I follow the river path along the length of the Meadow, to the point where cycle tracks converge. Uncertain of my route, which is always a nice feeling. A traffic cone presides over the crossroads, placed on the stump of a broken lamppost like a hi-vis wizard hat. Placed there to stop it growing back?
After some consideration—no, that path leads over the bridge to Aldi, that one leads back towards Dereham Road—I choose a track, and straight round the corner, past the dotted map-boundary of the Meadow, I find a millennium-modernist bridge, like a tiny version of the one over the Thames by the Tate Modern. It works better on this scale. To my right, the path drops sharply down a spiral staircase, down to a hidden jetty in the lee of the bridge, a hidden alcove for graffiti artists. I practically squeal with delight. A spot for teenage bridge trolls. I wonder if the council knew what they were doing when they gifted the young wasters of Norwich with this space.
You can just visualise the old Norvicians with their plaid trolleys, crossing the bridge and wondering where all the DnB and skunk fumes are coming from. It’s coming from just below their feet. Sprayed purple, level with the curving concrete line of the path: EAT THE RICH. Along with the usual illegible tags and throw-ups. Drifts of leaves but no nitrous oxide canisters or squashed roaches.
My first proper discovery gets even better. On the stairs which led me down to this concrete hideaway, smothered in autumn detritus, is a poem, engraved step-by-descending-step.
knowledge of structure
structure of meaning
meaning of strength
strength of symmetry
symmetry of thought
thought of rhythm
rhythm of desire
desire of attraction
attraction of stability
stability of pattern
pattern of knowledge.
For the second time, I wonder who commissioned this little bit of civic folly. I want to thank them. There’s another jetty with a symmetrical spiral staircase on the opposite bank, too.
Back up the poetry-steps. Psychogeographers are always tracing patterns, it seems. Pattern of knowledge. Knowledge of structure. Rhythm of desire.
A touristy sign, for an older generation of everyday English tourists with shooting sticks and rainproof jackets and packed lunches, tells me that a train went into the Wensum here, back when this was railway track. I forgot this is the end of the former railway line that ran out into Deep Norfolk and has now been greytopped over as a walking and cycling trail, Marriott’s Way.
The Wensum Dipper came off the rails somehow on a misty November morning in 1946. Nobody was hurt; the workers were sent home, shivering and damp, and asked to come straight back in the following morning. A ghost-image on the local interest board. It’s quite dramatic. Even if the water is only about five feet deep.
The river walk picks up where Marriott’s Way left off; just by this sign the trail diverges off the main path, a tributary, little more than a muddy desire line between nettles, and pleasingly isolated. I feel undercover somehow, screened from the surface roads of city life, in a little safe haven of green countryside. I pursue my quarry—what am I hunting? The city? The river? I pursue the river over the knuckled roots of maple trees. Stowed away among brambles, the black and deflated remains of a tent. Rusted sprits of metal. This was once someone’s home. Who slept here? How long ago?
It reminds of me of the writer Tom Cox returning to Norwich and noting, among various improvements and unchanging details, the increased number of homeless on the streets of the city, and his glum observation that ‘it is where we all are’. That was pre-Covid; this is still where every British city is at, in 2021. Apparently the homeless travel up from various places in East Anglia and even as far afield as London, because our Fine City pedestrians are a notoriously soft touch. Or maybe that’s a malicious myth, I don’t know. There are certainly lots of beggars. I always feel bad about my participation in this cashless society, which I’m sure is a deliberate political choice to keep pocket shrapnel out of the hands of the homeless.
One of my aims with this project was to reclaim the idea of psy-geo for women and marginalised people. It occurs to me that if I were read as a woman, I wouldn’t feel so comfortable on this solitary path. Plenty of places to hide among the trees and bushes. Sarah Everard’s ghost walks down all of these isolated tracks, along with the rest, the teeming victims of male violence, in 2021.
I am distracted from these gloomy reflections by a glimpse, through the branches and across the river, of a goose and a seagull eating out of a man’s hand at Wensum Park. The goose whisperer. Two of the most aggressive birds on this island, in harmony.
I get a sense that this neglected river trail is giving me an insight into the margins of Norwich; the margins and the marginalised. Sitting and feeding birds isn’t really a pastime, anymore. My feeling about margins is confirmed when, a bit further on from the Goose Whisperer, I pass a tent in a copse off one side of the track, and this one is clearly inhabited. Sleeping bags or comfort blankets draped on a branch, to let the stink of sleep evaporate. What is this person’s morning routine?