22 February 2011
Alex and I on the latest Nerd Night, which took a very easterly angle and ended up in Norwich. It was an exceptional night in what I thought was a very smart looking city.
I've been to Norwich three times before, but only to attend football matches. This means my experience of the place has been a case of get there, get through the turnstiles, get through the game, get out - something that continues to baffle the many footballphobes with whom I choose to associate.
My friend Martin and I travelled together from Manchester on the train. I'd received my call-up papers for Magic 999 breakfast in Preston the day before, and therefore what was already going to be a bloody long day turned into a inhumanly colossal one, courtesy of the 3am alarm call and the cockcrow propulsion across the Pennines this entails. Nonetheless, I was heading in that direction to get the train anyway, and so I went to Preston, did the show, and an hour later had secured my car at the club in Stockport and leapt on the train with Martin.
The Liverpool to Norwich service is, clearly, a long old haul but at least it's direct. Upon embarking in Manchester, we not unreasonably expected not to have to shift from our seats until the train came to its halt, 261 minutes later, in Norwich. However, in Nottingham, we were told that the four carriages were now becoming two, and so everyone in the rear two coaches needed to dismount and then reconvene in the other two, on to which of course a shedload of new passengers had already climbed. So those who'd been on the service for a while suddenly found themselves in a louder coach and not necessarily guaranteed a seat, despite essentially being there first.
In the traditional British manner, there was much staring at the fingernails and grumbling but no actual complaining, and the newly-lightened train rumbled eastwards. When it stopped at Ely, we were told that we all had to get off here as the train was unexpectedly having to terminate. We weren't told why, but there was a half hour wait for the next due service, which, of course, many new passengers were due to get on so, once again, we were prised from our comfort from this allegedly direct service and made to stand on a freezing platform or use the grottiest cafe/waiting room in the history of station facilities.
The upshot was that we changed twice on a direct service, arrived more than an hour later than scheduled and therefore, in my case at least, lost time I'd put aside to catch up on some kip at the hotel. However, I remain comforted that I only paid £17 for my ticket in the first place; Martin, who'd paid slightly more, is chasing his refund right now.
Come 6pm and we started to meet up in the hotel bar. The esteemed Louis Barfe, fragrant and acerbic, was our guide for the night and, as a chap who also knew Alex from professional connections, was quickly into his stride as lead storyteller. Eventually a gaggle of us headed to an Italian restaurant, passing the Anglia HQ on the way.
Now, look. The very mention, never mind the actual sight, of the Anglia brand brings out the same in everyone - the snazzy jingle is immediately sung followed by John Benson's earnest introduction - "And now, from Norwich, it's the quiz of the week!" But the place is iconic, and the Sale Of The Century opening patter follows the jingle as naturally as night follows day. Many of our bunch had original audio on their iPhones, while also choosing to pause upon arrival at the building and take photographs.
We then stopped dribbling, and discussing Survival, and continued to our eaterie where we were greeted by a not remotely bleary-eyed breakfast team from the local Heart station. The meal was mixed, to be honest. The starter was the smallest bruschetta I've ever seen - put it this way, no member of Girls Aloud would have felt compelled to cut it in half and send a piece back to the kitchen if they'd been served it - but the main course was a huge pizza with much chicken and pineapple and all taste. I even had room for a dessert - my mum always says you haven't eaten out properly unless you've managed at least a small pudding. Fascinating. During this munchathon, Heidi the Heart breakfast producer told us she had three Twitter accounts - one for work, one for home and one for her dogs.
One for her dogs, she said.
Now, I have Basset hounds, and they are personality dogs. But I have never considered setting them up with a Twitter account. Yet I was fascinated by the fact that her dogs seemed to have followers and were questioned and retweeted just like any other Twitter type. It's one down, I suppose, from a satirical account - like CatBinLady or KaiRooney - but acceptably so nonetheless. I might look into it. If you see a Twitter account called BassetsTimes3 or something then that'll be from a kennel in East Yorkshire. I'll set up Echofon next to their bowls.
We exited the restaurant, well fed and oiled, and headed for a pub called the Coach & Horses, where the rest of the night would be held. This was where the proper anecdotal stuff that Nerd Night has become known for began, with any number of weapons grade stories, indiscretions and bon mots exchanged. As if to prove that he hadn't changed a bit, our pal John dug out one of Alex's more arcane publicity photos - postage stamp 'tache and centre parting - and compared it with the 2011 model. Judge for yourself.
At 1.30am, we were informed of the pub's closure and, well, that was us spent - several of us had done breakfast shifts that morning and were now pushing a 24 hour day, so we ambled back to the hotel - pausing to discuss Tales Of The Unexpected's opening sequence one last time upon seeing the Anglia lettering again - and turned in.
Norwich is a genuinely easy on the eye place, from what I managed to see, and I even had time for another walk into the city after breakfast the next morning before catching my train away. I recommend it.
Manchester receives us next.