When Norwich was said to be favourite in the race to be the UK’s first City of Culture, I wrote a blog which was not entirely supportive of my local city.
“How the heart sinks. As the region’s mighty cohort of arts administrators and creativity facilitators prepare their power-point and pitches, sharpening up the requisite clichés – ”inclusiveness”, “regeneration”, “partnership”, “art for all” – the precious cussedness and individuality of Norwich and Norfolk will become a matter of embarrassment, something to be played down. A new blandness will settle on this great part of East Anglia.”
I feel rather embarrassed about that post now. The mighty cohort of arts administrators seem likely to be cut to shreds as the arts minister Jeremy Hunt sharpens his knife for the great autumn blood-letting.
More significantly, Norwich was well down the field when the prize was awarded last week. Londonderry will Britain’s City of Culture in 2012.
It was predictable enough. For all the right good-hearted reasons, Northern Ireland tends to win contests where prestige and funding is at stake.
East Anglia, on the other hand, never does. There is deprivation in this area, and a wonderful, mysterious culture, but when it comes to projects like the City of Culture, the east is always on the outside looking in.
Admittedly, those in this area are not good at sucking up to authority or playing the game.
When, earlier this month, it was revealed that Happisburgh on the east coast was, a matter of 950,000 years ago, the cradle of British civilization, being the place where our distant ancestors first landed from Europe, the phrase “East Anglian Man” was used to describe him.
In a sense, the spirit of East Anglian Man – and Woman – lives on, and should be celebrated by the rest of the country. For too long, this part of the country has been associated with the negative, from Normal-for-Norfolk to Essex Girl.
When WG Sebald wanted to write about decay and decline, he headed for the East coast. When other writers refer to the greed of farmers, it is the barley barons of these counties who are the villains.
We are entering a period when rugged individualism and a tough-minded determination to walk one’s own path should be valued. These are the virtues of East Anglian Man and of the rest of East Anglia.