‘We’ve got to keep remembering the good old days’

Cheerful gathering at the Tunstead Trosh to cultivate more friendships and memories along the Norfol

Cheerful gathering at the Tunstead Trosh to cultivate more friendships and memories along the Norfolk furrows Picture: Submitted - Credit: Archant

Our columnist says its nostalgia that keeps Norfolk’s village communities alive.

I recall fondly a vastly experienced newspaper colleague of about half-a-century ago who constantly blended humour with wisdom to nudge me into reading between the Norfolk lines.

When I asked him for an alternative to the old football reporting cliché saluting a “grand team effort”, he came back instantly with “It would be invidious to particularise”.

I have borrowed that little gem many times, not least 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. Yes, my considered vote fell in favour of six months apiece on the social catwalk.

Fancy dress and bonny baby parades can add up to a fate 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 – a telling mixture of self -preservation and tact – nipped to the fore again more recently when I was invited to nominate my favourite local village. I refused to upset over 700 others in Norfolk and the Waveney Valley and simply pleaded “overwhelmingly spoilt for choice”.

There is scope, however, for a few general verdicts. Romance clings to the word “village” just as honeysuckle and ivy stay true to the old privy down the yard. The further we get away from the rural dream, forcibly ejected in many cases, the more a need to protect it still exists.

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Frankly, I feel we ought to keep that exercise going, if only to frustrate those anticipating a pushover. They require reminders to listen and to wonder if our rural resistance movement has capacity to stay intact much deeper into the 21st century.

For all the newcomers, commuters, tourists, week-enders, second-homers and hand-rubbing developers, Norfolk village life is surely hanging on to a few of the qualities convincing natives to stay but also sparking invasions in the first instances.

Let me make an important concession and warmly praise those who do contribute plenty to the place of their adoption. I accept as well it is not that 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 urge to compare grows ever stronger. Times have changed, claim folk who sold up and moved to quieter Norfolk pastures when such an event was still a matter of some curiosity and powers of absorption were hardly tested.

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

Coronations, royal weddings, jubilees, being completely cut off by snow and global pandemics are comparatively rare. Village life can easily vegetate down a cosy cul-de-sac as worst aspects are allowed to infiltrate once-rural parts.

Blandness and apathy are main enemies and it is dangerous to regard loneliness as something that drifts only around cities and towns. Yes, competitions along best-kept village lines can help keep alive a proper sort of togetherness spirit, sometimes resurrecting it and instilling a fresh sense of purpose into a community which had let itself go, becoming rather drab and dowdy.

These are the lucky ones, welding together best intentions of native and newcomer. A host of once-attractive settlements only awake to the fact they are being turned into dormitories when snoring reaches deafening levels.

Some parish councils know from bitter experience how often their logical and well-argued cases can be shoved aside by hard-hearted types a few rungs up the ladder. They in turn will complain that even more powerful forces above dictate the pace and pattern in all areas.

We are in the thick of yet another callous campaign to make small communities feel guilty for taking a stand. “ Stick-in-the-mud”, “nimbys” and “snobbish” are main labels waiting to be stuck on parish notice boards.

Too many planners, developers, councillors and MPs will pay customary lip service to “genuine local needs and wishes”-- and then carry on cramming and creaming off the most lucrative end of the market.

Skip’s Aside

I’ve been sauntering along Cromer seafront wondering out loud why they didn’t regenerate me while they were at it a decade or so ago.

Easier to get away with that sort of eccentric behaviour this time of year when most of the people you’re likely to bump into are doing the same or fully at ease with those who do.

Pier and promenade provide a sort of “safe house” from boring matters like why so many folk in town have to ring home to find out what they’ve come shopping for while others seem downright grumpy because they can remember.

I reckon Sunday school outings to Hunstanton and Great Yarmouth in the 1950s nurtured this spirit of escapism as we sniffed annual rations of ozone, rejuvenated toes in sea and sand, made friends with donkeys instead of rounding up cows and invested about a shilling on slot machines to win a single Woodbine.

Free for a day from the shackles of rural convention, we could ignore big-family commandments such as “Don’t spend all your pennies in one go” and “Thou shalt not show thyself up by turning green along the Golden Mile after a crafty fag by the boating lake”.

Even then, I noticed how many sensible older visitors just sat and watched ebbs and flows of holiday humanity searching for the next thrill, another excuse to be a bit more daring than usual, a rare chance to wear a silly hat and plunder a menu of candy floss, toffee apples and doughnuts. With fish and chips out of the paper for afters.

I never sampled the seaside in winter until the mid-1960s when press reporting day took me back to Yarmouth as icy winds growled, angry waves roared and figures outside the waxworks museum wanted to huddle together for a drop of warmth..

As an honorary Crab since 1988, I have moaned about summer excesses like any self-respecting free spirit capable of seeing tourists as “space invaders” – and then wallowed in winter expanses of time and room to ponder and roam.

That can hardly warrant a “selfish” vote, especially from those determined to shove an all-year-round tourism bandwagon into the teeth of fiercest gales, be they economic or straight off the North Sea.