Keith Skipper: After isolation, bring on reformation

PUBLISHED: 11:16 21 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:16 21 April 2020

It’s tough having to wait this year to  push open the gate from promising spring  into full-blown summer  Picture: Trevor Allen

It’s tough having to wait this year to push open the gate from promising spring into full-blown summer Picture: Trevor Allen


Keith pontificates on the quieter time we’re all living in.

Whenever I feel in a dilatory and dithering mood towards tasks demanding to be sorted, a short but pungent line from my classroom days floats back to taunt me.

Well, I wrote it out enough times to nourish a growing affection for long words. Pity to spoil it with so much repetition after being singled out as blatant ringleader of another breakdown in law and order during art or woodwork lessons.

“Procrastination is the thief of time!” was Harry Carter’s favourite imposition over many colourful terms at Hamond’s Grammar School in Swaffham. He had a strange habit of adding a touch of poshness to his voice when he told you off.

He stretched his words as his voice rose and his cheeks reddened. You knew you were in real trouble when he tweaked your ear and exclaimed: “laddie!” For all that, we liked him because he was really different from the other teachers.

His bow tie, flowing locks and flamboyant touches set him apart. He also shared colourful yarns, some with a saucy edge, and seemed prepared to accept some boys would never stand out in his classes.

My artistic powers bordered on the non-existent and practical skills remain a mystery to this day. Woodwork for me consisted of getting through without injuring myself or colleagues with a chisel, saw or spokeshave.

A tendency to organise an impromptu version of the previous night’s Sergeant Bilko episode on television had to be as much about avoiding potential hazards as nurturing hopes of landing a part in the next school drama production.

Drawing ability came sharply into focus when we had to sketch a daffodil or vacuum cleaner – and Harry couldn’t work out which one I’d attempted. I tried in vain to convince him this was how Picasso must have started.

We were all aware of Harry’s glowing reputation as a prolific sign-maker throughout the county and even further afield. He claimed to have been engaged on secret work for the War Ministry and was still not at liberty in the 1960s to divulge exactly what this entailed.

We were mightily impressed on learning he really was a cousin to Howard Carter, who grew up in Swaffham and uncovered a treasure of unimaginable magnificence in 1922 – the tomb of Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun. It had lain undisturbed for over 3,000 years.

Perhaps Harry’s punishment line about procrastination and Howard’s lengthy periods in confined spaces nearly a century ago met up somewhere in my mind recently as I pondered how to make most of time during our lockdown marathon.

Of course, the whole object of such an exercise is all but lost if minutes of deep reflection turn into hours of aimless loitering or even days of embarrassingly little achievement.

I received a pertinent reminder of such folly the other day when an old friend emailed: “Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save”.

It’s worth spending a precious minute or two weighing that up. Then good old Mark Twain nips in with one of his best: “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday”. Playwright Tom Stoppard gets in on the act with another profound commentary on the matter: “Eternity’s a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it all going to end?”

Thankfully, we can always rely on Spike Milligan to put the whole thing in proper perspective. He mused: “ Some people are always late. Like the late King George V”.

I’ve been devoting several hours a day renewing acquaintance with some of our most cherished local countryside writers like Adrian Bell, Ronald Blythe and Lilias Rider Haggard. Trouble is they keep on reminding us what we’re missing right now … pushing open the gateway from promising spring into full-blown summer.

While living by the sea for over 30 years has brought rich rewards, regular trips inland not only refresh childhood rural roots but assure me Norfolk can still cling to pastoral values despite hideous pressures from greedy developers and their grubby disciples .We can already hear renewed cries of “Let’s build our way out of recession!”

Perhaps those now savouring homely streets, pollution-free air and a rousing revival of neighbourly care on daily exercise rounds will lead firm demands for a cleaner and quieter Norfolk to emerge from this wickedly bizarre crisis.

Away with procrastination! Bring on reformation!

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