I’d phoned Al from the train, wanting sympathy, for there was no real reason to explain what was going on. Most people on the train were good-humoured and philosophical about the incident, and sorry for the people involved. The announcement had said “a fatality on the line” and that was what most of them reported to the people they rang. I avoided the impersonal and said to Al “someone has died, hit by a train.”
One woman was hoping to meet a friend, whom she’d not seen for a while, and phoned to alter arrangements. She was pretty grumpy about the whole thing, but she was the only one. She was younger than me, blonde and fleshy, wearing a strappy top. I stood behind her when we were leaving the train and there was a blob of sun cream on her back. There was also a mark, not quite a mole, deeper pink than her skin, which I didn’t quite like the look of, though I don’t know if I had any reason to be concerned. She shot off as soon as the door opened and I couldn’t have said anything if I’d wanted to.
I took the bus into the town and walked down to the castle.
There were parties of schoolchildren milling about, which made it a bit noisy, but after all it is a museum aimed at children. It was well laid out in the modern manner – that is, to be ‘accessible’, and focused on the ancient history of the town, with walk-in models of bronze age round huts, Roman rooms and reproduction helmets, shoes and hats to try on. It gave a clear history of the town, including the Roman occupation – it was the capital of Roman Britain until the rebellion under Queen Boudica, when the town was burnt to the ground and the Roman inhabitants massacred. The short film explaining the circumstances of this was well done, although I didn’t care for the final bit where an injured Roman soldier was calling out to his fellow – “Don’t leave me, Marcus, help me”. Roman soldiers had more gumption than that.
I rather liked the Roman glass and ornaments, although the items in the third picture look purposeful as well. But there was no indication of their likely use.
It gave a social history and didn’t go further than mediaeval times, except for the dungeon, which was used as a prison until 1835, and the dramatised voiceover there was set in the period of Mary I, who reigned bloodily from 1553-1558.
There was a guided tour, which I didn’t join, of the Roman vaults and the castle roof, maybe that would have given more depth to the experience. It was all well done, interesting and clear, but it exemplified the treatment being given to museums now. In making a fun learning experience for children (and I’m not faulting it at all for that), there is limited scope for repeated visits for adults. I felt, after an hour, that I’d taken it pretty well all in.
I’m always a sucker for good brickwork though. This was a fireplace I think.
There was also a Georgian house, Hollytrees, in the same park which extended the social history to Victorian times. Charmingly done but again, entirely child-orientated. The house was bought and given to the town by a benefactor in, I think, 1923, but the top floor was quite bare and I was surprised that there were no ‘museum quality’ artefacts. Toys and child-centred objects and household implements; a few uninteresting portraits, but no good furniture, china or paintings.
There was another museum, the Clock museum, but it is closed on Mondays. The Natural History museum is in a redundant church, but I didn’t visit -with a crawl-through badger sett (which they spelled ‘set’) and a family trail, it wasn’t likely to be aimed at me.
I sound as if I’m damning with faint praise, I’m afraid, but in fact it is a fabulous place for families. The castle is not free, but the other museums are and it was beautifully laid out, interesting and informative. But directed at children, not at me.
One crocodile of children crossed ahead of me. A small, neat, blond-haired boy was saying pompously to a classmate “You have to take responsibility for your personal possessions.” He was so pleased with himself that he turned, still walking, and repeated it. Had I had the chance, I’d have pointed out that “You’re supposed to look after your own stuff” is better spoken English, and it would have been more useful and kind to help than to sneer, but I’d probably have been reprimanded by his teachers. On the other hand, they would probably have quietly cheered, to hear such a self-righteous little boy being told that he was not as perfect as he thought.
I set off to look for a pub. In Norwich, every other building is a church or a pub, but here a little searching was necessary. I rejected cafés without a licence, or smart wine bars, and eventually paused outside a place called The Purple… and here, I forget. Dog? I think so. It wasn’t Pig, I know. While reading the menu, my ear was caught by the patter of a Big Issue seller, which was so good-humoured and amusing that I went to tell him so and buy the paper. A brief chat, I refused the change and I went in for lunch with a smile on my face.
Big squashy leather sofas drew me, and I ordered pâté and beer and sat down to read the magazine. The pâté was good, home-made and unusual and I had a leisurely lunch. Down the lane, there was a splendid greengrocer. It really was excellent, lots of local produce and remarkably cheap. Some items cheaper than Al, and he easily undercuts the supermarkets for most things. It was called Humphrey’s and is in Eld Lane, if you visit.
The town is full of small independent shops, which is a real pleasure to see. Considering it is such an old town, there weren’t that many fine buildings and the whole place had a slightly old-fashioned (in a 70s way, which is not altogether good) feel to it. There was supposed to be a new ‘minories’ (I suppose it was a misprint for ‘minorities’) art gallery in the temporary bus station, opening 2007 but there was no sign of it, not even as a forthcoming attraction. I went to look at the Arts Centre, in another redundant church, but it seemed to be only a booking office.
I went to the top floor of the Co-op to use the loo. A pretty blonde woman in her 60s was ahead of me. Her hand was marked with vitiligo and shook. We caught each other’s eye, and smiled. Later, I caught up with her on the stairs and she apologised for walking slowly. I agreed that it would be easy to slip and she said that she was awkward because of her nerves. I asked if she had visited the doctor – she was stressed, she said, because of physical and mental abuse at home. She raised her trouser leg to show me bruises. I asked if she was receiving any help, she said she was and was booked to enter a refuge the next day. I felt helpless, but put my hand on her arm, said she was brave to take action, wished her well.
I walked back to the station, which was only a mile or so. I went to the enquiry office, to ask if I might use my train ticket early. The woman looked puzzled “but there isn’t a 4.30 train to Norwich!” I explained that it left London at 4.30, please might I catch the 4.17 from Colchester? She said I could. I didn’t see a ticket inspector on the train anyway.
I laid into the red wine as soon as I got back at 5.30, with some olives, cheese and little biscuits. The Sage cooked dinner, lamb chops (the lambs and their mothers are kept on one of our fields, naturally raised on an unfertilised meadow, the meat is fabulous), the first broad beans from the garden, new Suffolk potatoes. Followed by a Magnum. I found it hard to resist bed at 8 o’clock, but I was in it before 10. This was, no doubt, the reason I woke up before 4 am, dreaming that my back hurt. It did. It’s all right now.