OPINION: Still searching for our true food heroes

Keith Skipper Radio Norfolk kitchen

Cooking was far more fun on the wireless! A raw kitchen apprentice lifts the lid on his recipe for coypu soup to impress two culinary experts - Credit: Radio Norfolk

A wise old saying I may just have made up tells us straight … we can’t have everything. We wouldn’t know where to put it.

As a serial hoarder since childhood, I can vouch for the way clutter demands a heavy price for an excess of misguided loyalty. An odd tidy-up day merely signals refusal to accept the obvious need for an almighty purge.

It’s the same with knowledge. There’s far too much of it about. I tried to avoid being overwhelmed at school by concentrating on bits I liked and understood. That paid off eventually with a chance to specialise in English, history and Norfolk culture.

I have remained wary of well-meant challenges to broaden horizons, especially throughout long periods of self-isolation demanded by events of the past 18 difficult months. Frankly, I would have been no use to a virtual ukulele group, keep-fit ensemble or movement devoted to sprucing up your study.

Yes, I spent far too much pondering time recently on enthralling Euros football ties but eagerly resisted yielding to any “reality” television inducements of the more lustrous kind. (I found that adjective on Cromer beach) . Only thing I know about Love Island is that it is nowhere near Blakeney.

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I’ve long preferred purposeful escapism to help cope with the rougher side of life. Like listening to The Goon Show instead of swotting for tomorrow’s maths exams, spending three hours in the pub before a showdown with the bank manager or reading Monty Don’s autobiography when you should be digging the garden.

My current early-morning preoccupation is aiming to think of something no-one else is likely to consider worthy of attention. A warming glow of uniqueness has followed discovery that “open hot crabs” is an anagram of Baconsthorpe and the older a Norfolk man gets, the further he had to walk to school as a boy.

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A quick scan of the newspapers makes it easy to move on for Question of the Day. As one who feels too many cooks spill the broth, particularly over television menus, I can’t help wondering how on earth one becomes a “food hero”.

Where to find any meaningful connection between substance taken into the body to maintain life and growth and someone lauded for noble qualities and stirring deeds? Well, Gordon Ramsay isn’t the first wholesome combination to pop out of the oven while Fanny Craddock could let herself down with second helpings of sarcasm and crusty looks.

I tried to imagine “food heroes” in the guise of masked crusaders fighting off killer kale, lethal leeks and spontaneously-combusting sprouts. Then I wandered back to an English lesson from 1956 destined to put me off garden centres for life.

The Day of the Triffids introduced tall perambulating plants capable of aggressive and seemingly intelligent behaviour - but bent on world domination. Teacher tried to laugh it off by suggesting they were no more dangerous than the Paston Lettuce ( he was widely read) but damage had been done.

Hogweed-picking missions to feed my pet rabbits suddenly grew fraught with menace. I steered clear of our family plot as battalions of runner beans started nocturnal manoeuvres. A cloche in the corner turned into a laboratory where mad scientists cloned an army of persecuting parsnips. I sensed that scarecrow down the lane was being cultivated as a spy who came alive after dark.

As usual, I found solace and enlightenment through homely culture rather than horticulture with a gentle stroll among favourite books and films. A healthy diet had to begin with Goodbye Mr Chips, starring Robert Doughnut, the epicurean Lord of the Onion Rings and Moby Duck.

Here come the Colander Girls pursued by Three Men in a Gravy Boat and James Stewart pitching a bid for Baker of the Year in It’s a Wonderful Loaf. Spaghetti Westerns may not be good for you but gritty sons of the saddle like Butch Casserole, Davy Croquette and Tex Fritter deserve a place at the “food heroes” table or even in a bunfight at the OK Corral.

Al Capon invites himself to my spread where “fowl play” is suspected while Raymond Chandler leads the hard-boiled fiction parade with his tasty sequel to Farewell My Lovely in the shape of Tartare My Bewty.

Meaty reads from the classics shelf must include Lady Chitterlings Lover, Mansfield Pork and Hound of the Basketmeals. Agatha Christie serves afters with her long-running Moussetrap.

Skip's Aside: An old chum with a neat turn of phrase, but absolutely no respect for elders and betters, describes me as “about as upwardly mobile as an outing to Grimes Graves”.

That’s one of the oldest industrial sites in Europe, an extensive group of flint mines dating back to the late Neolithic period about 4,000 years ago. They had to make their own employment opportunities in those days at Weeting in deepest Breckland.

Miners used antler picks to extract high quality flint . One of the mines remains open to the public although, for safety reasons, visitors are not allowed to crawl along the tunnels. It is possible to climb right down the shaft to see radiating galleries.

I declined a chance to descend into Norfolk’s glorious past on a school field trip a few hundred terms ago. Fear of heights had been freely advertised in the gym as my scrawny frame shivered at the bottom of dangling ropes and mountainous wall bars.

Now “scaredy cat Skipper” taunts plumbed fresh depths as I peered down a history-laden hole and went all giddy.!

A small measure of self-respect was salvaged with a line designed to enhance my reputation as the class jester – “You won’t catch me knapping, sir” – but rampant aversion to life’s highs and lows set me apart as someone bound to struggle as well to make sense of hat seam in the middle.

Ironically, Thetford witnessed a dramatic pitch for “with it” points at the start of my press reporting days as the Swinging Sixties dawned. Sadly, purple winklepickers failed to sweep Breckland bewties off their sensible feet and I’ve toed the line after a fashion ever since when it comes to not drawing attention to myself.

Happily, this brand of natural modesty, interpreted by too many as a blatant lack of adventure and ambition, cannot blind me to Norfolk’s thrilling capacity for embracing a clear need to move with the times, to soar above metropolitan witticisms about bad roads, truculent tractors, noisy turkeys and regular inbreeding.

Norfolk readily accepted some time ago that social clout is merely a posh version of a ding o’ the lug. Transient celebrities and pushy newcomers are still trying to work out which one might be coming their way

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