All aboard the much-needed Chatty Bus

All aboard for the Chatty Bus … early-1960s style! Mid-Norfolk “missionaries” from Beeston ready fo

All aboard for the Chatty Bus … early-1960s style! Mid-Norfolk “missionaries” from Beeston ready for the old folks’ outing spiced with plenty of meaningful mardling - Credit: Archant

It’s good to talk, says Keith Skipper. Even if we are forced to do so...

A stocky actor from Bury St Edmunds built one of the most successful campaigns in television advertising history on a four-word platform.

Bob Hoskins, rightly lauded for roles in films like The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, as well as the ground-breaking TV production of Pennies from Heaven, reminded us repeatedly in the mid-1990s 'It's good to talk'.

Yes, it was a big marketing exercise for British Telecom, a trailblazer in many ways for the eye-watering rise of mobile phones and social media at the heart of today's massive communications circus.

As one of the few who still prefers a face-to-face mardle down a country lane to prodding, preening, pirouetting and prattling along the superdefamation international highway, I am bound to nurse mixed feelings over Bob's message beseeching us to keep in touch more with family and friends..

Easy to hear it now as a loaded message … loaded with extra business opportunities for a major company but softened with an ounce or two of conscience about blatant loss of vital ingredients of community cohesion in a fast-changing world.

The irony, of course, is that 25 or so years on into a brave new era of 'keeping in touch' technology, there's still far too much loneliness, not least among folk full of years and wisdom but reluctant or unable to tackle complicated advances in fashionable gadgetry.

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It seems the generation gap is as wide as it has ever been while bloated villages, sprawling towns and intimidating cities tell us bluntly building houses with all the grubby results of insensitive planning simply stifles hopes of creating or reviving proper community cohesion.

Selfish society as a whole and mounting obsessions with trendy individual trimmings in particular, too many of them paraded brazenly and incessantly in sight and sound of everyone else, have undermined any concerted efforts to eradicate isolation and loneliness.

Extent of the problem, most notably in areas with an ageing population, is writ large in recent local headlines about launching a Chatty Bus service in and around Norwich specifically designed to get people talking to each other.

There's clearly a need for such a worthy project - but many of my generation weaned on a post-war relish for togetherness must ask how on earth we've reached such a sorry state. And we simply will not be shoved aside by accusations of falling victim to rampant nostalgia.

Chattering classes were spontaneous and mostly good-natured in an era of stark austerity and limited horizons. A trouble shared was all round the village in no time. Newcomers and strangers, comparative rarities in those days, either had to join in or keep quiet.

A fleet of country buses provided regular service for business and pleasure excursions into neighbouring parishes and towns with plenty of gossip to the gallon. Saturday shopping expeditions to East Dereham from my home patch of Beeston saw mardling rise to a crescendo as numbers and topics multiplied.

Bottled fruit, church and chapel flowers, medical bulletins, harvest prospects, weather worries, teatime treats, pub rumours, school reports, cost of living, jumble sales, motor-bike noise … little was off-limits when a predominately female company got going.

The only time voices dipped into confidential whispers across a crowded seat concerned scant but juicy titbits about an alleged new 'fancy man' on the rural block or rather flighty behaviour on the part of a refreshments woman at a recent whist drive.

As I wanted to be a private investigator or fearless newshound on leaving school, I considered it useful training to tune in as closely as possible without breaking the golden rule about youngsters keeping their noses out of things that didn't concern them.

We had to serve as a tiny silent minority until Sunday School outing time came round with scope for shrill little voices to dominate all the way to Hunstanton or Great Yarmouth and back. We didn't have a laptop or messaging device between us.

Just a small flavour of what so many Norfolk residents are missing today while celebrity-infested television, anti-social media and phoney conversations with someone in the next room abound. If Chatty Buses can help revive proper talking, bring'em on!

As someone told me straight the other day, people collecting selfies should take a long hard look at themselves. I'll be honest .. I didn't pick that one up on a mardling coach.


Jane Hales, prolific Norfolk writer and doughty community champion, died 25 years ago this month.

She spent all her 91 years in the same 17th-century house on Norwich Road in Holt. Her books and regular articles in the EDP, packed with local life, history and traditions, entertained readers for over half-a-century.

I savoured her forthright views and optimistic take on the county and its ways several times when she graced Radio Norfolk airwaves with those distinctively fruity tones on my Dinnertime Show.

I recall old friend Eric Fowler, who wrote with such style as essayist Jonathan Mardle in this newspaper, reviewing The East Wind, her popular volume first published in 1969.

He highlighted Jane's 'lively personal observations of Norfolk - her appreciation of character, her recollections of conversation and incidents that illustrate the nature of our county and its people'.

Her Norfolk Year, first issued in book form soon after, remains one of my favourites. A monthly dip to revive jaded senses … 'The wind of March is full of promise; townspeople admire the glories of autumn and the golden leaf, but the plain windswept landscape of March is more exhilarating to the country-born.

'For the brown fields are paler, and dryer as they curve to the bright horizon, and 'a peck of dust in March is worth a king's ransom'. March may surprise us with snow and bitter breath, but one day, sure enough spring has come suddenly with sweet warmth'.

Miss Hales was for 30 years welfare officer for the Norfolk branch of the Red Cross, a period that included the devastating 1953 floods. She was made an MBE in 1982 for her work.

'The moral in planning for floods is that there must be a local representative on the spot' she once said. 'And you have to remember that floods seem to come after dark, usually when the battery of your torch is running down'.

She spoke and wrote from vivid personal experience.