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November, 2016

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They made national news on TV and no wonder: I don’t think London ever had lights as spectactular. Even after a wonderful evening at the opera we simply had to revisit the Norwich Market Square and its lights.

During the day we had thought the tunnel of light interesting, with all the stalls, trees, shopfronts and lamps in near-uniform style a good complement (and compliment) but late in the evening it was almost out of this world. At one moment it was pyrotechnic, with one change bringing a gasp out of everyone there before it reverted to the blues and greens of the Aurora Borealis.

The Forum shopping mall and the TV Centre were challenge enough but the tunnel outdid them both. The town hall was performing son-et-lumiere in the background. It was like being back in the opera or more like the ballet (The Russian National Ballet of Siberia is visiting Norwich after Christmas). We were carried along the top of the square by light-as-music even to the extent of stepping off a high kerb and landing without too much a jolt. Added to that it was a fine night, not much below 10 C, in contrast with the snow we walked through at the same time last year.

Restaurants were still busy of course; traffic was moving smoothly – as it rarely does by day – and the market could still have been in full swing there was so much light. We had bought salad at one stall that afternoon, and had eaten part of it before the opera, but there was still the rest of the wine, some cheese and dessert to finish. No hurry, however, there was so much to see and our apartment was no more than half a kilometre away, so warm we’d had to reduce the heating output.

Pottergate, where we were staying, is a bit of a problem to find even after a previous visit but once there you have a wealth of interest, not least the shops and markets of the Lanes. That had been a day time activity of course, but even events as special as this year’s lights, not to mention the opera, need a context. In either direction from our apartment there were plaques on walls, something of a Norwich speciality to rival the Heritage blue ones, and no wonder because the city has as much history and as many historical characters per head of population as the capital it could once have been.

To take just two characters, associated with music and the theatre and without whom the lights might just seem extraneous, Sarah Glover developed the tonic sol-fa music notation and lived at the top end of Pottergate, while almost two centuries earlier, the comedian William Kemp danced his “Nine Days Wonder” all the way from London and finished by leaping over a wall outside what is now the Maddermarket Theatre. Both sites are just inside the line of the medieval wall of Norwich, yet from any vantage point there is a view of not too distant woodland on the outskirts of the city. A little further on, in Tombeland, even though there is no distant prospect, the willows and a view of the cathedral are as rural as anywhere.


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