Thursday, 5 March 2015

The past is a foreign country

It's World Book Day again, which means it's time for another book post featuring another book. The special day seems to be in the news even more this year because of children dressing up as their favourite characters. Our Flower Patch, which encourages children to get stuck in and learn about nature, has written a post about World Book Day and is running a competition to win a copy of Georgie Newbury's book, The Flower Farmer's Year.

Back here, I'm going to share a book and film-inspired trip I went on last year. I travelled to Norfolk for a few days, staying in a small market town, and got the bus into Norwich one day to go on a little The Go-Between tour. I adore The Go-Between. It's a beautiful book about childhood, love, and loss of innocence. It's about a boy called Leo who stays with his friend, Marcus, one stiflingly hot summer, and ends up being the secret messenger for Marcus's older sister, Marian, and her lover, Ted. And it has one of my favourite first lines:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

Leo turns thirteen while he is staying in their huge, grand house, but Marian takes him shopping in Norwich to buy him a summer suit as an early present. They lunch in the Maid's Head Hotel, and he walks around the cathedral by himself while Marian goes off for an hour, claiming she needs to run some errands.

There is a 1971 film version by Joseph Losey, which is beautifully shot by Gerry Fisher, with much of it filmed in Norfolk. Julie Christie plays Marian and Alan Bates plays Ted, both wonderfully, but nothing like I imagined from reading the book (as is so often the case with adaptations). There is a new BBC version which should be broadcast on TV this year.

So when I visited Norwich, I went around the beautiful cathedral, which was still decorated for Christmas as it was the first week in January.

The font used to belong to a chocolate manufacturer!

There is a herb garden too, which is no doubt even prettier in the summer.

Then it started to rain and I took shelter and lunch in the cozy but completely empty Maid's Head Hotel. I'm fairly sure there was a log fire, but maybe that's my romantic imagination.

When the rain stopped, I walked around the city and saw this beautiful sight along Tombland Alley - two red roses (for passionate Marian and Ted) and a white rose (for pure Leo). It was incredible. I sought out the alley because it's a location in the Losey film.

There were other lovely sights in Norwich that weren't related to the film. When I took this photo of floral chairs, a man who was very wrapped up because of the cold said, "I don't know how you're going to get the chairs to smile!" Afterwards I was stood in a cafe, deciding what drink to order, when the waitress said, "You look shifty." I turned around and realised she was talking to her friend, waiting behind me.

On the bus back to my hotel, I saw some things out of the window that lifted my spirits even more:

  • A dog chasing a pony, chasing a pony, chasing the dog.
  • Flowers proudly on display in the window of a house. They were gerberas - not my favourite flowers - but they still made me smile.
  • Two paramedics sitting in a fish and chip shop. 

The next day I got the train home from Downham Market, but not before taking photos of two things: the stunning black and white clocktower, and the old signal box which has Grade II listed status.

Here's one of my favourite passages in The Go-Between, when Leo is wondering whether to carry on being the messenger and Ted is trying to persuade him.

"She counts on having them, same as I do. It’s something that we both look forward to. They’re not just ordinary letters. She’ll miss them, same as I shall. She’ll cry, perhaps. Do you want her to cry?" 

"No," I said. 

"It isn’t hard to make her cry," he said. "You might think she was stiff and proud, but she isn’t really. She used to cry, before you came along." 

"Why?" I asked. 

"Why? Well, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you." 

"Did you make her cry?" I asked, almost too incredulous to be indignant. 

"I did. I didn’t do it on purpose, mind you. You think I’m just a rough chap, don’t you? Well, so I am. But she cried when she couldn’t see me." 

"How do you know?" I asked. 

"Because she cried when she did see me. Doesn't it follow?"

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