As part of the Walking Norwich series, writer Sharlene Teo has written a walk along the River Wensum.
In late 2014 I moved into a granny flat just off Magdalen Street. I found the place through my professor. My landlords were friends of his, a warm and generous couple. The first time they showed me around the place, I noticed a small wooden door to the left of the airing cupboard. Behind the door lay a narrow set of stairs that led to a dank, mildewed cellar full of deep shelves cut into the walls. Monks used to brew and store beer down here, my landlord said. On my first night in the flat I dreamt a tall man stood at the threshold of my bedroom wearing a plumed hat and doleful expression. What a fancy monk, I thought. Even though I sensed he was a peaceful ghost, I still asked my landlord to fix a small bolt on the cellar door. The flat overlooked their rose garden, but it was always dark indoors. I lined my shelves with books and shy succulents that made slow gestures toward light. I started writing a novel involving spirit mediums and a different kind of ghost, a former horror movie actress haunted by spent youth and her fantasies of fame.
Golden Dog Lane made me love Norwich City. I loved the cobblestoned paths around it, how I had to cross two bridges to get there. My flat was located near a mysterious vintage shop that was almost always shut or periodically occupied by a girl with orange hair and pastel eye shadow, reading yellowed magazines at the till. Not far away were a spice shop and a Polish snack store, bookended by Looses Emporium, a big antiques shop full of glassy-eyed dolls and cracked rocking horses: old joys or traumas, it was hard to tell. I bought a vanilla-coloured dresser from there that I still use today. Its lopsided drawers give me fond grief. If I wanted wine late at night I had to go to the off-licence on Fye Bridge Road, the one near the curry house, the pub with the fire and the Wetherspoons with red-faced revellers tumbling out, their shouts echoing down the rain-slicked streets.
I ran two half-marathons that year and still brag about it. My favourite route went along the River Wensum, past the weeping willows that flanked St. James Mill and the shiny, space age Nuffield Gym. Depending on which side of Fye Bridge I started on, I’d pass Cow Tower that reminded me of a stout pillar candle at a medieval dinner party. Surrounding it were fields of small flowers that bore the detailed delicacy of line drawings. Young lovers adorned this side of the bank, leading up to the railway station. They canoodled on benches or ensconced themselves on the grass as one hoodie-wearing unit. I never saw their faces because they were too busy kissing to even come up for air. On less romantic days, the geese and swans ruled this route, and some dogs that had bolted ahead of their owners. If the winter sun was out this felt perfect: the drooping limbs of the trees reflected in the water, a clear path, the unstudied tranquillity of a small city caught in a still, quiet moment. I listened to robotic music as I tried to keep pace, pretending all this would never change.
Sharlene Teo was born in Singapore and lives in London. She completed an MA and PhD at the University of East Anglia, where she received the Booker Prize Foundation scholarship and the David TK Wong Creative Writing Fellowship. Her debut novel Ponti won the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award and was selected by Ali Smith as one of the best debut works of fiction published in 2018.
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