02. 28. 2006. 12:43

George Szirtes's blog - day one

Working in Wymondham

Since this journal is now, for a week at least, posted (in Hungarian translation) at Litera, the website for Hungarian writers, it may be an act of courtesy to introduce them to this part of England.

Forecast of snow tonight with more to come in the next few days. It has been a generally mild winter otherwise, in so far as we have winter in England. Winter here is less a season, more a sequence of cold / damp interludes succeeding each other like acts at an end-of-the-pier seaside variety show: three or four days of sun and wind, then the same of cloud and no wind, and ditto of rain with or without wind, grey, more grey, then blinding winter sunlight that brings poor buds into blossom all too early. In the meantime the jugglers, the monocyclists…

Since this journal is now, for a week at least, posted (in Hungarian translation) at Litera, the website for Hungarian writers, it may be an act of courtesy to introduce them to this part of England.

The county of Norfolk is part of the East Anglia region, that part of the country to the north and east of London that swells like a breast into the sea, a sea that is continually nibbling at it so that each year a house or two crumbles away with the cliff it stands on. The top of the county faces the North Pole directly with nothing in between, so the wind on the wonderful, vast woods-fringed beach at Holkham can cut like razors. There are seal colonies along the shore. The seaside towns are what is left of Victorian and Edwardian resorts and desolate, slowly-reviving fishing ports. It is strange to think of Lowestoft, for example, a little to the south-east and therefore in the county of Suffolk, as a major port where Joseph Conrad would put in and the world’s trades put out, but that’s what it is.

Up until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, Norwich, the capital of Norfolk, was England’s second city, whose wealth was founded on the wool trade and several connections with Flanders and Holland. The buildings of that period resembled Dutch and Flemish buildings in their brickwork, their gables and general lines.

Our house, that is in a small town called Wymondham (pronounced Windam) just to the south of Norwich where I work at both the university and the art college – some two and half days in all – is in an old butcher’s shop, latterly three restaurants and a defunct gift shop. The oldest parts of it are 16th century. One wall is wattle-and-daub, the rest is flint and brick, flint being the common local material. Wymondham has some 14,000 people, but in the middle it comprises just eight ancient streets of which ours is one.

What brought us here twelve years ago? Work and cheap housing. That and the sea. Clarissa, my wife, is a visual artist (we met at art college many years ago) and the shop made a good studio. As a writer I could work from anywhere, and while my upbringing was in cities (Budapest, London, Leeds and London again), I was working too much on writing, translation and other forms of freelance life to be worried about the attractions of social life in the capital. Our children were grown up, so buying a cheap house was a way of freeing ourselves from some regular financial obligations.

I do a lot of travelling. Last year I was abroad some seven times, though that was partly a result of winning a major literary prize, so it could not be regarded as typical. Four or five is more representative. Yesterday, however, I was in London (about two hours away by train), attending a book launch and conversation. On Wednesday I shall be in London again for the press preview of Márai’s Embers (I wrote some of the programme notes), in Oxford on Friday and in London again on Sunday and Monday, first to attend the conversation with Imre Kertész, followed by supper, and the next day to take part in a conversation at the London Book Fair.

This is a broad sketch to set the scene. Currently I am trying to complete four half-finished sequences of poems, continue the translation of Márai’s The Rebels (A zendülõk), write some commissioned essays for magazines, teach on two masters degrees, contemplate a novel and write a daily journal with notes on literature, politics and art among other thing – as I have been doing for my own web-site for a couple of years. This is one such, slightly uncommon, entry. Today, home. Working.

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