Whatever Happens in Norwich?

There is an old stereotype about Norwich that nothing ever really happens here; I remember when I told my Dad that I wanted to go to UEA he was delighted because, being such an out of the way place, it was one of the safest cities in the country.

Now it’s true that due to our location in the odd bump of the east of England that very few people ever just happen to be passing through Norwich, but we’re far from a provincial backwater.

In the last month, I have met not one but two of my personal heroes at events in Norwich. A couple of weeks ago I attended one of the Dragon Hall debates (regular open to the public discussions on varying topics hosted by the Norwich Writers’ Centre in their medieval Dragon Hall) and had the excellent fortune to have a chance to chat with Cambridge Classicist and TV historian Mary Beard.

The event had been a discussion on the topic of internet censorship and how we can protect those targeted by internet trolls. Dr. Beard has talked extensively about women and their treatment in social media and it was amazing to get the chance to speak to her about it in person. Luckily this was one of those instances where meeting people you admire doesn’t diminish your opinion of them.

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This week I then had the opportunity of attending the launch of the poet Simon Armitage’s new collection. Anyone who has done English GCSE’s will have come across Armitage’s work but what really got me hooked on his poetry were his translations of Medieval texts such as ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.

It’s a mark of just how well regarded Norwich is in literary circles that a poet as famous and celebrated as Armitage chose to launch his new collection here with a local Norwich printing press rather than in Oxford for example, where he currently works at the university.

I was perhaps slightly less eloquent when I had the chance to meet him at the end of the event but he was still very kind and I came away happy with my signed book.

Now, I realise that a classicist and a poet are perhaps slightly niche interests but they demonstrate that Norwich is a place where great thinkers and artists want to come to discuss their works – but they are by no means the only people either. The music scene in Norwich is also flourishing; Laura Marling performed at the Waterfront this week and Little Mix will be here later in the year.

Norwich is a safe city, but we’re by no means a sleepy one.

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The wonderful Book Hive which published Simon Armitage’s new collection (the Michael Gove quote is my favourite)

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UEA United – Solidarity in the face of Brexit

Following last month’s disastrous referendum results (and no I won’t be pretending to be non-partisan about it) there has been a well-documented backlash against immigrants and anyone who doesn’t look quite British enough for the UKIP/Britain First brigade.

The awfulness of the referendum result and the resultant rise in hate crime is unfathomably horrific. If the UK is allowed to isolate itself and become the purely inward looking, bigoted nation that many Leave voters support the fallout will be manifold.

Not only does this new wave of racism harm many people, including UK citizens whose only crime is to not be ‘English’ enough, but also the country which the bigots claim to love.

From the point of view of the higher education sector, Brexit is disastrous. Large amounts of university funding come from the EU and it seems highly unlikely that the money gap will be filled by the current UK government. On top of this, UK universities’ reputations as being some of the best in the world attract bright minds from around the globe. When we pull up the drawbridge we close doors not only on funding but also the very people who are likely to be making the next great research breakthroughs. Already Cancer Research UK has warned that Brexit could cause a significant delay in the development of new cancer treatments.

Slightly closer to home for me is the knowledge that large chunks of the UEA student population are made up of international students, from the EU and beyond – including many of my friends.

The current cohort of international students, whether they are EU citizens or not, are being made to feel unwelcome in the country that they have chosen to study in and make their home. Future students will have to contend with not only the xenophobia licensed by Brexit but also the likely rise in tuition fees and a new need for visas. Not being able to afford studying in the UK will be a disappointment for many EU students but it will be a greater disaster for Britain which could see a considerable brain drain as young academics either don’t come here or are drawn away by the promise of better funding opportunities abroad.

Norwich voted to Remain, something that UEA and its students are immensely proud of.

When a local business owned by a Romanian family was attacked by arsonists following the Brexit vote, Norwich locals raised £24,000 to help the family repair their shop. Norwich is a designated city of refuge with a proud history of welcoming foreigners and those fleeing conflict elsewhere (please see this previous post for more on Norwich’s radical/ pro-refugee history) – most recently, the Norfolk council voted to offer homes to 50 Syrian families.

UEA continues this proud history of welcoming people from around the world by creating the UEA United campaign;

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“UEA welcomes students and staff from around the world. Whatever happens with Brexit our outlook remains global. EU and international students and staff will always be part of our family of nations. UEA is united.”

The staff and students wish all current and new international students to know that they are valued, they are welcome, and they are wanted.

At such a dark time in our country’s history it is a comfort to be a part of an institution which is unashamedly open and welcoming to all. We really are proud to ‘Do Different’.

Pimp My Barrow – 2k16

Last weekend saw the tenth anniversary of the one true UEA tradition – ‘Pimp My Barrow’.

‘Pimp My Barrow’ is an event really unlike any other and until you have seen it with your own eyes it is hard to really convey just how ridiculous and beloved it is.

However, I shall try and give a rough guide to the day’s proceedings:

It all begins with thousands of students in fancy dress, sporting decorated wheelbarrows, descending on the UEA campus square. The students are usually in teams of around 6 people and each team will pick a theme for their costumes and their wheelbarrow. Recent great designs have included ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ teams.

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They even had smoke pellets to put in his funnel!

Somehow every year the weather is beautiful and this first part of the event is a chance to party in the sun with your friends and celebrate the end of another academic year.

The teams are then set off on their journeys in three separate waves to take part in a wheelbarrow race across Earlham Park and then on to a pub crawl through Norwich. What the locals make of the sight of all the students in their costumes I don’t know, but it is certainly a very interesting and ‘unique’ parade.

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Whilst it is all lots of fun the main purpose of the event is to raise money for the local cancer charity, the Big C. This year ‘Pimp My Barrow’ raised over £9000 (or the cost of one year of university tuition) which I’m sure we can all agree is a fantastic achievement.

I had a great time again this year but it was strange to be doing it all again. Last year this was of course all new and exciting, now it feels like a strange count down to the inevitable day when I have to wave UEA goodbye. I suppose it just means we’ll have to put a special effort into ‘PMB 2K17’ and see it out in style.

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Side note: We bumped into campus celebrity, ‘Cloud Dog’ aka Beau

More thoughts on the end of second year to follow, until then enjoy the good weather whilst it lasts!

Student Night at Norwich Cathedral

At first glance you may now be thinking that the rumours about Norwich’s nightlife are true and that the students of this fine city are so deprived of club nights that they are reduced to partying in the cathedral…

Well, not quite.

With looming deadlines nights out have become a bit of a rarity for me, but a chance to wander around the cathedral at dusk (for free! – a student’s favourite two words) was too good to miss.

As you may or may not be aware, Norwich is home to a very fine Romanesque cathedral. Although it’s at the heart of the city it’s not an obvious destination for students unless they happen to be historians, and so sadly many students will go their entire time at UEA without enjoying one of the city’s architectural treasures – it’s almost on a par with the ziggurats.

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One of the UEA windows in the cathedral

To help remedy this issue the Dean of the cathedral opened their doors to the city’s students for a night, giving us the chance to explore the amazing building before moving to the refectory for wine and nibbles (and a rather wonderful jazz band).

It was a lovely evening, although unfortunately as my friends and I arrived a little late we didn’t have long to explore before we were ushered on to the nibbles and music part of the evening.

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The turnout was high which was probably due in part to the offer of a free glass of wine but it also proves that students are interested in getting to know their city better. I’m all for any event which helps people connect with the fascinating past of this city and look forward to any further events the cathedral may put on.

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Days Out in Norwich: The Castle

It has been a point of embarrassment for some time now that as someone who claims to have a particular interest in the Middle Ages, I had yet to visit Norwich Castle.

Thankfully, this wrong has finally been righted.

I had hoped to go to Cromer last weekend but sadly a storm rolled in from the North Sea, as they are want to do around our exposed bit of coastline, and we had to call the day off. However, Norwich Castle turned out to be a far larger complex than expected, and rather than just filling an hour or two, my family and I spent almost our entire day there.

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Initially as you approach the castle it seems very squat and unimpressive compared to the later medieval castles you may have seen. Built initially around 1067, the castle has overlooked Norwich’s market area, known as Tombland, for almost a millennia. However, once you have entered via the bridge which crosses what remains of the moat, you will be astounded to see just how extensive the complex is.

Besides the castle keep, which contains the exhibits about medieval life in Norwich, there are a warren of other galleries ranging in focus from the history of the Iceni tribe in East Anglia to Ancient Egypt. There is also a natural history museum area in which the taxidermy collections of eccentric Victorians are kept – they even have a stuffed polar bear.

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Getting into the castle may seem a bit expensive at first but there is so much to do that it is a whole day’s worth of entertainment, and for younger family members there are often activities and special events to keep them amused; my visit happened to coincide with a workshop run by UEA Drama students in which they dressed up and re-enacted Viking life in Norwich.

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Overall, I would thoroughly recommend checking out this piece of Norwich history during your time here – but maybe wait until your parents visit and can buy the tickets…

Norwich’s Vintage Market

Having lived in Norwich for almost a year and a half now, it is understandable that I might start to feel as though I have sampled everything the city has to offer which might be of interest to me. However, I am pleased to say that whenever I feel this way I almost invariably stumble across something new.

My most recent discovery is the Vintage Market. Tucked away as it is, with only a small door around the side of the large Iceland supermarket, I have been walking past it almost every day since I moved into my house last September and barely given it a thought.

Recently however, I was persuaded by a housemate that despite its unpromising frontage it was worth taking a peek inside.

And they were more than right.

 

Whilst I am not currently in the market for new clothes, the Vintage Market has everything you could hope for. From casual jackets to formal dresses to this… thing…

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Whilst I haven’t tried it myself, I have also been informed that the attached café is wonderful so I shall make a point of trying that out at some point.

That’s about all for this week – it’s hard to find time to explore this wonderful city when you’re also reading a Shakespeare play, an Austen novel, and a large collection of Romantic poetry weekly. But as and when I find new delights I shall of course share them on here.

Norwich: A City of Refuge

At the moment it’s impossible to go anywhere and not hear about the refugee crisis. When we flick on the TV it’s the nine o’clock news, it’s the cover of every newspaper, and it’s the main topic of conversation on most social media.

And yet it still feels very distant and far away. Perhaps this is a symptom of the UK’s isolation as an island, I suppose that if you live in Greece or Hungary then it’s all too real.

At the moment the main way people in the UK can help those fleeing the atrocities occurring in Syria is to donate to charities such as Save the Children and the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), lots of towns are organising donation drop offs, and it’s worth dropping your MP an email to check whether they are going to back plans for the UK to offer asylum to more refugees.

The most recent figures mentioned by the UK government suggest we’ll take ‘at least 10,000’, this is a vast improvement on previous promises, but in the face of millions of refugees (currently half of the Syrian population have been displaced from their homes) it feels like a drop in the ocean.

I can’t offer any great wisdom on the situation, I don’t even begin to claim I have any answers, but I do hope that Norwich will play a part in the housing of some of the refugees who come to the UK.

In 2007, Norwich became the UK’s first City of Refuge; this network was set up by high profile writers in the 90’s to create safe havens for those who were in danger because of their writings. Norwich was considered a suitable candidate for this position not only because of its international status as a city with a rich literary tradition, but because it is a city which has historically welcomed those who have been persecuted.

In 1565, Norwich invited Protestants from the Spanish (catholic) Netherlands who were being murdered because of their faith. They were known as ‘the Strangers’ and are why we still have places in Norwich such as Strangers’ Hall. They also brought their pet canaries with them which soon became hugely popular and eventually gave their name to the Norwich football club, which are still nicknamed ‘The Canaries’.

Norwich FC Badge

Norwich FC Badge

The Strangers are a huge part of Norwich’s history, and as they made up a third of the population of the city, in those whose families are from the area, they are still a part of the city’s present. The Strangers’ other contributions to the city include the printing press, Anthony de Solempne and Albert Christian were refugees from Antwerp and the first printers in Norwich – which for a city famed for its literary history is obviously an important first.

Strangers' Hall (Image from coolplaces.co.uk)

Strangers’ Hall
(Image from coolplaces.co.uk)

The city also welcomed French Huguenots in the 17th century, and Jewish children saved from Nazi occupied Europe by the Kinder Transport at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Without wishing to over egg the pudding, I hope I have made it clear that I see Norwich as a prime example of why we need to open our doors and do our bit to assist during this humanitarian crisis. Norwich is an amazing city that has been populated and improved by migrants and refugees for centuries, and I hope it is a grand tradition that we continue to live up to.

We are living proof of what Icelandic author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir meant when, calling on the Icelandic government to home more refugees, she said, ‘They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children’s band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman and television host.’

‘People of whom we’ll never be able to say in the future: ‘Your life is worth less than my life.’