OPINION: Mild and bitter humour can get us through these bleak times

At least we can still drown our sorrows in the local pub

If the country really is going to the dogs, at least we can still drown our sorrows in the local pub - Credit: Bill Brandt Archive

If a true cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, I can’t help wondering what on earth he’s conjuring out of so many inflated figures floating over our heads right now.

Making the most of an awfully bad job is part of the recovery game. There are bound to be little exaggerations to produce wry smiles, gently raised eyebrows and slightly rash thoughts about the price of bacon going up.

Flying pigs, however, ought not to dominate our skyline when we search for genuine signs of improvement and a useful response to those who suggest the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.

I minted the catchphrase “Ticking over is the new affluent” back in 2008 when we faced the worst worldwide financial crisis since the Great Depression. Apparently it was all tied up with predatory lending, targeting low-income house buyers, risk taking by global financial institutions and bursting of the United States housing bubble.

Our current financial storms, riding on the back of an international virus pandemic, are likely to last much longer than Dudley, Eunice and Franklin, (the perfect backing group for a world in ferment). But it might be foolish to expect anything helpful in the way of fiscal clarity from austerity-proof bankers, business leaders and politicians.

They’ll continue to add up and take away in millions and billions while those most severely hounded by a cost-of-living crisis are forced to make every penny count and then tighten their belts even more because “we’re all in this together to help build a better tomorrow.”

Yet it remains a supreme irony how straitened times like these can breed so many prophets (or profits) of boom armed with glowing statistics to back various campaign bound to bring us untold benefits. Shaping Norfolk’s future would appear to be a simple case of figuring it out as you jog along.

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Tourism and widespread development attract wildest claims, daftest numbers and gushing headlines all too often delivered without the slightest concession to any possible hazards arriving with them – such as even more congested roads, destruction of even more precious green acres and another frightening lurch towards looking like everywhere else.

I remember asking where all these nebulous numbers came from well over a decade ago when the daddy of ‘em all dropped in to render earlier guestimates derisory. We were assured Norfolk’s natural environment, rated as priceless by most reasonable people, was apparently worth over £900m a year to the county coffers.

Yes, cases can be prepared to help protect certain assets against nasty cuts and there’s room to acknowledge how some industries, including tourism, do swell local coffers... even if they do push blatantly against the environmental grain.

But hurling silly numbers all over the place, daring anyone to probe and prove they emerged from the mythical department, simply darkens cynical clouds hovering above a depressing scene.

Perhaps a few dashes of bleak humour and a flip through the make-do-and-mend manuals from previous hard times can provide a measure of proportion and promise. Most of us have mused “Why is there so much month left at end of the money?” or echoed Spike Milligan’s call to arms: “All I ask is the chance to prove money can’t make me happy.”

Some will argue there’s nothing more reassuring in the world than an unhappy lottery winner and then proudly announce how they started out with nothing and still have most of it left. Mae West, who made up most of her own rules as she chortled along, admitted she was once so poor she didn’t know where her next husband was coming from.

I fondly recall a visit to one of Norfolk’s least trendy pubs, The Dewdrop Inn at Little Dodman, where landlord Jason Bullard managed a brutally honest approach to a parlous economic climate. He replaced football scarves over the bar with the legend: ””We are now at that bridge we were going to cross when we came to it.”

He knew more cruel policies and price rises would eat into meagre profits and further discomfort faithful regulars who had asked as ration books disappeared why the man entrusted to invest all your money was called a broker.

Mine host had warned against too much whinge drinking - complaining loudly about exorbitant prices on tap - and reduced The Happy Hour to Thoughtful Ten Minutes as he called for measured moderation mixed with our renowned sense of humour to meet exceptionally tough challenges.

I noted how immediate encouragement flowed from a reserved table with comfortable chairs in a cosy corner as far away as possible from erratic young darts enthusiasts, effusive tourists trying out their thee words of Norfolk dialect and that big chap from the next village whose farmyard impressions, including flying pigs, consisted solely of smells.

Sadly, that colourful rural hostelry has gone the way of so many other old-established locals despite loyal support throughout feast and famine, boom and bust, mild and bitter and a golden era of community awareness.

On the night he collected glasses and regrets for the last time, Jason Bullard announced with a tear and a smile: “Owing to budgetary constraints, the old light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off until further notice.”