this all changes very soon.
I’m somewhat less convinced by the need for not one, but two major shopping centres. The first, Castle Mall, opened in the 1990’s on the site of the old cattle market and was heralded as a model of integrated design. Nevertheless it’s since been overshadowed by the rival new Chapelfield centre, which replaces the old Nestlé-Rowntree factory. There are so many shops in Norwich now it’s bewildering, I wonder whether the city has the population to maintain this. Fortunately the character of the town has not only survived, but on the whole seems enhanced by these changes. The Riverside development along the banks of the Wensum has replaced ugly old factory buildings (Boulton Paul, Colemans) with expensive integrated apartment blocks that make the area positively desirable. Several post-war eyesores have been replaced, though Magdalene Street, formerly one of the most historical streets in the city until ravaged by 1970’s developers is still stuck with it’s awful concrete nightmare Anglia Square.
Sipping my Latte in the Forum cafe, overlooking the elaborate architecture of St.Peter Mancroft Church I’m overwhelmed with the excitement of re-discovery, even though I only lived in Norwich for a short time before pursuing my career on other horizons. Back in those days there was little in the city to offer an illustration graduate. “Get you down to London” was the advice of the careers officer at the time, and to London I went. Now however the opposite is the case. The internet has freed artists from the need to commute into the centre of the urban capital. A good broadband connection keeps me in touch with everyone, and when I need to see people London is a mere 2 hour train journey away.
There’s much to attract me to Norwich today. I still have family here. The convenience (we live 5 minutes walk from the city centre). The harmonious balance of history and modern living, tradition and the new. The deep literary heritage. The excellent library services, which survived the burning down of the central library in the 1990’s only to re-emerge stronger than ever within the Forum development. The international airport making the city a short hop to Europe and hence beyond. For myself and my daughter it seems the perfect fit, the perfect size for us non-drivers. So far at least it’s been a warm “homecoming”.