Looking back on my 2019 highlights

Preaching a cheerful Norfolk gospel from the pulpit of St Mary’s Church in North Elmham – one of S

Preaching a cheerful Norfolk gospel from the pulpit of St Mary’s Church in North Elmham – one of Skip’s 2019 highlights - Credit: Archant

As another year draws to a close, Keith Skipper looks back on the highs and lows of life in Norfolk during 2019

I'm beginning to appreciate what my betters and elders meant when they pored over my childish antics and posed a timeless rhetorical question: "Why on earth can't you be more sensible?"

Any temptation to make matters worse with a smarty-pants response like "I have tried - but I can't do sensible" usually dissipated with the threat of a sharp ding o'the lug or something even more salutary..

Fast forward six decades or so on our Norfolk scene and here's me echoing that same rhetorical question at the end of one of the most ill-mannered, unpleasant, confrontational and downright churlish years I can remember.

Yes, polarised political opinions, inflammatory rhetoric, anti-social media and banality television have combined to sour our general climate. But far too many examples of aggressive, boorish, selfish and foul-mouthed behaviour nipped in to affect our everyday lives close to home.

Caution, compromise and calming smiles give way all too often to short fuses, dogmatic pronouncements and growls of derision. It seems an alarmingly high number of folk of all ages want to bear a grudge - and ready to do enough tetchy rounds until they find one.

Let's take a subject constantly cranking up the niggleometer in city, town and bigger village. Parking is such street sorrow where drivers insist they can plonk their vehicles where and how they like. Pollution, congestion and pavement-blocking don't warrant a thought.

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The gentlest effort to ask for a bit of consideration, shorthand for "Why on earth can't you be more sensible?", risks anything from sullen silence to a quick thump up the exhaust pipe and a shrill rendition of "My rights as a fully paid-up member of society to avoid expensive car parks wherever I can".

Coastal locations must absorb stinging blows all year round as shoppers, workers in town and visitors from near and far dump their cars, often days a time, in nearby streets where a reasonable quality of life used to be taken for granted.

The fact some of these parking "intruders" are local and may well know who lives in houses where they pull up outside fuels growing belief about communal care and attention falling foul of hideous increases in traffic and bloated development all over Norfolk.

Thankfully, I can switch from all those disturbing aspects of public behaviour besmirching 2019 to unashamedly old-fashioned instances of community spirit taking centre stage on my mardling and entertaining rounds.

Even another Sheringham Shantymen concert on Cromer Pier, soaked in a mixture of juice extraction and exaggerated historic rivalry, had the power to soar above cheap jibes and celebrate what the resorts share in common with handsome dividends for local charities.

A fundraising event at St Mary's Church in North Elmham found me induced to preach a cheerful Norfolk gospel from a lofty pulpit, the sort of privilege designed to keep a careful eye on the most dubious of laymen!

I stole across the border in broad daylight for another spot of light-hearted missionary work in Beccles Public Hall. A full house with a fair sprinkling of other passport control dodgers suggests peaceful co-existence between Norfolk and Suffolk may have a bright future.

Village halls, so close to my heart since first sampling precious uniting qualities as a lad in the old Nissen hut on Beeston aerodrome, brought welcome reassurance of pivotal roles still being played across the county.

Size and age may vary but these meeting places are at the heart of long-term hopes to unite old and new in the face of so much growth bearing the stamp of enforcement rather than being organic and mostly welcome. It's a massive challenge.

Visits to halls at East Tuddenham, Hempnall, Swanton Morley, Alpington, Gimingham and Repps with Bastwick reminded me so much of widespread community adventures over 25 years with my Press Gang troupe of travelling troubadours towards the end of one century and start of another.

Laughter, local pride, backing good causes, swapping memories and yarns … that tasty menu has served admirably over an era of unprecedented change in more rural parts. Closures of so many schools, shops, pubs and other once-cherished facilities lifts the village hall to a new position of eminence.

Meanwhile, a fresh level of tolerance is sorely required to lift nasty black clouds full of noisy temper tantrums swirling over this blessed plot we call home. Sensible parking will leave space for a road to improvement.