A lockdown love letter to Norwich: Part 5 by Karen Reilly

One of a series of love letters to Norwich during the coronavirus lockdown of 2020. A few local people reflecting on what they miss, about everyday life in the city.

My last day working at The Playhouse Bar was March 18th, it was 5 days preceding the official lockdown and I am grateful to my employers, the Theatre Royal, for their foresight. On our last day we wedged open all the doors so folks didn’t have to touch them, we washed our hands constantly and we anxiously awaited instruction, news, reassurance about the impending situation. Boris Johnson had advised people not to go to bars, restaurants and theatres two days before, we felt stranded, stupid; finally news to close the bar was a relief. Then word seeped in that this could be until the height of summer. Unthinkable. So we mothballed the bar, all the booze removed, cleaned and cleaned brought everything outdoors, indoors. Laura and I carried all the benches indoors as 50% of our small team laughed about stories of stealing pub benches as trophies. The fish are being fed daily by the head-tech.

We said goodbye and went home, for a long time. Home, I love my home. In Norwich you never quite feel alone, there’s always someone familiar passing by, that person you nod to or those folks you have known for years, who are knitted into your life through friends of friends or ex-loves. I have quickly become busy, cherishing this time. I get up, dance around listening to loud music on headphones, this is such a pleasure, music in the morning. It affects my entire nervous system in a joyous way. Then singing practice, I actively avoid it, but its time has come and it’s comforting and hey, it works. Talk to family. I go for a long walk, through Chapelfield, along Queen’s Road, up to Bracondale, then down one of the steep side streets. My preferred one is Southgate Lane, which feels like up North, with layered views of houses and warehouses. There is a wooden clad house where I imagine the Moomins live. Down past the back of Argyle Street, bulldozed in the 1980s (many tales from the anarchists and city council on that one), then down onto King Street, over Novi Sad bridge and through the stupid bit of Norwich trying to be America. Along riverside, I try and say hello to folks, I wave at a lady on the opposite riverbank, she waves back, it feels amazing. It’s getting harder to say hello as more people wear face masks, but I’ll keep trying. It was one of the first reasons I wanted to live in Norwich because strangers said hello to you, shopkeepers said hello. I walk in the road to give folks a wide berth, but do a thumbs-up to remind it’s of care and not repulsion. How are we going to recover from this distancing? Will we always be wary of each other?

Over Bishop’s Bridge, down through the cathedral, say hello to Edith Cavell. Today a man was mowing the lawn in the Cathedral Close, I loitered to smell it, it was the first cut-grass smell of the year. Damn it was good.

And then you remember it’s the apocalypse, we call it the zombie apocalypse and run around the house pretending to be monsters.

This takes the edge off it being real. We’re in an apocalypse movie, but it’s still the bit where we are laughing and the music hasn’t gotten too creepy yet. But, this is global!

Then home, home to all the reading and sleeping and coming up with KlangHaus plans. We’ve applied to do a virtual KlangHaus, using our team’s houses as a child-like playground for song, films and mucking about. KlangHaus is a promenade music show that uses the acoustic of the building and the architecture, ghosts and stories to create a close-up gig/theatre/art show… it’s usually with small audiences and very close-up, you’ll find me whispering in your ear or screaming under yer armpit, haha… We aim to film and part live stream this, although, we hope you will feel like it’s just for you. Each show has a theme, nothing too obvious, but because music can convey meaning beyond words, the meaning for the audience is often felt rather than literal, kind of unspoken and connects on a level that can be both touching and uplifting. We are used to rushing forward saying we’ll make an idea/a show happen without knowing how the hell we’ll actually technically do it…this show is a good example of running into the unknown, but the buzz is better than drugs kidz, haha. If it can happen it will be called HausCall.

I’ve been collecting Corona Conversations…from neighbours and friends I come across hanging out of windows or pass at distance in the street.

I’m building a model tram that I started in 1974.

Nobody wants to know what the weather is at the moment. I was working for Glastonbury Festival, but they don’t want to know, I’ve lost loads of work.

I’ve always worried about money even when I was earning loads, but for the first time I’m not. I have enough food in my fridge and I’m fine.

I’m so pleased the new giant Primark is shut.

The hospital is surreal, it’s like a giant aeroplane with everyone in the ‘brace’ position.

And then the death toll rises, all my London friends have had it, thankfully they are okay. My uncle died in spite of the virus, but there were only 3 closest family goodbyes for him. Ceremony and celebration postponed.

I salute, clap and dance for all those who are working, do you think a majority of them are on minimum wage? Thursday’s 8pm we make noise for the people who are important, are valuable to society, are valuable to you and me.

The time we have been granted to be, to live inside our houses but outside of ‘normal circumstances’ feels bountiful. I miss people, but I have been given time, for the first time since I was say, 5 years old and had to go to school, I have no schedule, nothing in my diary. Things are creeping in as the online workplace wakes up… but time, sleep, breathing the clear air, a quiet sky with no planes just birds… I’m thankful for this time to pause and spring is happening, whoop!

When we ‘go back’ I wish for things to be different. We can feel what we don’t need. Can the rushing stop? Rushing to work as many hours as possible to earn the money to pay for the things…

and can we have Universal Basic Income please…it’s cheaper than the benefit system and treats us with dignity, we may all need it to get through this…

About the Author

Karen Reillly

Karen Reilly is lead singer with the art rock band The Neutrinos. The Neutrinos with artist Sal Pittman created the show KlangHaus which has performed over 80 shows in the ceiling of the Royal Festival Hall Southbank London. Karen also helps run The Playhouse Bar in Norwich.

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