Is it time to raise the Thetford drawbridge... and seek independence?
PUBLISHED: 06:06 19 January 2020 | UPDATED: 08:25 20 January 2020
Enjoying 2020 so far? Keith Skipper is feeling mildly optimistic - though he has a plan in case that changes
So, what do you think of it so far?
Perhaps you feel moved to join in a gloriously predictable chorus of "Rubbish!" as inspired by comedy genius Eric Morecambe. He and Little Ern knew the value of self-mockery with audience participation.
Or you could be playing a shrewd waiting game after less than three weeks gone in 2020, a year that sounds to me like a short cricket match or a remarkably exciting soccer score-draw. I'm still chuckling at what someone dubbed "the worst 2019 we've ever had".
January is bound to feel a bit flat after a rash of festive frolics, especially for those who ended the year with empty pockets. Grumpy weather, global tension, petty politics and grim acceptance of how little is changing for the better also bite deeply into any lingering resolutions to look on the bright side.
I suspect Thetford-born Thomas Paine, a proper radical cove, had big changes in mind at the start of 1776. He marked January by issuing Common Sense, the first pamphlet to advocate American independence. It came up trumps and won world-wide acclaim.
There must be merit in the idea of using the same title and his revolutionary zeal to launch a declaration of home rule for Norfolk. I'll give it a shot next January if all relevant criteria can be met and a way found to install some kind of drawbridge just beyond Thetford.
Perhaps a couple of pubs, Rights of Man and Age of Reason, strategically located in Norfolk border country could point the way to hopes of eventual autonomy for a county under siege from misleading prophets of boom for too many years.
To be fair, I've found quite a few reasons to be cheerful since Old Year's Night. England's cricketers won a Test Match against South Africa at Newlands in Cape Town for the first time since 1957.
Norwich City's footballers cleared their FA Cup third-round hurdle for the first time since 2013. A Scot called "Snakebite" currently living in Suffolk lifted a world darts crown.
Laugh-out-loud moment as the chap playing Dracula on television really got his fangs into a fresh interpretation of the well-worn role as he smirked: "I may be undead - but I'm not unreasonable". Eat your heart out, Christopher Lee!
An old friend not averse to stealing anyone else's good lines, came up with one he claimed to have hatched at breakfast that morning. I had no ready answer for the important question: "Why do bankruptcy lawyers expect to be paid?"
I defied all the odds and spotted a jogger smiling on Cromer seafront. I wanted to tell him I would be unstoppable as a runner if only I could get started. Then I headed for home and settled for a good brisk sit-down to think about bowing back to snowdrops and listening for daffodil trumpet calls.
Handing out little plaudits and pleasantries reminds me the awards season has started with Golden Globe winners recently on parade…(another good name for a Norfolk pub serving up home-rule brews or even home-brewed rules).
Baftas and Oscars to come with acceptance speeches ranging from toe-curlingly embarrassing to dazzlingly uplifting. No such extremes when I surrender to an irresistible urge to usher a few local luminaries along the catwalk of mild notoriety.
Candidates are emerging already for my coveted Troshing Trophies - that's Toasting Really Outstanding Service Here In Norfolk Generally. I may well continue with Best Acronym on a Misleading Role entries after they caused considerable excitement when introduced a few years ago.
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Just as NDR and LEP thought they'd attained widespread acceptance, Norfolk Wags (Wittily Alternative Group Suggestions) provided extra food for thought as frisky winds of change continued to race across all parts of our county.
NDR then stood for Northern Distributor Road but fresh ideas from puckish folk included Numbingly Destructive Route, Nasty Development Resource and Norwich Defies Reason.
I think LEP still stands for Local Enterprise Partnership. Fresh versions from equally challenging people included Limited Edition Pets, Late Entry Penalty and Loddon Extreme Parking.
Democracy at work with a smile on its face. How we would relish a bit more of that in council chambers (and Parliament) when big decisions demand far more than dogma by rote or blatant subservience to a course of action built on greed rather than need.
Thomas Paine's spirit of independence should be invoked afresh on his home patch.
My early lessons in Norfolk's very own shorthand were dished out with undisguised glee by elders of the village.
These included several relatives who spared little feeling when it came to those falling short of proud family traditions. "That'll larn yer!" and "Sarve yew right!" were the least you could expect in the wake of calamity involving some mundane practical task.
I specialised in cleaning out a water tub and letting it roll over my left boot and taking a pail of swill to the pigs and being knocked over amid all the farmyard excitement. It soon became clear that "Rum dew" and "Rum job" cover a multitude of unfortunate or unusual events.
Glorious understatement, a key component of Norfolk humour, coated pithy comments like " Might he'bin wass" when a lengthy list of disasters demanded attention in pub, shop, village hall, chapel or barn.
It wasn't cruel indifference but more of a rural campaign to keep life in proper perspective, to leave whingeing and whining to that soft lot in town and city.
Wise old men of the fields didn't waste words on meteorological summaries. "Fresh" applied to a hurricane with snow flurries. "Damp" meant the monsoon season had come to stay. "Thongy" pointed to close or oppressive weather after three weeks of unbroken sunshine.
Sugar beet workers would lift their heads at the end of marathon rows on muddy, frosty, flesh-shrivelling mornings and inquire politely of each other: "Sweatin' ?"
Country housewives also kept a tight rein on language and feelings when domestic duties ruled. "Thass how that is" sufficed as a verdict on issues from ration books to hydrogen bombs if they felt little purpose would be served by further discussion.
My favourite, still perplexing over 60 years on, starred a couple of village women whose conversations invariably defied any rules of logical thinking. It was as if they were communicating in some kind of rustic code. "Are yew gorter come ter bingo ternyte?" Short interval for deep thought. Then a deadpan: "That orl depend".
There it would end. No clues as to what her decision might depend on. No follow-up inquiry from her friend looking forward to eyes down for a full house.