Just Off Unthank Road
by Ashley Hickson-Lowence
This is part of the Walking Norwich series.
Near where I live now, just off Unthank Road, there are streets with bus stops but no buses. The lonely poles stand solitary, in all weathers, purposeless. So I treat my walk to UEA, which I do about once a week and should definitely do more often, like a bus route. My dad, who should definitely have been around more often, was a bus driver. I even set my debut novel on a bus.
The route, my walk, starts from my rented house on the crest of the hill on Lincoln Street. Too tight for a real bus. Even in the Focus, which I only use to get to football on the weekends or to get to places like Wisbech, struggles to pull away because the parked cars on either side make it tricky to wiggle free. I often miss the neighbour’s wing mirror by millimetres.
I could take a real bus to campus, the ubiquitous number 25, but at just twenty-seven, I’m no longer a young person apparently, so have to pay the full fare, which is almost but not as annoying as my membership card being accepted in the big Earlham Road Co-op but not the East of England Co-op at the top of Onley Street.
The Golden Triangle is made up of more than just nurses and students. As I descend towards Portersfield Road, two men clutching Caffé Nero coffees and planning their next business venture in warm Eastern European tones saunter past. Despite the chilly weather, spirits are high in the city because the Canaries beat Leeds away at the weekend.
I curve around Lincoln Shopper on the corner, which sells everything from cotton buds to cat food and pass Ian Fox Maps. I pause at the attractive depictions of Medieval Norwich in the window, ornate maps from a time when Norwich was England’s second biggest city.
On Jessopp Road, I am overtaken by an experienced parkrunner preparing for the Run Norwich 10k or the City of Norwich Half (which starts so far out of town it’s barely in the city). I stop briefly outside St Francis of Assisi primary school, like a bus might, where the sound of the children’s playtime shrills reminds me how fun life can be. Getting paid to do a PhD is a privilege but you can’t beat a bit of piggy-in-the-middle.
Cross Colman Road and head east along North Park Avenue where Hewett students scoff sausage rolls bought from Greggs. Above the bushes to the left the Eaton Park pavilion and bulbous bandstand can just be spotted. Boating lake, miniature railway, football pitches, skateboarders, dog-friendly café, tennis (table and proper), golf course (mini and full size); it’s only because I’m running late that I refrain from diverting through to experience just a glimpse of it all.
The move to the city has been good for my anxiety and blood pressure. The little flats opposite the park look safer than London ones, less likely to be the scene of an unprovoked knife attack. Although, in a less dramatic misdemeanour, some youngsters (I suspect) have smashed an unused bus shelter; there’s broken glass scattered on the pavement like miniature ice cubes.
Right onto Bluebell Road then left onto the UEA campus, the final stretch. I could cut through by the lake but as beautiful as it simmers surrounded by the trees overlooked by the Ziggurats, it’s vastness scares me. I can’t swim and nearly drowned in Italy once.
In my haste to get to the Arts building for a meeting with my supervisor, I overtake a Megabus and National Express coach at speed; show the visitors who’s boss on these not-so-mean streets. Freshers wear Nike Air Forces with the crease in the middle and look more fashionable than I ever did at their age.
Like a new bus route, I’m still on a journey to find my feet in this city.
Ashley Hickson-Lovence is a former secondary school English teacher who grew up in East London and now resides in Norwich while he completes his Creative and Critical Writing PhD at the University of East Anglia. His debut novel The 392 was published with OWN IT! in April 2019. Hickson-Lovence is also a poet, football referee and keen marathon runner.