OPINION: Trying to distance myself from an utterly confusing July

Keith Skipper Cromer picture

Cromer used to enjoy a good reputation for observing self-isolation and social distancing rules. Here is evidence from a long-ago summer - Credit: Keith Skipper Collection

Comedy king Eric Morecambe cultivated an endearing habit of turning to the audience, wobbling his glasses and asking what they thought of it so far.

Cries of chortle-spiced “Rubbish!” assured him, partner Ernie Wise and the world at large how a slice or two of self-denigration can go a long way in helping maintain a mood of cheerful optimism.

Perhaps a few key figures in government and other areas of national and local leadership should have borrowed such a formula to extract some of the sting out of a July riddled with confusion, indecision and incompetence.

Indeed, I noted scathing verdicts first patented in Norfolk around dates of invasions by Romans, Vikings and Danes. “A rare ole muddle” , “Rum ole dew” and “Abowt as much use as a yard o’ pump water” stand out among a small crop of repeatable summaries.

With prime minister, health secretary , chancellor and leader of the opposition all pinged into self-isolation at one stage to avoid washing up dishes and shaking cocktails to help a beleaguered hospitality sector, those still able to get out were urged to exercise extreme caution and personal responsibility.

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So much depended on the “common sense of the great British people”. Schools broke up, heatwave temperatures broke out, heavy drinkers invaded the Broads, packed city nightclubs bounced back and hordes of holidaymakers made do with Cromer and Wells instead of Ibiza and Benidorm.

How chuffed they must have felt roasting under a blazing sun organised by opportunist East Anglian tourism officials and the Met Office to compensate for loss of an inalienable right to head for foreign shores. “Sizzle near home!” is the new staycation slogan. Free insurance against giant hailstones and torrential rain.

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“Freedom Day” came and went with scant regard for long-term aspirations – viruses and variants don’t go by any calendar – and we head for our second August in a row wondering just how a peak holiday season can sit comfortably amid fluctuating figures and lingering fears of another lockdown.

Consolation prizes in short supply – unless you’re an estate agent hoping to cash in on a barmy housing boom or a developer looking for a leading role in the great building bonanza designed to meet anything but genuine local demand.

It remains one of the big mysteries of our age why more opprobrium is not heaped on MPs, councillors, planners and construction giants who blatantly ignore the needs of younger Norfolk property seekers. Clarity and parity should begin at home.

Current operations make a mockery of regular invitations to “Have Your Say!” .

So strong is a tide of cynicism lapping around the whole business that even those most directly affected by massive changes on their native patch consider it futile to figure in any “consultation process”.

Perhaps a recent victory for a feisty band of rural battlers less than 10 miles from Norwich might flicker into beginnings of a belief that miracles can still happen if organisation and will are strong enough. Along with a passion for not being bullied.
Alton Towers theme park founder John Broome pulled the plug on his plans for a five-star hotel resort at Haveringland Hall Country Park just before a decision against was expected over fears concerning ecology, traffic and wildlife.

Community leaders in the surrounding area pooled campaigning resources to draw A Line in the Sand and provoke a dramatic change of heart despite all the big money and impressive reputations behind such an ambitious project.

Norfolk must be allowed more scope to express sincerely-held views in front of decision makers responsible for the shape and impact of things to come. It’s not good enough for local councillors and officials, or MPs if they can be roused sufficiently to take notice, to insist they are at the mercy of national policies.

It is easy to admire and laud our spirit of independence – but giving it full rein to fashion a purposeful future out of genuine respect for the past hardly features on any vital agenda.

Talking of Norfolk qualities, my soul was cheered by reaction to the retirement of Cynthia Clare after nearly half-a-century of dishing up dinners at Worstead Primary School. She called it a day at 83 and will be sorely missed.

One girl pupil at Cynthia’s farewell reception went up and asked plaintively: “Do you have to leave?” A poignant little summary of love, loyalty and local links.

Skip's Aside: These are changing times for the small but fervent congregation at St. Horry’s-on-the-Huh.

“Better happy-clappy than thumpy-grumpy” is the inspirational text pinned to the oak door of this ivy-clad 14th century church set in open fields on the outskirts of the scattered parish of Blackstalk Parva.

The Revd. Albert “Wilson” Pickett, in charge of this and eight other rural gems, took over a year ago after starting his career in Wolverhampton and making an impact with his “Stir it with the curate” mid-week service.

These were notable for their informality, pots of tea and cream cakes being shared during his sermon and washing-up duties carried out in the font before a final hymn. “I wanted people to feel at home, forget they were in a draughty old building and relax and unwind”.

He admitted to being surprised when so many parishioners brought sleeping bags , ghetto-blasters, cocktail cabinets, mobile phones, frozen meals and laptop computers, but said they had to keep up with trends in city, town and country.

“Our Lord would have used the Internet to spread the message. The people are setting our agenda and I have been truly uplifted by their capacity to embrace change as well as each other. We have only one Sunday service a month and it’s imperative to make it memorable”.

What about that famous Norfolk reserve? “Out of sight! My three regulars from Blackstalk Parva voted immediately to get rid of the Victorian harmonium and the straitjacket of rigid propriety that has bedevilled country worship for centuries.

“Now there are rumours of Major and Mrs Stannickle-Hulver returning to the
blessed fold. Hallelujah!” he exclaimed.

What about multitudes lining up against “rave in the nave” antics?

“We must pray for them, convert them and remind them that Norfolk has led the path to glory before. Well over a century ago, you may recall , Jeremiah Colman launched the Carrowsmatic Movement for his mustard factory workers.

“Did not this most benevolent of employers, a real father of his people, set new standards? Then came the Company of Tremblers to put new life into our rural churches during the 1920s. They were a Norfolk offshoot of the Quivering Brethren based in Sussex”.

He invited me to join them at St. Horry’s-on-the-Huh very soon to “find balm in a psalm”. I’ll let you know.

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