In February 2021 NCW welcomed Vahni Capildeo from Edinburgh as one of five writers from other UNESCO cities of literature to Norwich for Imagining the City. As part of their virtual writing residency, Vahni kept a journal of daily walks along the Edinburgh beaches, contemplating the connections between Norwich and their home city.
These journal entries take various forms: reflections, notes, fragments of poetry. My method is simple: just to continue walking a small part of the north Edinburgh coastline, thinking towards Norwich and sometimes thinking through Julian of Norwich and Robert Louis Stevenson, and other local authors. This sending of the mind outwards and back, while the body moves, weaves the two cities into a relationship over time. Julian the anchorite in her cell, and Stevenson the traveller, help me tune my lockdown feelings about dwelling, distance, and return.
Monday 1 February 2021
Crushed ice, a spatter of deconstructed cocktails, at night looking identical to smashed glass, along the pavements. Just the middle. Winter’s RSVP. Snail trail peril. The blaze on the forehead of an underground horse rising from beneath the multi-layered City of Edinburgh.
People happen to be in the square. People do not meet, nowadays. People happen to be there, in the north-east corner.
The road has unfrozen. It makes no difference to the waders and swimmers. The wild sea remained accessible to them. December to January, the hinge of the year, marks open to open. The parents are starbursts in black wetsuits. The children splash.
When I walk along the unwalled pier at twilight, away from land, tinnitus singing in the arches and porches of my skull, I frighten myself, as the lapping sound of the tide is less than the ringing sound in my head.
It feels as if all water connects with all other water.
There were two rivers I heard of. Perhaps I saw them. Someone described them as we walked about the loops of another river on the way to Ely. Those two rivers run parallel, side by side. The incoming sea forces itself up one channel. The other empties itself as expected, flowing towards the mouth of the sea. Did we also walk to those two rivers, then or at another time?
Love for some place, the desire to be in that place, could be those rivers. Where I am, stock still, counts as the land. Where you are, unfathomably moving, must be the sea. Desire rushes towards that place but love courses back, or is it the other way?
We are not supposed to travel. We tremble separately into coexistence.
This vision is general and not particular.
Tuesday 2 February 2021
Listen to Vahni’s reading:
The landing-place outside Dragon Hall in Norwich was pointed out to me on a day of almost agonizing sunshine, when the roses were out as if we were in a show about the Tudors, or in the presence of a short-lived saint. My friend conjured a smooth, speeded-up vision of numerous foreign arrivals to skilled and mercantile Norwich. That little interval is piled high with imaginary bales of woollens and ingenious phantoms, gangly men from the Low Countries making calculations of how to build.
These were my thoughts on a very cold blue Edinburgh evening as I walked to the breakwater quarried from Granton stone, the one that curves like a hook, is not much above the sea, and carries on for more than half a mile without formal boundaries. My leisure promenade resembles my long-time recurrent nightmare of hurrying down a rapidly filling causeway somehow seen from above even as I try to get to a vanishing circlet of land. However, this real-life sea-parting path is the relatively safe and stony conception of Robert Stevenson, grandfather to the adventurous author.
As I was about to cross to the place to step down and set off, a great, ugly biscuit-coloured hound barrelled towards me, lean as a cartoon wolf crossed with an heraldic lion. He yanked his owner in a crescent, at the end of the tensed lead.
The hound looked up at me, trying to be nice. His lovely expression sat badly on a dogface not built for tenderness. He bunted my hand again and again with a bony forehead. He used his tail to smile in lighthouse-arcs. The owner doubled up in silent, hysterical laughter, making no effort either way, rainproof, sharp, and silvery.
“Hi, dog,” I said, my first utterance to a real-life being for some days. I passed on to the grassy place leading to Stevenson’s walkway, telling myself: this is ‘being out in nature’; this is peaceful.
The edge of water is a happening kind of place.
Wednesday 3 February 2021
Starbank Park, behind beautiful railings: enclosure. Wardie Bay, looking across to Fife: exposure.
Rupture narratives of our plague time, where ‘we’ are ‘suddenly’ at risk or in confinement, drown out another story. For some, life always has meant enclosure or exposure.
How many fishermen are guaranteed a return? How many submarines patrol the waters? How many ships does the sea hold? How many of our ancestors have been in a ship’s hold? Perhaps ‘we’ have the chance to know we’re in the same boat.
Great Michael Rise, a local streetname, commemorates the carrack ordered for King James IV of Scotland for his navy in 1505 and built here. War sends people out, but also hides them.
A gap in the sea wall looks as if it leads to a stairway. There is a sheer drop and a brilliant view across the Firth of Forth. The gap resembles a mouth.
What would the stone say?
I remember the stone curves echoing each other in Norwich Cathedral: how they invite, how they recede.
I want this (cold) stone mouth to whisper (warm) in that stone (cold) (warm) ear.
Thursday 4 February 2021
Today’s journal comes in the form of diary notes towards a poem, inspired by a rehearsal of ‘Brigid’s Song’.
Join us on Instagram for daily writing prompts! From bookshops to beaches, our writers are sharing images and written prompts that reflect the concerns they’re exploring throughout their virtual residency. Check it out >>
Header image: Talha Imam, Unsplash
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