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.
Why do I love Norwich? Let me count six ways…
1. I love Norwich because it feels like home. I grew up here, on Britannia Road, and walking down there now still brings back memories (good ones) of cycling in the dust over Mousehold heath; of heading off to meet friends to play football, listen to music and drink in the Jubilee; of getting home to hide out in a bedroom filling up with books and records; of waiting for my mate Chris to turn up before we headed off to school up the Heartsease. I moved away for a few years, to Nottingham for college, then to London, but found myself coming back more often than not. It’s in the blood: I bleed yellow and green…
2. Talking of which, I love Norwich for Norwich City FC. My dad took me to Carrow Road in January 1978, behind the goal on the terrace of the old River End. We played Manchester City, lost 3-1, and I remember thinking Joe Corrigan was a giant. Roger Gibbons scored for us. He had a perm. But I went back, then got a season ticket, then ‘graduated’ to the Barclay. I loved the corrugated iron, the concrete and the congregation. Now I’m upper-Barclay, missing the bustle and low-key threat of the old days on the steps, but still on the pilgrimage come win lose or draw. Football is a culture not an entertainment: I like the ritual and commitment. I take the pain.
3. I love the city’s alleys, nooks and crannies. My daughter Rosa calls it ‘jazz walking’, when we turn off beaten tracks to cut through, detour and double-back. Elm Hill is obvious (and magnificent), but so too are the other alleyways off Magdalen Street, St. Benedicts, in The Close, around Pottergate, through St Giles. Being of a book-ish bent, I like the Lettrist/Situationist idea of the dérive: drifting through cities to discover and rediscover their moods and hidden histories. Bit pretentious I know. Then again, who needs Paris when you’ve got the Norwich Lanes…
4. Drifting is thirsty work. I love Norwich’s pubs; nowhere else comes close. Too many have shut in recent years; even pre-lockdown people were shutting themselves away. For me, however, happiness is a pub table – in the King’s Head or Queen Alexandra, maybe the Brewery Tap or Duke of Wellington, up the city or in the back streets – talking squit with friends. Norwich is spoilt for choice, something you appreciate when you go elsewhere. 365 may be a number consigned to the history books, but there are enough and probably more good than bad. If God’s waiting room is a Norwich pub at 5 pm on a Tuesday, then that’s fine by me.
5. Not being the most practical of people, I love the book shops and record shops. I also love chips on the market. Way back when, I spent much time in Backs’ Records, perusing the vinyl and looking at the montage of 7” single covers on the wall behind the counter. I’d then do a circuit, taking in shops that came and went: Andy’s, Goose’s, Lizard, Robin’s, Top Deck … Treasure troves still exist today, in indoor markets and dusty stores hidden away. Soundclash keeps the independent flag flying; Undercover Books helps me find battered pulps, 60s sociology and long-lost underground classics in beautiful covers. A friend came up from London recently and couldn’t believe it as we went from one secondhand shop to another. He bought a Bullseye Bendy Bully for £30. Result.
6. Finally, I love the space and the people. The views from the heath and Ketts Heights are hard to beat; the river and the cathedrals; the big big sky. A Fine City for sure. But the people make the city. When I lived in Nottingham and London, I heard the usual: in-bred, backward, stupid and unwelcoming. Whatever. All I know is that Norwich people are friendly but don’t put on airs; that we’ll pick people up if they fall down; that being so far from anywhere else means we do things different for and for ourselves. I don’t feel northern and I don’t feel southern. I feel Norwich (and I always will).
About the Author
Matt Worley is Professor of Modern History at the University of Reading, co-founder of the Subculture Network and author of the highly acclaimed, No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture, 1976-84.