The "Norasearch" Diary - by Andrew Conway

Wednesday 26 May 1999

Something about my constant foraging in the past has brought my old Fossils screenplay to mind. That same obsession with an unobtainable past is there in the story I wrote ten years ago, using my experiences as a home visitor in Moseley. It's about a young health visitor who becomes obsessed with the dead wife of the old man he visits, trying to get at her through the old man's stories, whilst hating the old man for how he treated her. It was published in 1994 in a paperback anthology (under the title Eyes Averted) and I tried to script it years ago, without really doing it justice. I'm full of new ideas now, though, and it strikes a chord in me because of the resonance of now tramping the streets of Moseley, just as I did then, trying to unearth the past. I work for days on the script, escaping from the Norasearch into a slightly different obsession with the past. The library helps me again, this time providing me with archive recordings of 1930s British jazz music, to give me the mood for the flashback sequences. I listen to nothing but Al Bowlly, Elsie Carlisle, Ambrose, Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans. People must think I've really lost it now.

The Bond Scheme phone me today, asking if I'm interested in a Sparkbrook flat above a motorbike shop. I decline, reminding them I'm on their books as someone looking for a place in Moseley. She says they're actually expecting a few to become available in late June because they have a landlord there who's bringing another house onto the market which he's converting to flats now. It's on Alcester Road, right above Moseley village, just over the hill from where Honora was born.

Hot day. I'm sitting in the window at Costa's coffee shop, New Street (Birmingham city centre), watching the workers heading home, supping at a cappuccino. Did the tiniest bit of Honora research this afternoon, checking a few old maps of the city centre and realising that Temple Courts (the site of Robert William Parker's first office) is still standing.

The whole lower end of Temple Row is comprised of mostly modern architecture now, but there are two original buildings still standing at the top end, overlooking the cathedral in St Phillips Square. What used to be called Temple Courts (or at least the ground floor) was, until a couple of months ago, the Alliance & Leicester Building Society - which is where I bank (these constant coincidences always bring a smile to my face). But they moved their branch a few months ago and the whole building is now empty, has a Sold sign on it, and looks ripe for redevelopment. I hope they're not going to knock it down.

The building was erected in 1896 (as the plaque on the Temple Street side of the building still testifies), so the paint on the walls was barely dry when, as the century rushed to its end, Robert William Parker launched into business at the age of only 26.

St Phillips Square with cathedral to right and Temple Courts building just visible behind the trees Corner of Temple Row and Temple Street. 1896 date plaque on Temple Street side of building

When you stand there, taking in the grandeur of the square and the surrounding architecture, you can almost slip into the past and see it as Robert must have, looking out of one of those windows, owner of his own chartered accountancy in the City of a 1000 Trades; a city that had been built on the Industrial Revolution and was now fuelling the British Empire. He must have felt like he was at the centre of the civilised world, that he was set up for life, that nothing could go wrong for him now.

There was no indication then that, in fourteen years' time, the Great War would 'tear apart the gothic lacework of civilisation' and destroy the old Victorian certainties upon which the empire was built, after which Britain's imperial power would decline so rapidly. Robert William Parker wouldn't even live long enough to witness that because, within twelve years, his life would end in an insane asylum.


Copyright © 1999 Andrew Conway. All Rights Reserved.