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My three decades in the Gem of the North Norfolk coast

PUBLISHED: 10:01 21 April 2018

Keith loves this clifftop walk at Cromer.

Keith loves this clifftop walk at Cromer.

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Keith Skipper celebrates 30 years of living in lovely Cromer.

We moved the Skipper family seat to Cromer exactly 30 years ago. That’s a reasonable settling-in period even by Norfolk’s traditionally demanding standards.

It is by far the longest I have devoted to one location and one house, a commendable effort methinks in these gadabout times trying to make sense of a ridiculously-inflated property market.

Perhaps there’s a touch of irony in a boy from cowmuck-and-sugarbeet territory in the middle of the county striving to grow old gratefully on the edge of the Old German Ocean.

I did spend a couple of years in the mid-1960s on the newsgathering beat in Great Yarmouth but it generally seemed most unlikely I would settle for gentle maturity and extra rations of fresh air and salty reflections by the briny.

It took a rare burst of practical considerations - based on burgeoning family life, a series of badly-failed driving tests and an emerging need for long-term planning - to exchange the fleshpots of city and suburbs for the crabpots of The Gem of the North Norfolk coast.

A rail link with Norwich to meet my daily broadcasting duties with BBC Radio Norfolk provided a chance to help keep open what is now called the Bittern Line and constantly preach the virtues of public transport as our roads became even more congested.

Okay, it was a campaign nurtured to some degree by incompetence, but regular train journeys since 1955, including a couple of terms by steam to school in Swaffham, surely gave me a right to take a seat in a “better for the environment” compartment.

Our Cromer sojourn began rather ignominiously for someone unfamiliar with household jobs asking for a dash of stretch and balance. I put my back out trying to reach a nail for the study calendar and lost two days flat out in bed. A clear warning to treat time carefully on Henry Blogg’s patch.

My recovery programme included brisk walks along the pier, promenade and beach. An encounter with a fisherman sorting out his nets carried the sort of welcome reserved for strangers mooching into town on the old Wild West screen.

He started with a question and answer mixed: “You’re new round here, aren’t yer?” I looked guilty enough to prompt the follow-up salvo. “Well, I’m a gorn ter give you a little bit of advice. Dunt poke yar snout inter things what dunt consarn yer. Okay?” Hint taken.

I couldn’t help wondering what kind of reception might have accompanied inspection of a passport issued in that other premier seaside resort a matter of waves away.

The last three decades have shown me what friendly but feisty local rivalry is all about. As an Honorary Crab, I can stay almost neutral when needed and stir it up when adventure calls.

Cromer has not changed much since 1988, the sort of constancy I relish, although seemingly insoluble traffic problems continue to blight the town, especially during the peak holiday season. Parking mayhem in residential streets all year round raises tempers and urgent questions about peaceful co-existence between locals and visitors.

Where Cromer’s well-seasoned charms are left in bloom there’s good reason to follow the wise old Norfolk maxim to combine best of the past and least worrying of the present to chart a comfortable future. Fashions come and go. Genuine quality is permanent.

I’ve heard it claimed Cromer largely succeeds because “it’s not Yarmouth or Burnham Market” but a modestly egalitarian community in between with tourism and fishing at its heart. Perhaps more affordable homes and worthwhile jobs for youngsters would help redress that imbalance in favour of the older generation.

I enjoy a sociable streak running through enough town centre shops and other meeting places to render regular rambles cheerful despite the inexorable rise of mobile phones and deplorable manners in public. A stroll along the soul-lifting clifftop path and evening organ recitals in an inspiring parish church are perfect antidotes when required.

It’s only right to thank my wife and our sons for patiently coaxing an occasionally cantankerous and dogmatic Norfolk fundamentalist through the Cromer eras so far. They laugh, listen, lament and look as if they know what I’m on about when it matters most.

Some old friends greeted my move to “God’s Waiting Room” as a way of making sure I could regularly bump into folk older than me. Well, let’s be honest… I’m no longer spoilt for choice.

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