June’s diary flashbacks give a fine blast of homely memories

Sea Palling’s uncluttered beauty … a favourite view to savour on Skipper family coastal safaris over

Sea Palling’s uncluttered beauty … a favourite view to savour on Skipper family coastal safaris over the Norfolk years - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper has kept a daily diary for more than 35 years, which give a valuable insight into family life over the last half of his life

It’s become a family catchphrase regularly employed in a good-natured manner to suggest someone might well be spending too much time in the past.

Our two sons gave it early impetus during their growing-up years on the north Norfolk coast, especially when they realised a bit of gentle cheek could take the sting out of a testy domestic incident.

“The old days really were the best, weren’t they Dad?” usually mellowed my mood just seconds after another little sermon about Norfolk post-war life in a family of ten children raised in a small country cottage with no mod. cons.

“Did you sleep four to a shoe-box, share an egg-cup of gruel for breakfast and look forward to a good thrashing before a six-mile walk to school?” prompted my heartfelt reply about learning the Three Rs – Rickets, Ringworms and Ration Books.

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I’ve been keeping a comprehensive daily diary since 1984 and so I am able to remind our lads, born in 1986 and 1989, how every day of their lives so far has been chronicled, albeit from a rather parochial pater’s point of view. They must realise just how many juicy titbits are available for certain family events.

For all that, such an exercise carries determination to reflect challenges and changes facing Norfolk as a whole, plotting a course from one millennium to another while a crucial battle between ecology and economy intensified.

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With so many recent calls for another housebuilding rampage to set us on the “road to revival” after lockdown, it’s obvious how pressures on our precious countryside will increase even more despite countless warnings about and blatant examples of hideous environmental damage.

This theme has dominated so many diary pages I can’t help wondering why so few influential Norfolk figures have seen fit to express any kind of opinion to counter a constant chorus of “Bring on more bricks and tarmac!” from vested interests and their compliant backers.

Thankfully, I do manage to lighten my way with little signposts of humour, hope in humanity and homely heartbeats of unfading community life. They all came together as I reminded myself what was going on around this time in June, 2010. An evening of unlikely drama at Sedgeford Village Hall topped the bill.

I was there to sing for my supper at a special fundraising event organised by Saving Faces, a charity supporting splendid work by reconstructing doctors. My mardling stint turned into a marathon when caterers failed to turn up and I entertained while “meals on wheels” were organised.

About 90 portions of fish and chips arrived from a shop in Docking with a very smart-looking Sedgeford mercy dash contingent loudly applauded when they returned to the hall. I kept going before supper and returned to wrap up a truly memorable session spiced with salt and vinegar. I should have been ready for the unexpected on my next visit to Sedgeford a few years later to entertain at the parish church with old friend Ian Prettyman. I answered a call of nature shortly before our programme started – and found myself marooned in a portaloo near the church gate by a dramatic thunderstorm.

As rain hammered down and my anxiety grew, a loud bang on the door signalled arrival of a small army of event organisers with a giant umbrella to shelter a hasty return in time for a prompt start. I think I mentioned Noah’s Ark in my introduction.

Checking my June diary for highlights 20 years back, I noted a happy return to my home patch of Beeston for unveiling of a new village sign on the green. Children from the school opposite did the honours, Reunions with a host of old friends to confirm memories of me don’t all verge on the downright scandalous!

I launched a sponsored line-dance session on Cromer Pier in aid of Help the Aged. We’re told Norfolk had just experienced its wettest May since 1932. A false leg and attached pair of blue denim jeans are found, apparently abandoned, in Wiggenhall St Germans. Ten blind and sight-impaired sailors meet the challenge of a 130-mile voyage through the Broads.

In the middle of June two decades ago, elder son arrived home to report school cricket victories – one marked by his three-wicket haul. “I scored my first run as well .. it came off my thumb!”

Reckon he’s now appreciating some old days really were the best.

Skip’s Aside: Norfolk rural life has been shorn of much of its spontaneity while demands for it to be revived are on the increase.

New villagers, often drawn by ancient tales of rustic rituals designed to keep indigenous remnants amused before satellite dishes, real ale and orienteering, are digging up anniversaries and “ye olde quaint customs” by the barrow-load.

We have seen the socially significant and deeply moving Soak the Suffragette manifestation of Edwardian country-house gatherings reduced to a garden fete knockabout side-show entitled Drench the Wench. So politically incorrect, it mocks a century of progress towards reduced social distancing.

We have heard brave new custodians of revels, festivals and wakes confusing swan-upping at Downham with pint-downing at Upton. We have winced at the questioning of fertility-inducing merits of rolling pork cheeses along disused railway lines

We know there’s reluctance to accept the Dunmow Flitch is a Norfolk custom in origin despite firm evidence it was popular in the 15th century as the Franshame Itche.

Married couples resident in either Grete or Little Franshame who could prove they had not uttered a civil word to each other during at least seven years and a day after the wedding were given leave to separate along with a voucher for a side of salted beef.

It all adds up to serious doubts about the amount of due care and attention likely to be paid by those claiming to seek country anchors in a rapidly-changing world.

From well undressing for hardy maidens on January 15 to forelock-tugging for those of a subservient disposition on any five dates in October, well-loved Norfolk ceremonies and customs must be retained as comfortingly fixed points on the calendar.

There have been strong calls during lockdown to organise virtual dickey-dawdling in the west of the county so rival hamlets, like North and South Wootton, can celebrate virtues of a more reflective age by pitting their slowest donkeys against each other.

This traditional sport with brakes applied used to take place on the last Saturday in July. The animal taking longest to complete a two-furlong course, while deemed not to have stopped or taken any form of sustenance, was crowned King Dickey in the first week of August – if the competition had ended.

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