Village life will always appeal in Norfolk – let’s keep it that way

PUBLISHED: 09:42 13 January 2019

Enduring charm of Blakeney  .. with an enviable reputation for providing affordable homes for local people

Enduring charm of Blakeney .. with an enviable reputation for providing affordable homes for local people


An “old school” newspaper colleague of some 50 years ago constantly blended home-made wisdom with puckish humour to tempt me into reading between the lines.

I asked him once for a suitable alternative to the well-worn football cliché saluting a real team effort. Back came his instant reply: “It would be invidious to particularise”.

I have called on that little gem many times, especially to avoid embarrassment when urged to come down firmly on one side or the other. A parish beauty contest with just two entrants springs to mind from my matinee idol days. My vote fell in favour of six months apiece on the catwalk.

Fancy dress and bonny baby parades can add up to a fete worse than death when three prize-winners are required from batches of four or five candidates. Several summers back I must have set a new world record for “equal thirds” in small communities.

This spirit of compromise – I prefer to call it tact – nipped to the fore again recently when someone invited me to nominate a favourite local village. I refused to upset over 700 others in Norfolk and the Waveney Valley and simply pleaded “overwhelmingly spoilt for choice”. There’s room, however, for general verdicts.

Romance clings to the word ”village”. The further we get away from the rural dream, forcibly removed in many cases, the more the need to pretend it still exists. I think we ought to keep this exercise going, if only to frustrate those anticipating a pushover.

They need reminders to listen and to wonder if the rural resistance movement has the capacity to stay intact deep into the 21st century. For all the newcomers, commuters, tourists, week-enders and hand-rubbing developers, Norfolk village life is gamely hanging on to a few qualities that sparked invasion in the first instance.

Let me make an important concession and warmly praise those who do contribute plenty to the place of their adoption. I accept also it is not too uncommon to find a native quite happy to receive but most reluctant to give.

Even so, there are fundamental reasons why those good old Norfolk days, real or imaginary, will keep on demanding attention, especially in areas where radical changes are being pushed through in a hurry.

The need to compare grows stronger. Times have changed, say folk who sold up and moved to quieter Norfolk pastures when such an event was a matter of some curiosity and powers of absorption were barely tested.

“We met them halfway and they gradually accepted us. Now there are so many newcomers we feel like strangers all over again. Trouble is, this time it’ll take something quite extraordinary to bring us all together”.

Coronations, Royal Weddings, Jubilees or being completely cut off by snow are comparatively rare. Village life can easily vegetate down a cul-de-sac. This happens when worst aspects of suburban existence suffocate once-rural corners. Apathy and blandness are the main enemies and it is dangerous to suggest loneliness is something that drifts only around towns and cities.

Competitions along best-kept village lines can help keep alive a proper sort of spirit, sometimes resurrecting it and installing a fresh sense of purpose into a community which had let itself go.

These are the lucky ones, welding together best intentions of native and newcomer. Often it takes blatant dangers to stir them into concern over what they stand to lose. A host of once-attractive settlements only woke to the fact they were being turned into dormitories when snoring reached deafening levels.

Too many parish councils know from bitter experience how often their logical and well-argued cases can be cast aside by hard-hearted folk a few rungs up the ladder. They, in turn, complain that even more powerful forces above dictate the pace and pattern of development.

A callous campaign continues to make small communities feel guilty for taking a stand. Too many planners and builders pay lip-service to “genuine local needs and wishes” and then carry on cramming and creaming off the most lucrative end of the market.

There are stirring exceptions, of course, like the Blakeney Neighbourhood Housing Society. Founded in 1946, it provides affordable homes for local people. The waiting list is open to those born and brought up in Morston, Langham and Salthouse as well as in Cley, Blakeney and Wiveton.

I want to call it a Norfolk miracle. But it would be invidious to particularise.

My first bucket-and-spade trips to the Norfolk seaside in the late 1940s begged an obvious question even then – why do all those old people sit around doing nothing?

Well, maturing nicely by the briny for the past 30 years has provided a possible answer – the sight and sound of rolling waves are mighty powerful sedatives.

A bit simplistic, perhaps, but the Old German Ocean can exert a certain magic through all seasons, gently caressing summer sands or wildly spraying boarded-up shops and beach huts huddling in hibernation.

A January promenade, with morning sun dancing on heavy frost, seagull wings floating over a deserted beach and under an ever-welcoming pier, is as good an excuse as any to give Cromer useful marks long before holiday drums start beating again.

Cromer, in common with most other resorts, faces economic and social problems. How to make the most of an illustrious past without using that as a wobbly crutch into an uncertain future is probably the biggest test of all.

As father of two boys brought up and educated in the town before spreading wings towards university and experiences way beyond Norfolk boundaries, I am constantly reminded of dangers of splashing round yesterday’s rock-pools as the tide of change races in. For all that, my fervent hope is that the shrimp net can survive alongside the internet.

Of course, living by the sea is vastly different to paying respects once a year, latching onto the carnival parade or dropping by to give the dogs a run. It is not simply a playground for residents, many of whom are not directly involved in the tourist trade and would want any ”vision for the future” to take their requirements into account, however mundane they might appear to makeover merchants.

Cromer’s days as genteel watering place built on steam railways and Poppyland marketing allure have gone. But it remains a spot with time and space to relax, reflect and relive golden moments.

The Old German Ocean, in all its moods, still has the power to regenerate.

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