“England’s Other City”, a Silly Look at a City that has a Silly Slogan.

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If I tell you that this city’s motto at my time of writing is, “England’s Other City” I am certain that you would never guess the city that I am referring to, so disparate must be their self-image to actual. Good for them, it’s been proved that those who appraise themselves more favourably than actual do better than those tho appraise themselves harshly. A good self-image is important although one should also have at least a teensy bit of reality to avoid wearing one of those funny coats where the arms are tied around back. But just try to think of a few places it could possibly be before scrolling down to see. Perhaps even click on the comment button to tell everyone what your guess was. If you’re from there or have read it before than you may know, but that’s not the same as a motto actually suiting a place.

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I am experimenting with my writing, this first bit is some added fiction and the main story starts after the next line.
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Imagine you are in your mid-thirties. You’ve finally landed the job you’ve always wanted, the career you’ve been working towards since you entered university seventeen years ago. You love your city, you enjoy the life you’ve set-up for yourself, and financially you don’t have a care in the world. You have a lovely set of friends that you’ve built-up over the years, an eclectic mix of differing personalities that suit your various moods. I guess you’re a bit of a moody a-hole that you need to do that, but never-mind. The point is that life is good and you feel satisfied. You’re dreams have come true.

You are an art curator and have worked your way up to one the most prestigious art galleries in New York City, an accomplishment that you like to flaunt at every turn. You went back to your hometown high school reunion for the sole purpose of making others feel badly about themselves. “It must be lovely to serve the public at the hospital cafeteria, your family must be dead-proud that you climbed such dizzying heights from where you started at McDonalds and in only twenty years!” “You must feel good about your contributions to the world, I can only imagine how doing the book-keeping for ABC Pesticides must be an exciting and rewarding position for you. I’m sure one has to experience working in a basement office to really appreciate it.” You don’t try to hide your pretensions either, you are the leader-of-the-pack in your pretentious circles.

You have no appreciation for the fact that people are not dealt the same hand. True, you did work hard, but you were also given a free pass when your family easily afforded to send you to the University of your choice. Growing-up, your Uncle Malcolm would take you to fabulous places and show you works of art that most kids will never see during their lifetime, let alone with your uncle’s explanation of why he loves certain pieces so much. (You can remember clearly that there was a modern abstract piece he loved that he claimed was a uterus. Actually, now that you think about it, he could find the uterus in a lot of abstract pieces, almost like it was a fixation of his. You couldn’t quite see it yourself.)

By the time you exited high school you had already visited some of the worlds greatest art galleries in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin. You had private art-tuition on weekends and although you had no talent (You were terrible! Remember!) it aided in your appreciation and somehow it didn’t injure your ego one tiny bit, so strong was your sense of being better than others. You were Daddy’s little Princess and Mamma’s little Cabbage. (She wasn’t calling you retarded. It’s a term of endearment in French.) You won a scholarship by being the only applicant who fell within it’s parameters. (Awarded to a white female candidate who has travelled extensively by age fifteen to at least 5 of the worlds 10 greatest cities with their uncle and who might be considered differently-abled when it comes to the actual creation of art. The scholarship coincidentally coming from your Father’s company and creating a tax write-off for him. Interesting.)

No, apart from these tiny benefits you enjoyed, you are completely self-made and there’s no excuse why Sharon who group-up one of 5 children to a single mother who cleaned homes for a living should not have created a life just as fulfilling and successful as yours. The fact that she was excited to get her first job at age fifteen because it meant that her family could keep their 2-bedroom apartment despite the rate increase holds no water with you. That her family immediately became dependant on her income and she then never had a chance to advance herself career-wise because of her desperate situation will never occur to you as anything but an excuse for her to be lazy. Lazy in a working-two-jobs-seventy-exhausting-hours-per-week sort of way.

Or what about John who became a pet-groomer, loves his wife and two kids, and he would not have his life any other way. You look down on him too because you don’t understand that his success exceeds yours. He’s happier than you are, and he gives back to his community as a volunteer fire fighter. He does that with his Dad, it is something they can share together in the small town you also grew-up in. But because that town was not your destiny you judge others when it is theirs, as if liking one place is better than liking another. Well it’s not, it’s just personal preference. Imagine if we all had the same preference, what would the world look like then? Hmmm? You’re being pretty quiet now, aren’t you.

Well, you are just delightful. How have we not met and become fast friends.

One day you wake-up and you can’t see a thing. Not a spec of light. The darkness that is your view of others who differ from you is now all that you can see. Sad.

Can’t see the pretty pictures now, can you. I’m sure my readers feel so very sorry for you. But lets have some fun with it anyway. We deserve to have some fun, don’t we. Your social worker is one of those people who yells when talking to blind people. You thought this was funny before you went blind yourself, how people with all their senses seem to confuse which-ones-do-what when dealing with the differently-abled. Now that you are blind yourself you notice that your hearing is actually heightened, so dependent you are on it for information about your environment. Its startling when someone yells at you from close proximity, especially when you didn’t see they were there. In fact, you never see they are there. I sometimes find noisy situations disorienting myself and I have the aid of having full visual guidance. I can only imagine that a noisy place where you cannot differentiate specific queues of comings and goings and activities by their sounds must be very stressful.

You have a type A personality and your social worker has decided that it would be best for you to just jump in to your new life by going to a special boot-camp, an island full of people just like you where you should be able to master your change of ability within a matter of months. Three months actually. But once you go, there’s no leaving early under any circumstance apart from being air lifted due to having a medical emergency.

After packing a nearly-random assortment of clothing (Because you can’t see them. Were you intending to wear the top-half of your halloween crocodile costume with those jeans today? And you have some food stuck to your lips. Oh sorry, I must have forgotten to take my glue stick out of your cosmetic case. Easy mistake, I do tend to forget things.) you reluctantly leave your perfect life. You’d take-up massage, an ideal profession for the sight-impaired because they tend to develop a gifted sense of touch, if you didn’t dislike people so much. You’re not sure what you are going to do yet, but you know you can’t just sit at home and listen to tv all day. You need to learn how to walk with a cane, you need braille to read, you need strategies and you need to train your brain to experience the world differently than you have for the past 35 years. You oscillate between feeling depressed and anxious and then one of your self-help books kicks-in and you feel slightly invigorated by the challenge.

At the conclusion of a considerable world journey you arrive to the island and something seems wrong. You can’t see what it is because you still can’t see. Perhaps you didn’t read the fine print of the forms your social worker had you sign. Oh dear. Your social worker seems to have made a bit of a mix-up. He’s sent you to a boot camp for people who suddenly lost their hearing. It was all the same to him I guess. Oops.

The first days you spend your time stumbling around getting slapped in the face a lot. Sighted people practicing their new language. No one can hear you, even the staff are deaf. Must be hard not being heard. Kind of like how you refused to see the real lives of those you looked down on. Bit judgemental, weren’t you. Hmmm.

Apart from feeling alienated you feel painfully bored, unlike anything you have ever experienced. (Although perhaps you’ve come close while reading this blog today. I’m experimenting a bit.) You’ve alienated yourself before, so that’s not entirely new, but never have you been unable to read, unable to watch a movie, but especially unable to sit and admire the new artwork that you just acquired for your gallery at auction. Attaining things with other’s money actually turned out to be your greatest passion, you felt like it was yours. The powerful feeling of wielding an auction number with a two million dollar budget for the afternoon, you like that.

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I am not saying that Norwich is boring like this island must have been for our dear friend who so sadly lost her sight, it isn’t quite. That it was England’s second largest city in the eleventh century did surprisingly little to alter my experience of it only ten centuries later. But I suppose a lot can change in a thousand years when you really think about it. In my five days of wandering it’s lovely streets (it really is pretty) somehow nothing happened. I didn’t find anything particularly interesting to do, I was not able to meet anyone, I found it difficult to find meals away from very noisy chain restaurants, and I found no stories to tell. I’m sure it has lots of these wonderful things and much more, I just didn’t find any of them myself. It is a handsome place though, with some great buildings and I loved the narrow streets of the old town. If you are out for sightseeing, this is a very pretty town. And perhaps there are events that go on there from time-to-time that would have considerably altered my experience.

There were some interesting bits from history, just nothing during my visit. It was the only English city to ever be “excommunicated” in the twelve hundreds, so that’s something. In the fourteenth city they completed city walls but then someone had the brilliant notion to make it illegal to build outside them which caused complete stagnation and meant the end of the city’s growth. Seems obvious enough today that a city that cannot grow will not be able to keep-up with rivals but then again our life expectancies today are longer than thirty-years so perhaps we do have more foreskin. I mean foresight. Perhaps both, I’m not a doctor or a geneticist or anything.

Speaking of foreskin, since you brought it up, Norwich had a very disgraceful event in it’s history when in 1190 the Jewish population was executed apart from a few who found a safe-place in the castle. I can only suppose this had some tie-in to an event in 1144 when a boy was found stabbed and the Jews of Norwich were accused of his murder. The executions took place an entire generation later, but there is no other explanation presented that I could find so I am guessing that the event triggered a feud. I have no evidence or knowledge of such, I am just drawing a possibly ludicrous conclusion. I am not a historian.

Norwich’s famous department store, Jerrolds, is only located in Norwich so one could probably say with some conviction that it’s not actually famous. (Yes, I do know that locals might argue that it was something larger a century ago and therefore famous but I am referring to those of us who are alive today. In 2013 it is probably known only to people of Norfolk.) The name does remind one of Harrods though, so that’s something.

Perhaps the most interesting fact I pulled from Norwich’s long and fascinating history was that in 1976 it installed speed bumps on one of it’s streets to encourage drivers to keep to the 30 mph speed limit, making it England’s third street ever to do so.

Incredible.

They really should promote that more to draw-in more tourists. Makes one pause and wonder where the first street was, doesn’t it. Can you hardly imagine, now that would really be something. But being number three is not too shabby either and the fact that I stumbled upon that amazing fact shows some civic pride for sure, that someone took the effort to make sure the world didn’t forget. And the world surely won’t forget, or at least several readers won’t – it now being encapsulated in my very informative book as it is.

Norwich seems to have sometime recently changed it’s motto from “Norwich – a fine city” which I would say was arguably true, to the very head-shaking, “Norwich, England’s other city.” This latter incarnation, so ridiculous in it’s implication that perhaps England has two cities, gives me the impression that they are perhaps reaching just a little. Like a thousand years. If you don’t like how you compare to other cities today than you shouldn’t have had your silly “no building outside the walls” rule for hundreds of years. Just sayin’. It was number two before it fell gracefully over the centuries to become what it is today. It does have a lot of medieval churches though, which are nice to look-at. Unless you’ve been touring around England continuously for some weeks and find that the churches are starting to blur your vision.

I can only imagine that this new motto was conjured by an illiterate cave-dweller who had only ventured into public the one time during-which he conveyed this, his greatest idea to a motto-starved public who embraced it with some controversy. He could hardly be blamed, he had only seen cave drawings from the time when that phrase would have been true, how could he have known how drastically the world had changed. According to Wikipedia, the city itself, standing at around 140,000 inhabitants, Norwich ranks number 139. Which is also quite far from being second. Actually in a different listing I found, they stood at number 156 but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt since this seems a touchy issue.

Perhaps those in favour of the new city slogan had never watched Bob Newhart. “This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl,” is a more accurate grammar usage by a not-overly erudite character on that programme. Note that the total number of brother’s named Darryl that he had was two.

I am a cat lady. I have thirteen cats. This is my cat Margaret. This is my other cat, Bob.

Something doesn’t add up. What happened to the other eleven cats. I don’t trust myself now. Am I even a real cat lady? I don’t think so. See what I mean – it’s like they’re trying to hide something. “England’s Other City,” as a motto applied to a city such as this is an embarrassment that just highlights that really it isn’t. I hope they change it back. Or why not correct it, “Norwich, One of England’s other cities”. They don’t need to necessarily mention that it’s one of England’s more insignificant other cities.

Here are some other possibilities, and perhaps readers might add to my list using the comments button below:
“Norwich, we have several hundred more people than Horsham does.”
“Norwich, we might be friendly but we don’t really talk to strangers so it may be hard for you to tell. Sorry about that.”
“Norwich, chain-restaurants are welcome here.”
“Norwich, proud of our heritage. Well, apart from some of the latter middle-ages. But no one is perfect. Shut-up.”
“Norwich, we may be insignificant today but you should have seen us a thousand years ago.”

Without further ado, here are some photos from my time in Norwich.

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The very handsome train station.

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I found Norwich to be very pretty.

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A local was displeased when I took this photo, but I’ve never seen this kind of very narrow gents street urinal before and I though it was interesting. Actually, I was starved for interesting at the time. There was no equivalent for the ladies, it appears that they are addressing the problem of gentlemen peeing in public. The guy who yelled a sarcastic remark to me was working at the bar nearly opposite with a black sign, something to do with mojo I think. I just though of another slogan, “Norwich, pretty but also pretty dull.”

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Here are some comparisons for the non-British person to be able to fully comprehend Norwich’s grammatically-flawed and false assertion.

These are other cities that also rank number 139 in their countries:

“Cowansville, Canada’s other city”

“Fort Lauderdale, America’s other city.” (Oh, I’ve heard of that one!)

“Matsusaka, Japan’s other city.” (Not the more familiar Matsuyama, which is in the top 40.)

“Cottbus, Germany’s other city.” (Actually, this is ranked number 80 in Germany, I could not find an inclusive list that would include towns below 100,000 which seems to be the defining number of what makes a city in Germany. I suppose the need for such comparisons has no real purpose. Honestly, I didn’t look very hard. Just a couple of minutes at the Second Cup as I was writing and now I throw my arms in the air in defeat and move-on, causing fellow patrons to edge away from me a tad as it looks odd to make such a dramatic gesture to an iPad. I’m about to leave anyway so it doesn’t matter. Anyway, please don’t write me with the answer, I don’t actually care, Cottbus sounds obscure enough to make the point. Feel free to share other cities that rank 139 in their countries by population in the comments below. That’s fun. And very informative. Useful.)

“Meudon, France’s other city.”

“Montesilvano, Italy’s other city.”

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A wonderfully-unique Guild Hall. It was my friend’s birthday back in Toronto so I took a photo for her Facebook.

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Cute market in the centre.

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I do love Victorian Shopping Arcades.

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Other tourists told me not to bother going into Norwich Castle but I did anyway. Don’t bother. Unless you’re a complete history nut or an archaeologist.

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The glass structure in the background is the Forum. I’ve read that it draws tourists.

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I suppose that if I had not spent four days having no friendly encounters whatsoever I may have felt completely differently about Norwich. If on holiday, I’d suggest two nights max. That would probably lead to a better impression. It is a beautiful town.

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Having coffee with my oldest niece. No, we weren’t Skyping, I was that desperate for company!

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The video isn’t fascinating, it’s just a live slideshow from the day that I took most of the photos.

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