Keith Skipper: ‘I can’t wait for a bit of banter after lockdown’

PUBLISHED: 14:47 10 May 2020

Lockdown country-style as the first greens of summer try to break out  Picture: Trevor Allen

Lockdown country-style as the first greens of summer try to break out Picture: Trevor Allen


Our columnist is missing the ‘sparky’ chat of socialising while in lockdown.

Well, it looks as if epic homemade adventures built around survival will replace exotic holiday snaps and souvenirs when it comes to sizing up The Great Dew Diffrunt Spring and Summer of 2020.

An intriguing new chapter full of outlandish twists has a considerable number of pages to run before any kind of clear conclusions can be drawn - apart from dubbing it the most testing and unlikely episode in countless family scrapbooks.

I can’t recall one topic dominating all our lives so dramatically and for so long. Wartime comparisons have been plentiful among folk even older than me. I got away with austerity, rationing and “you don’t know you’re born!” in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Our current battle against an invisible enemy seems far more cruelly intimidating.

Every household has faced a different army of challenges, many with exemplary fortitude, invention and discipline they probably didn’t realise they possessed. Every neighbourhood has unearthed exceptional characters with a zest for cheerful leadership and no-nonsense organisation.

We can lament the need for an international pandemic to unleash this kind of community drive and cohesion. We should work overtime to ensure it carries on and flourishes as a lasting legacy to what togetherness really ought to mean to family, friends and the street where you live.

Talking about carrying on and flourishing, I note Samuel Pepys “never lived so merrily” according to his 1665 diary reflections during the Great Plague of London.

He had quadrupled his earnings in a year and enjoyed multiple extra-marital affairs. Presumably, his self-isolation proved slightly less restrictive than ours. Rules written a bit more on the side than straight down the middle …

Another bright cove made far more respectable use of his talents around that same time. Cambridge student Isaac Newton moved towards the laws of gravity whiling away the hours at home in Lincolnshire, his university on lockdown. Sitting under an apple tree apparently sufficed as a drop-in centre for instant testing.

We’ve been fed a constant diet of “keeping safe, sane and structured” titbits since the big March shutdown. Working from home both for a living and for pleasure since 1995, I may have found it easier than some to manage passable impressions of all three.

I resist any urges to learn a new language, how to play drums, saxophone or harmonium, start a 50,000 - piece jigsaw of The North Sea by Night, join a virtual choir chanting Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?, knitting new woollen combinations in case we get a harsh winter or tidy up a study it has taken 32 years to build as a fortress against mundane domestic chores.

Reading, writing and ruminating will see me through our current marathon and any other major examination of how to make the most of your own company in a limited space. I got used to that since being banished from a crowded family tea table for boyhood efforts to stage a one-turn talent show.

Traditionally, when asked “Where would we be without a sense of humour at a time like this?” I have gently answered “Suffolk” or, in more recent years, “Sheringham” It’s my idea of keeping local rivalry sort of safe, sane and structured. Cheeky rather than churlish.

It’s been tough without regular off-the-cuff bouts of sparky banter, key ingredients of social rounds in all parts of Norfolk and select spots just over the border. Little nuggets of topical wit and whimsy have offered some consolation to lighten long lockdown hours.

I was tickled early in the piece, when panic buying piled up too many headlines, to be sent an advert putting it in perspective: “Man with toilet roll would like to meet woman with bottle of hand sanitiser for good clean fun”.

More recently, this compliment with a sting at end of the tale came my way: “No, you haven’t put on that much weight during quarantine. Come on, chin up! No, the other one …”

This may not be true – although it ought to be. An old boy in Cromer is pressed into early-morning emergency shopping by his poorly wife. He makes heavy weather of moaning around unfamiliar shelves. He struggles to the check-out counter with a full basket and a big complaint.

“Excuse me, my good man, why is this vinegar so lumpy?”

“Probably, sir, because it’s a jar of pickled onions”.

All together now ..”Ay, ay … that’s shallot!”


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When I wrote my book How To Survive in Norfolk back in 2007, I had no idea that title would resonate so strongly during the past couple of months.

In fact, this tome was a manual for long-suffering locals, crafty commuters, naïve newcomers, testy tourists, well-heeled weekenders, sophisticated second-homers, metropolitan missionaries and any other observers drawn to one of the last great outposts of sensible living.

Perhaps that bit about “long-suffering locals” still jumps out as we contemplate a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions and the inevitable struggle for recovery. I suspect it will take much longer and far more tolerance than many might be prepared to give.

With that in mind, I reckon 10 things about yesterday rated by some as infinitely better than today featured in that “survival” package 13 years ago could be worth pondering again as our struggles continue. We cannot live in the past. We can still learn from it …

1. Social behaviour – people were generally more polite and friendly and elders respected.

2. Healthy eating – home-grown vegetables and free-range poultry flourished.

3. Village shops – there were more, serving important social as well as economic needs.

4. Rural transport – it offered plenty of encouragement for folk to walk or ride bikes.

5. Sex education – birds, bees, cows, mares, stallions … no need for lectures.

6. Popular music – most songs had recognisable tunes and you could hear the words.

7.Entertainment – mainly homespun before television took control of countless lives.

8. Crime and punishment -- the truly local bobby did much to nip potential trouble in the bud.

9. The local environment – local lengthmen looked after roads, ditches and hedges. Proper care of the community.

10. Quality of life – simplicity (not to be confused with ignorance) is a virtue too often cherished only after it has disappeared.

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