A robed clergyman hurries through the gated entrance, clutching a book to his chest. No points for guessing which one. His legs, spinning like an escaping Scooby Doo, take him through the flower patches and into the church. The church has a sign outside it which says, “Weight Watchers Meeting Tonight 6.30 pm.” But his visit is probably more business than leisure.
From the churchyard, above the surrounding brick wall, I can see a charity shop. Crossing the road to look in the window, I can see a display of books and old china plates. The books are “Marilyn: A Life In Pictures,” a John McEnroe autobiography and an encyclopaedia of Elvis shows. The old china plates are covered in pictures of pheasants.
Walking the wrong way down the one-way street, I pass two butchers, an optician, a bank and the bus stop where people wait at all times of the day, regardless of the schedule. If it’s raining, they wait under the archway entrance of the bakery and are often tempted to go inside by the smell of Portuguese custard tarts. Continuing on through the square I have to move out of the way of two schoolchildren and their mother. The mother says, “Hurry up, I’m absolutely soaked.” It’s starting to rain.
The daughter says, “You’re soaked?”
And the son says, “I’ve been waiting outside for you to pick me up. I’m soaked.”
“Oh shut up. I’m cold, too,” is the final word from the mother.
As I leave the square I see a sign on the metal fence around the square that reads, Dale Bublé, Michael Bublé tribute act – ‘You won’t get better than Dale!’
It is easy to mock the place where I grew up. I was born in Santiago, educated on the outskirts of London, and I’ve lived in New York. It’s hard to kick the habit of damning the countryside village for its cross-eyed people, its unpleasant smells and the historically-supported rumors of incest and bestiality.
Attleborough can seem like a one-horse town compared to the other locations I’ve mentioned. And if you’re a fan of horses, or, like me, arrogantly think that you deserve to be surrounded by hordes of like-minded horses who want to pay you to produce and perform your creative work, then a one-horse town can too easily be the butt of jokes muttered under your breath as you watch local families walk away from the town square.
Crossing the road on the south side of the square is like playing a game of chicken. Cars are eager to swing around the diner on the corner and into the path of pedestrians leaving the square. Not today though. I cross safely.
In front of me is a frame shop; I’ve only ever seen the owners inside. Anyone who wanted anything framed in this town has long since achieved that aim. Outside the diner next door sits a man dressed like a cowboy, complete with hat, boots and bolo tie and another man perpetually on a motorized mobility scooter. But that doesn’t hinder him. He has learned to lean sideways toward his table to eat his full English breakfast.
I have to navigate more than two crossings to get to where I want to go, because the one-way system meets with a double-lane road and creates an island. I walk to the island, where there is a war memorial covered in names of local people not lucky enough to have lived such a humdrum life.
Joining the circular route around the one-way system again, I have to stop in the road inches away from an oncoming car because someone who is incredibly overweight is talking to a person with a wheeled-basket full of bottles and frozen meat. The cars are too close for comfort, and as I attempt to circumnavigate the couple who are cheerily talking about a mutual friend, perhaps relative, who’s getting closer to death every day, I catch a glimpse of the local newspaper on top of the shopping.
“Lack of fame is no barrier to Attleborough author”, it read. A picture of a purple-haired elderly lady perched behind a stack of her eight-volume autobiography accompanied it.
It’s a logical fallacy to think that the only way to be a productive and successful writer is to live in the city, or to live among famous people. Jennifer Meakin, the autobiography writer, does not prove that point, however, or embody it, because her writing is not successful in monetary or publicity terms. She isn’t the type of writer I want to be and doesn’t have the career that I would be satisfied with. But what she has done is taken a small slice of life and attempted to show it to the wider world. The humble aim of every writer, surely?
My point isn’t to chuck stones at our heroic Jennifer, or to champion the country bumpkin, saying that everyone lives a valuable life or that creativity can pop up in the most unexpected places. That’s certainly no more true just because one old lady decided to write about her life in the quiet corner of the English countryside.
Just because a place might seem less than ideal for an ambitious writer (quiet when I want loud, slow when I want fast), does not mean that I can’t write a couple of pages about it and allow someone on the other side of the world to see a little more of this side. If only once a reader in Austin, Texas can see the words, Attleborough, Norfolk, UK, and think for a moment about the countryside vicar as he rushes back to church, then it seems as if bringing the world closer together is not as impossible as it might seem.