09 April 2012

Norwich Eats.

When I decided to move to Manchester, I remember a woman I worked with at Alfalfa House saying, "Wow. That is a notoriously horrible place." I remember hoping it was an unreliable stereotype.

It was. I got here and I fell in love with this town.

Norwich is another place that carries the burden of bad stereotypes. It is supposedly parochial, boring, lacking culture and filled with small-minded people.

Mark's just moved to Norwich to begin his two-year traineeship, and I visited him over Easter weekend. Norwich, so far as I've seen, is absolutely lovely. Small for a city, sure.

I'm not sure it deserves those stereotypes. For one thing, it's beautiful. 

It feels like nearly everywhere you turn, there's another stunning building.

There's a huge river through it, and more than one cathedral. 

Though he's only been in Norwich about a week, Mark's already found this amazing café.
My friend Katie's maiden name is Appleyard! I was already inclined to like it.
Run by two friendly young men, Appleyard is a lunchtime haven. 
Josh and Daniel have a great thing going here: a pretty, slightly unfinished old building with lots of light and great food. They made me a vegetarian reuben per special request (basically sauerkraut, cheese, pickles and mustard on rye). The coffee's lovely, and they have local beer on tap. And it's entirely affordable. They only charged me about £3.20 for my sandwich. 

They're also looking to get some locally (stilled? distilled? brewed?) whiskey in soon! Seriously, this is an exciting place. Young people, starting their own place, with great food, drink, and atmosphere... Basically, I'm looking forward to visiting again. You should go.

Mark also took me to this adorable café called The Window, a tiny shop run by Hayley, a friendly, chatty young woman. There's not even space for a counter in this shop, so you have to chat with other customers and with Hayley. It feels like having a coffee in a friend's squashed kitchen. Really very nice. I forgot to take pictures, though.

We really enjoyed walking around Norwich, and catching sight of little jokes.

The Castle was exhibiting Diana and Acteon, by Titian, so we had to go. I didn't do all those art history classes for nothing! The Castle's a great spot to see the rest of the city, as it's so high up. It was a windy day, but I wanted a picture of Norwich Cathedral's amazing spire (see background). 

What wouldn't I do for a fire alarm like this? I think the gold and black lettering on it might be hand-painted.

At The Iron House, a brunch place Hayley recommended, we waited for what felt like ages for our food. I was really hungry, and to pass the time, we took pictures. I like this one of Mark, he looks all mean and confrontational. He's never like that, though, so it's a funny picture.

I got a bit bored and arty.

And then I wasn't allowed to keep taking pictures and had to sit for my own portraits.

As it turned out, Mark's food was amazing. Eggs Benedict:

And mine was fairly awful. A ugly beige-coloured lentil soup with more starchy thickener in it than lentils and more salt than good flavour. The toughest, driest, blandest bread I've touched in a long time. Maybe it's one of those places that just doesn't understand vegetables. I was feeling let down as we left this place, and also still very hungry.

But then we found another great place. The Mustard Cafe did me a lovely cheese & mustard croissant for takeaway. As I munched my warmed pastry and Mark tried to navigate us around the old French part of the city, I couldn't help thinking about how much I love mustard.

No wonder Norwich and I get along so well. It's the home of Colman's English Mustard, a national treasure. It should be more famous than Marmite, but because it's less well-known, it's more beloved. Did you know Colman's is one of the oldest existing food brands?

Did you want to?
Lest you think all we did was eat out during my weekend in Norwich, I'll note here that Mark and I also watched movies, slept in a lot and cooked for ourselves, too. 

I really liked what I saw of Norwich this past weekend, it has some really good things going for it. It's got the only dedicated puppetry centre in the country, a great creative writing programme (Ian McEwan graduated from there!) and an excellent arts school. So it can't be all that culturally deprived. It's even got a supposedly really good market that's been going since Saxon times. Sadly, that was mostly closed for Easter holidays, so I'll report on it properly next time I visit!

It was nice to see that, even in a short weekend, Norwich managed to disprove a lot of its ugly reputation. It has great food and lots of theatres and kind, friendly people. As I got ready to leave yesterday, it was easier to say goodbye knowing that Mark will have a great two years there...

04 April 2012


Since her last adventure onstage, our heroine has been very busy indeed....

The big news first:
Most of my March was spent at the BBC doing a work experience. It was awesome! I am now officially a radio production freelancer for the good old beeb! For the first time, after about 5 years of producing radio, I will be paid for it! Feeling a lot less useless these days, honestly.

The other news:
Just last week, I found myself with an urge to write again. It has been months, my friends, since I've written a story. I think I've been feeling so down about jobs that I've had trouble focussing on "frivolous" things. Like this blog. It felt good to write again. Warning to my sister: this might make you cry a little bit. Sorry.

So, I decided to try the story out onstage at Bad Language, everyone's favourite Manchester literary night out:

That was a really fun night. Bad Language always is. If you're in Manchester on the last Wednesday of any month, get down to the Castle. You'll get to hear some brilliant writing from some of Manchester's brightest literary stars. And I'm not bragging, because I definitely don't include myself in that list.


Meanwhile, I went down to London again to visit Mark. It was a gorgeous weekend, filled with sunshine and street food off Brick Lane, handmade noodles and Moroccan food, bagels and fresh coconut. It was everything I need of a summer, except a barbecue and even more friends around and being a little bit boozy. That *will* happen later this summer. I'm looking at you Joe and Gem. I'm looking at you.

Also in London, we visited with Sian, one of Mark's dear friends from Cambridge. Sian is sweet and funny and has a lovely laugh. Where some shake entirely when they laugh, or at least shake their shoulders, and others fall over, the only physical indication that Sian's laughing is her throat. Apart from that, she could just be smiling.

Mark and Sian with her little baby Samuel. Samuel does a great Bill Cosby impression.

We had a great time hanging out with Sian, Samuel and her friend Bianca. Smart, funny women, and a chubby baby who giggles if you whisper "Scrumblepants" at him. Well, fair enough, I'd probably giggle if you whispered "Scrumblepants" at me, too.

Samuel's at that serious put-everything-in-his-mouth stage, it's like he's on a personal mission to make sure everything has been in his mouth. You can see here, he's so pleased with eating his own hand, he's offered the other to Mark. Generous boy.


We had an amazing event in our night sky a few weeks ago. The moon, Venus and Jupiter were all visible in the same eyeline. It was so exciting! My phone camera couldn't really capture it very well, but the big thing in the lower right is the moon, the dull spot near it is Venus, and the bright spot near the top is Jupiter. Outstanding!

I've been wandering around new bits of Manchester on my own a lot lately, which means I often come across things that I don't know about. Like this amazing building near Ardwick Green.

I took a picture and asked my Twitter and Facebook friends about it. They usually know loads about Manchester architecture, and here's what they came back with: It's called Drill Hall.


I've also had the pleasure of taking three Belfastests around my town. Emily and Tom visited for a weekend, and I took them round the Ancoats Peeps (previously discussed on this blog here) and some of my favourite restaurants and bars. They were floored at the number of great pubs in this town. As I often am, myself.

Then Andrew came to visit as well! Here we are in the Marble Beer House, on Thomas St. We couldn't figure out where to look on my cameraphone. Because we are, like, digital, but not very good at it.

I met Andrew at Emily and Tom's Thanksgiving party, also previously discussed on this blog. I took him around the superb Gothic Revivalist John Rylands Library, mostly.

I love that building. Most stained glass is in churches and depicts apostles and disciples and stories I've never really understood. But in the Rylands Library, there is stained glass of Chaucer and Shakespeare. It's the persuasive art of religion brought to the secular cause of literature and philosophy. It's beautiful.


I've been growing very interested in Möbius strips and Klein bottles lately. I know this is an extremely nerdy thing, and I would better spend my time learning the Dvorak keyboard if I wanted to be such an irascible dweeb anyway.
But I found this lovely video about Möbius strips, that made me very happy indeed:

And I found this company that makes the closest thing to a Klein bottle as possible in three dimensions.

"Need a zero-volume bottle?

Searching for a one-sided surface?

Want the ultimate in non-orientability?


So cool! Now, if any of you are not the sort of people who kind of want a Klein bottle, then I have seriously misjudged my audience.



Hopefully, now that the work front is looking more promising, I'll feel able to update this blog a bit more regularly. I'm visiting Norwich this weekend– Mark's just moved there for his traineeship. I've been for a day before, and I've heard it's an arty, foody town, so I'm definitely looking forward to it. Watch this space!