Playing detective on the north Norfolk coast

PUBLISHED: 18:07 05 July 2020 | UPDATED: 18:07 05 July 2020

Three Go in Search of Clifftop Clues …. budding detectives at work while Cromer goes about its seafront business below a few summers ago

Three Go in Search of Clifftop Clues …. budding detectives at work while Cromer goes about its seafront business below a few summers ago


Much-loved Norfolk columnist Keith Skipper’s got his detective coat on once again...

As I was saying just before that pesky pandemic brought down the shutters so abruptly on Poppyland Pimpernels Investigation Agency …

Hi. I’m a private eye with rheumy inclinations. My real name is Dick Barton-Turf but you can call me Crabpot, bobbing around in darker waters just beyond the mean streets of Cromer and less fashionable environs.

I’ve worked with the best to upset the worst before washing up here. Former sidekicks include Denver Sleuth beyond Downham, Surelock Holme Hale on serious Swaffham mysteries and Walsingham Matilda, expert on the fleshpots of Fakenham and Pudding Norton.

Those with a better memory than most agency contacts and informants will recall my first major examination on this coastal beat more suited to oilskins and sou’ wester rather than a new tuxedo and fresh blonde on a jaded arm every week.

An enchanting number called Ladybird floated into my office on a chilly February morning to seek help in tracing her missing beau real estate agent Elmer Edge. His last known address was Sunrise Boulevard on Happisburgh Cliffs. She wanted him for alimony and any other dosh available.

I summoned the burgeoning talents of my latest bloodhound with acne, work experience wonder Marcus, on loan to me from the scholarly confines of L.A. That’s Limpenhoe Academy. His homely Norfolk accent opens doors often locked against more sophisticated probing.

Marcus presumably is still out on his BSA Bantam looking for Mr Edge. I know Ladybird has been sulking in lockdown. She rang a few times from her Burnham Upmarket hideaway to check if I was still alive and interested in her case.

I replied curtly in the affirmative to both but reminded her of severe limitations imposed on my well-proven investigative powers by an ugly global phenomenon like no other. She said that was no way to talk about her Elmer whatever his faults and threatened to open her heart and purse elsewhere.

That’s the main trouble with this business. There can be no “new normal” simply because the old one never existed in the first place. Unscrupulous clients make the rules for you and then rewrite them when they don’t work. It’s a fixed lottery with winning tickets confined to life’s craftiest opportunists..

Their idea of social distancing is to remind down-at-heel lackeys like me they carry far more gravitas and ready cash than we could possibly imagine, even after six bottles of best bourbon and successive nights in Sidestrand’s most exclusive speakeasy, Jardin de Sommeil.

Their concession to recent restrictions amounted to being grateful for a bit of extra time indoors to work out what they’re worth and how to avoid parting with any of it while a black bank of economic clouds encircles Poppyland and rest of the world.

Yes, my chosen profession now wears a shabby raincoat of blatant cynicism. Perhaps it’s always ticked too many boxes on the shady side of the street and offered a short cut past official law and order. How often minutes sneak by on tiptoe with fingers to their lips.

Even so, I can recall a fair amount of honour among rascals, reprobates, rivals, rogues and ruffians since first taking up the cudgels on behalf of anyone prepared to spin a reasonably coherent yarn and then pay good money to have it thoroughly examined.

I soon realised a keen public ear is an essential tool for any private eye eager to make a bold mark in Norfolk. Gossip has long been a popular pastime in these parts. Mingling in the right circles and tuning into those with most to say about movers and shakers on parade can yield an occasional bumper harvest of useful information.

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You don’t learn much from someone as empty of life as a scarecrow’s pockets. I picked that one up from the best droll model of ‘em all, hard-boiled Philip Marlowe, who ploughed similar detection furrows in Los Angeles.

His clothes fitted him as though they had a soul of their own, not just a doubtful past. He didn’t mind if people didn’t like his manners “They’re pretty bad” he admitted. “I grieve over them on long winter evenings”. How cool is that!

Wonder what he’d make of my young accomplice Marcus and his BSA Bantam. Well, at least one of them would know how to pronounce Happisburgh and that L.A. might possibly stand for Lower Aylmerton.

It’s Farewell, My Bewty! for now.

Skip’s Aside: With a lingering lockdown eating into high summer, it’s not too fashionable for some to lament how time flies. But a snap check on what was going on 25 years ago did the trick for me.

I couldn’t believe it was that long ago since I spotted a magazine article serving both as a grim summary of our recent rural history and a stark warning of much more gloom on the horizon.

This article from the first week of July in 1995 was headed: “When Surrey takes over the country” and emphasised how we could destroy the things we loved – especially our countryside:

“Those who have quit to live in the country may well commute back to the city by car to work, so increasing pollution. Thus they help to worsen the urban problems that drove them out in the first place, at the same time helping to spoil the countryside a little more”.

The writer pointed out that most new homes could be built in existing towns and cities, leaving our precious countryside alone. “There are empty sites aplenty. The virtual extinction of much traditional city-based industry has had the effect of leaving swathes of available land.

“But housing developers always prefer a green field to a factory site. It is easier and cheaper to build in the country, and there’s always a market”.

With the threat of another building blitz at the heart of a massive campaign to “revive our broken economy” after the pandemic, I fear any green lessons learnt in the past 25 years will soon be buried beneath countless more bland monuments to the greedy field-eaters.

By quirky coincidence, I did note something to cheer me up a bit on the same day that telling article appeared. A 34-mile countryside walk in the valley of the River Nar was opened by Norfolk County Council .

The ceremony coincided with a special day at Gressenhall Rural Life Museum dedicated to walking and rambling. I can still do both at the same time if there’s something important on my mind.

These boots were made for talking!

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