OPINION: Number-crunching was never part of Norfolk’s daily diet

Autumn glory on parade as it gets late earlier

Autumn glory on parade as it gets late earlier - Credit: Danny Skipper

As it starts getting late earlier – quite normal for Norfolk – and you can watch the world change colour, I feel a bit like spending the rest of my wonderful Norfolk life reading and reflecting on “ground-breaking” reports and surveys dealing with the downright obvious and dreadfully obscure.

Not to mention the deliciously outlandish and dangerously opportunist.

Scarcely a day passes on my daily browsing mission without some bright spark providing clear new evidence that an excess of sprouts or onions could render me permanently anti-social or that insufficient exercise could bring on pensioner’s pod or wrinkles’ wreck while an incorrect amount of bedtime beverage units might cut short nocturnal adventures in and around the smallest room.

Too many wireless and television news bulletins like to wrap up with a light-hearted item culled from ever-growing piles of trivia aimed at audiences desperate for a lift after soaking up so much gloom and despair.

And finally, meet Trosher one-legged budgie from Limpenhoe who has hopped up the ladder in a vote to find the nation’s most intelligent pet. Trosher can speak Broad Norfolk, proper English and has a smattering of Latin verbs. That’s Limpenhoe evening classes for you.

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It’s a major part of the media business to fill gaps, spark discussion, most of it unashamedly pointless and spread smiles daubed with doubt where none may have existed.

The bulk of figures bandied about with more serious topics are at best inspired guesswork or at worst provocative inventions.

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We are told nightingale populations in the United Kingdom have dropped by 50 percent since 1998. That’s exactly half. How can bird watchers sing so certain a tune? Housing growth plans for Norwich and surrounding areas deemed sound by government inspectors clear the way for 37,000 homes and 27,000 jobs in the next 15 years.

What happens if either target is way off beam?

Are all those jobs in the construction industry? How many workers in hard hats does it take to change a landscape?

Other developments hatched in “out-of-recession” and “boosting local economy” incubators trumpet glorious benefits while completely ignoring glaring threats to Norfolk’s precious community and environmental fabrics.

Still, we can always find refuge with dear old Mother Nature in the tranquil backwoods and gentle backwaters where never is heard a mercenary word as ramblers, cyclists, sailors and dreamers tootle towards a state of grace rarely experienced at any checkout counter way beyond protective trees and waves.

Hang on a bluebell-pickin’ swallowtail-spottin’, fresh-air gulpin second. 

It seems some far-reaching ecosystem report has dared to pin a price of billions on the priceless benefits of our natural world.

While this may lack the zeal and certainty of Victorian lepidopterist going about his collecting business, it could be the start of s push to identify potentially lucrative resources just in case they may need to be exploited and sold in bleak times.

Like hawking a family heirloom around the antiques roadshows, discovering it’s worth a small fortune, swearing to camera it carries far too much sentimental value to be considered for sale and then rushing home to compile a list of dealers who could be interested.

We are fed regular rations of values for a buoyant local tourism industry by important people who ought put ecology on the same pedestal as economy. They claim the Norfolk Broads bring in well over £14m a year in visitor revenue. How on earth do they arrive at such a figure? Does it include buying bread to feed the ducks?

I prefer a more homely brand of research. I asked a group of Cromer seafront traders how it was going on a sunny day recently with plenty of September trippers about.

“They’re not spending much” was a general verdict. Uncanny echoes of a similar exercise on Great Yarmouth’s Golden Mile in the mid-1960s. Least enthusiastic were those traders who usually spent the winter months in Bermuda.

Norfolk still makes a better job than most in welcoming visitors without holding them upside down and shaking all loose change from their pockets.

Even so, a growing obsession with reports and surveys, along with all the number-crunching that comes with, nurtures the risk of knowing the price of everything – and the value of nothing.

Skip's Aside:
Horse power was so much safer when the hoses had it – a useful text for panic-stricken times as well as rich testament to a dependable feature of our agricultural past.

I hear that little refrain clip-clopping towards me as winds stiffen and autumnal colours deepen across what’s left of our previous country landscape.

Perhaps we’ve added a dash or two of rural romance to sepia pictures from yesterday’s farmyards but there can be no denying that special relationship forged between man and horse as they struggled together in all-weather through all seasons.

Horses were the most important creatures in East Anglia up to the Second World War. “Good horses, good farm” was a saying that rang true across the headlands. The men looked after the horses as well as worked with them and took great pride with appearance and standard of their team. There was competition among the farms … braids and ribbons, shiny coats and harness in perfect condition.

Those days on the land were long and hard, especially during the corn harvest when teams of horses were changed halfway through the day to give them a rest. How many

Norfolk lads began their working days in the fields when harvest beckoned and a howdgee boy” was needed to lead the horse and yell a warning to men on top of the load,

Ploughing also had a vocabulary of its own with instructions from the ploughman. Words like whooish, cubeear and capper have gone with the way of life that inspired them.

Norfolk teamwork in harness

Norfolk teamwork in harness - Credit: Keith Skipper Collection

It seems each season had its own language and when you think of all the associate trades , like blacksmith, harness-maker, and wheel weight it becomes clear just how big a part the horse played on the Norfolk stage.

Savour this scene from a farm at Wiseacre, near Swaffham in the early 1940s. A thousand acres with over 140 horses on parade, Billy Bumphrey was head team-man and his brother John one of the under team-men. He had a quiet voice, not much more than a whisper.

He did most of the drilling with two horses. His main horse was Trimmer, a big Suffolk who walked dead straight all day long. And teach the young horse alongside

But woe betide anyone who worked John’s horses when he was away and used a normal voice for instruction. The animal clearly missed his master’s voice and would do nothing for rest of the day.

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