OPINION: Caring, sharing Norfolk doesn’t need to be defined by a slogan

A favourite Norfolk view spelling reassurance through the trees as spires of Booton Church, known a

A favourite Norfolk view spelling reassurance through the trees as spires of Booton Church, known as “Cathedral of the Fields” near Reepham, reach for the sky - Credit: Colin Finch

Keith Skipper says Norfolk can fight its own battles and doesn’t need a rallying slogan

I hear and see them often, people, places and platitudes from the past trying to make sense of a perpetually rum old world.

Born in 1944 to sit somewhere in the middle of a family of 10 children at the heart of agricultural Norfolk, I soon appreciated how to persuade a little to go a long way. At least supplies of eggs, milk and vegetables were plentiful.

Make-do-and-mend and hand-me-down clothes were integral features of our domestic scene. With five sisters on parade I did wonder occasionally where such sartorial parsimony might end. I breathed a big sigh of relief when a new blazer arrived for me to start grammar school.

I had contributed a few bob towards this fresh adornment for the classroom with Saturday jobs clearly designed to highlight a blatant lack of practical ability, especially in the milking parlour, bullock yard and chaff-cutting arena.

My love of the countryside and its natural power to energise and inspire, still going strong today, was hardly matched by willingness to muck in when it came to all those tough tasks to keep it in harmony with changing seasons.

It took a fair while for the shadow of war to be lifted with ration books and the old aerodrome huts as temporary homes most obvious reminders of what a small village of farms and fields had gone through in six years.

Most Read

An American airman stationed locally fell in love with my Aunt Annie and took her home to live in the USA. I still chuckle at the way those letters were translated into proper Norfolk ….Uther Side of Attleborough. Far-reaching cultural wit like that often blossomed in the Nifty Fifties.

Prime minister Harold Macmillan, however, fell a bit short of adulation in 1957 when he told us: “You’ve never had it so good!”. An old boy who worked on the land with my father took out his weekly wage packet and exclaimed in response: “We’ve never had it … so there!”.

I dare say natives even older than me have been making plenty of wartime comparisons since March this year with a global pandemic claiming nearly a millions lives and changing radically billions more. The campaign against coronavirus and its savage impact clearly has many battles to go.

Several old clichés have been overworked, especially by those with no direct experience of that “wartime spirit” when we had to “Keep calm and carry on” simply because ”We are all in this together”. Perhaps “Your community needs you!” ought to be recalled in future as a more relevant choice in the slogan stakes for helping to pull us through.

My wife and I have joined close neighbours in saluting all those volunteers emerging from under the Cromer Cares umbrella to ensure regular provisions and other necessities reach more vulnerable folk in our town and villages beyond.

It has been a heartening expression of what many of us see as revival of an unashamedly old-fashioned brand of togetherness. Coupled with those idyllic weeks when traffic noise, pollution and reckless parking went missing from our streets, it serves as a perfect reminder about a need to live cleaner, closer and quieter lives.

Cars, vans and lorries are back at full throttle. Environmental matters in general, such potent debating fodder before the virus pandemic, now lag way behind in significance to safe education, vaccine searches and an all-out drive to mend a broken economy.

Arguments against blatantly destructive new road schemes and a building blitz in precious green areas are being drained of purposeful support at a vital time by piercing cries for planning rules to be eased in favour of more jobs and new homes.

I fear any such short-term gain could turn into long-term pain, especially in a part of England still held up by many outside vested interests circles as a good example of finding enough courage not to succumb to the Faustian promise, confusing change with invariable progress.

There’s nothing weak about defending what is dear to you. There’s strength in the familiar, not least during a rather torrid phase like we’ve had to endure for the past six months. We must hope that old-fashioned spirit of togetherness will be there to help us through what could be a testing winter. There may yet come a time when resolute Norfolk freedom fighters weigh up other places and exclaims proudly: “We’ve never had it so good!”.

Skip’s Aside: I recall a short interview with a world- weary careers advisor during my last lap at school.

“What’s your name?” he sighed. “Skipper, sir” I chirped. “Ever thought about joining the Navy?” he asked. “No, I can’t swim and I get seasick” saw me beat a hasty retreat.

Any search in Norfolk to find the right name for the job must lead to Jim Smellie, pictured, the public health officer who gained national notoriety.

Happily blessed with a keen sense of humour, he chuckled at mentions in the national press and Punch magazine before an appearance on Esther Rantzen’s television show. A native of Lancashire, he moved to Norfolk as deputy chief public health officer and was promoted to the top job in 1960. He died in 1992.

Surely the most gloriously suitable name for a leader of the flock must be the Rev Ralph Fuloflove. He was rector at West Harling in 1470 and his brass portrait is oldest memorial in the parish church.

Many will remember when Wells-next-the-Sea had a butcher named Arthur Ram, a jeweller and watchmaker called George Goldsmith and a lifeboat coxswain called David Cox.

There was a doctor in Fakenham with the initials JAB – John Ambrose Braithwaite – while Arthur Watts was in charge of the local Eastern Electricity showroom. Mrs Bunn worked in Wagg the baker’s shop while the Finn, John, Spencer and Kevin, were involved in the fish business.

Alec Bull of East Tuddenham worked inevitably as a dairy herdsman around Norfolk and Suffolk. Swaffham fishmonger John Bone was at one time in partnership with George Mackrell of Mattishall.

When a repertory company used to perform at the then Cromer Town Hall Theatre, it was often noted in the programme that certain stage objects were supplied by local firms or people. On one occasion, it read: “Eggs supplied by A Bird” a local farmer.

In more modern Cromer times, Jason “Dinger” Bell excelled as town crier.

During my Dereham reporting days in the 1960s, we had a chief reporter called C Sharp (Charles) and a local chemist’s shop run by D Flatt.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter