Bring back them good old lean times!

PUBLISHED: 14:00 02 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:00 02 December 2018

Sheringham fisherman and lifeboatman Jimmy “Paris” West strikes a classic lean-and-ponder pose.  He died at 91 in 1987

Sheringham fisherman and lifeboatman Jimmy “Paris” West strikes a classic lean-and-ponder pose. He died at 91 in 1987


This may not seem the most appropriate juncture in Norfolk economic history to blurt out blithely across a post office queue: “Bring back them good old lean times!”

Before I’m bundled off for a spell of proper fiscal stimulus chained to a manic supermarket till, let me explain how my unlikely battle cry could spell peace and goodwill as we hurtle towards the season of clamour and excess.

It all started when I spotted a local character ripe in years and yarns leaning over the sea wall at Cromer putting the world and its problems behind him. He rested, ruminated and pulled gently on a faithful old pipe. I watched him watching the waves just before darkness closed in and teatime called.

A picture of twilit serenity bound to produce a potent mixture of envy, nostalgia and hope for the future. A timely reminder that those with a clear inclination towards the slow lane (or sleepy loke) can make more sense of the journey.

Memory serves me well with a colourful cavalcade of Norfolk stalwarts forever leaning, languishing and laughing at frantic antics passing them by. They lolled against walls, gates, hurdles, railings, hedges, straw stacks, even dormant farm implements like tumbrels, elevators, binders, ploughs and cultivators.

They pushed back caps or weather-battered trilbies and garnered thoughts to share with anyone prepared to stop and give them the seal of the day. Gullible strangers, some of them surely planted by the tourist board, made for best sport.

Leaning was an essential part of the service. It must have helped pearls of wisdom slide along the slope of creation to reach the open-air platform of common sense at precisely the right moment.

Main props on this country stage were fork, shovel, hoe, freshly-whittled stick and a hand-rolled cigarette dangling unlit from the corner of a quietly-determined mouth. A snoozing dog with one eye half open acted as optional extra.

Enter befuddled traveller wondering out loud why that signpost to Puckaterry Parva is apparently pointing the wrong way. “That dunt matter, ole partner” comes the ready response. “All onus rownd here know the way ter Puckaterry Parva”.

A string of gloriously unhelpful suggestions follows reasonable requests for directions. A still-leaning sage scratches his chin and plays the archetypal Norfolk wag. “Which road should I take to Lower Dodman?. “You kin tearke enny wun yew loike … they dunt belong ter me.” “Well, how far am I from Dunspreddin?”. “Oh, abowt searme distance as me, I reckon”.

The traveller tries one more: “What’s the quickest way to Honeysuckle Farm?”. “Are yew walkin’ or drivin’?”. “I’m driving”. “Yeh, thass the quickest way”.

While our stranger hops from one foot to the other in growing agitation, our trusty local carries on leaning and enjoying his time in charge. There’s no real malice in his mischief … but perhaps more than a modicum of revenge for all those bogus accents and bucolic exaggerations in national television and radio drama productions from the Mummerzet stable.

I tried to look cool and casual in early leaning days on the Norfolk social scene. Sadly, taking up a sloping position at a pub bar always hinted I might be ready to buy the next round for a multitude of friends a few minutes behind. Leaning on a wall or a chair at the side of a busy dance floor sent a clear warning to nubile young sirens to avoid anybody unable to stand properly without support.

I recall a smarmy third-former on my arrival at grammar school whose playground cabaret consisted of a jabbing finger and shrill question aimed at smaller new boys: “Are you a PLP?”. The answer “No” was met with a horribly loud “Oh, so you’re not a Proper Living Person!”. The answer “Yes” sent him into minor rapture with a hideously cackled: “Oh, so you are a Public Leaning Post!”.

That was his cue to relax an ample form against a cowering tiny first-former until laws of gravity and common decency intervened. That sort of escapade could have put me off leaning for life.

Instead I returned to my village mentors for fresh inspiration. I still try to follow their calm example whenever life’s load becomes too heavy. It’s better to lean and ponder than to buckle and curse.

Go on, look for a lean spell during the next few weeks. It could improve your festive season.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Eastern Daily Press