I was born in Norwich, and nearly 70 years later, I still live in that “fine city”. Yes, it is fine. We have no truck with modesty here.
I am not completely immobile, though. During some early years of my childhood I lived in Coventry, and for a while in the 60s and early 70s, I was in London. After that, I spent 12 years in the Norfolk countryside, driving into Norwich from Yelverton every evening to work as a sub-editor on the Eastern Daily Press.
But for 30 years now I have been back in Norwich again. Of course there have been many changes in the 68 years since my childhood adventures in Brian Avenue, but not so many that I get lost. I do, however, have to find different ways of getting to places, because my freedom to move around has been considerably restricted.
Strange, that. You might think that moving around in 2014 should be easier than it was in the 1950s and 60s. But no – and I am not talking entirely about road humps, though it would be hard to conceive of a less intelligent way of slowing traffic down than dumping lumps of tarmac in the middle of the road.
What really interests me is the number of streets that are now closed to me as a driver.
When I passed my driving test, a little over 50 years ago, I could drive from my home in Brian Avenue through Mill Close to Southwell Road – a useful short cut, or rat run, as I believe they’re called now by people who think twenty is plenty.
This was stopped by the rather radical method of building a series of apartments across the road. In more recent times a similar fate has befallen Bishopgate, St Georges Street and Princes Street, though in these cases bollards were the preferred method. Castle Meadow is now also off limits to me, to say nothing of the handy route round behind the Assembly House and out on to Rampant Horse Street by what is now an extended Marks & Spencer.
Queen Street, Brazen Gate, Wessex Street – I’ve travelled them all, at all times of day.
Of course I understand that cars are bad, and pedestrians (and of course cyclists) are good. So getting cars out of the city centre is obviously desirable, which is why Norwich City Council are now planning to close St Stephens and several other city centre roads to me and my car as well.
On returning from the south late at night along the A11, at the moment I enjoy driving straight through the city, down an empty St Stephen’s, round the cuddly one-way system and down Prince of Wales Road to where I live, off Riverside Road. This clearly has to be stopped, and the city are all ready to do it.
Of course road closures mean you have to drive further, which wastes fuel and is not green. I just thought I’d mention that.
One day, I imagine, I shall emerge from the street where I live, which is a cul de sac, and discover that the road at the bottom has been closed. But that will be OK, because I will be able to walk, or get on my bike. Oh yes, I have a bike.
Meanwhile I used to be able to simply walk straight into the Cathedral by the main door, and also straight on to the platforms at Norwich Station. Both these freedoms are now also denied me.
How worried should I be?