Friday, 17 February 2017

I Arrive In Norwich

I set out for Norwich thirty-eight years ago.  I was 14, and the night before I'd been helping Ian re-wire the church.  This had involved crawling under floorboards, which was pretty exciting for a Friday night in 1979 in Highbury.

I set out for Norwich to attend a confirmation service in the cathedral.  I set out with my mother and one, or maybe two, brothers.  Did my father come too?  He might have done.  Or he might have been preaching the next day.

I set out for Norwich, but I didn't arrive at the cathedral until last Monday.  I didn't take a direct route.  On the way, I completed my O levels, climbed Snowden, studied TS Eliot, learnt to ski badly, went to Durham, fell in love, ate street food in Malaysia, served baked potatoes out of the back of a garage, taught Scottish YTS joiners about safe sex, took an MA in Psychology, understood more,  moved house, had my wisdom teeth extracted, made brownies, sang some Handel, gave birth, understood less, planted grape hyacinths, gave birth, wrote some poems, had therapy, changed a washer, cleared the attic, squeezed two oranges, wrote one particular poem ...

I set off for Norwich, and before I arrived last Monday, I fitted in a lot more than expected on the way.  In particular, I fitted in acute appendicitis.  I don't know if it was the re-wiring, but by the time we reached Cambridge (it was still 1979) I was in a lot of pain.  I lay on my big brother's bed in his King's College room, moaning, whilst my family ate sandwiches and chatted.  After too long, my mother drove me to Addenbrokes.  I spent five days in hospital whilst my family, undaunted, went on to the confirmation, arriving 38 years before me.

I set off for Norwich from London, and I arrived there last Saturday via Durham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Shrewsbury, and then waited another two days, enjoying the comfort of The Butchery and some incredible, warm, delicious hospitality.  On Monday morning, I woke early and jogged the last leg of my journey to the cathedral.  When I arrived, I remembered that I'd set off 38 years ago.  For most of that time, I'd forgotten where I was meant to be going.  I was wearing shorts and a thin film of perspiration.  I was thirty-eight years late, badly dressed and out of breath.  I decided not to go in.

Later, in sight of the cathedral once more, I read at the Café Writers prize event, alongside Andrew McMillan and many other poets.  It was a fantastic experience - the warmth of welcome, the quality of the work, the camaraderie, the positive response to my poems - and at last, the feeling, the sense, that there, amongst the rag-tag wonderful bag of poets, that finally I had arrived.