Why us Norfolk lovers must stand defiant

Norfolk windmill sunset

The sun is still setting on too many of Norfolk's traditional features, says Keith Skipper - Credit: Archant

Our current hiatus in what we casually call “normal life” affords plenty of time to reflect more deeply than usual on Norfolk adventures so far in the opening two decades of a new century in a new millennium.

For someone of my age and disposition, who just missed road-building Romans, urn-burying Saxons, sword-brandishing Vikings and gum-chewing Americans, leaving the 1900s simply reinforced a growing suspicion it was getting harder to grow old gratefully.

Still, I relish a challenge and try to walk on the bright side. Only the other day as wind, rain, sleet and increasing lists of domestic demands slapped against my study window, I found consolation in noting how the afternoons are pulling out.

Then a couple of snowdrops nodded first acquaintance and a lone blackbird trilled defiance before teatime to remind me there’s more than dodgy weather and a scattering of human activity going on outside. Spring must bring even more fresh hope this year.

“Back to normal” kept sneaking into my mind to ask what it really meant. Well, it’s rather overrated in some cases. Most of those with tendencies towards impatience, intolerance, rudeness, aggression, bigotry and selfishness before the pandemic are likely to resume their ideas of normal service when we’re unlocked and let loose again.

Even so, those who can conjure up extra rations of love, care, kindness and exhausting practical help during an unprecedented crisis are bound to be at the fore with encouraging support down a long recovery trail dotted with hardships, Normal for Norfolk’s compassionate forces.

It’s so difficult in our present predicament to push deep emotions aside and adopt a pragmatic stance over where Norfolk goes once a reasonable measure of choice has been restored. As usual, I’ll look over my shoulder carefully to seek a bit of guidance.

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One of my first diary entries of January, 2000 in the name of new-dawn  thinking  included this pert little summary: “Norfolk’s patience, tolerance, proud sense of individuality and decidedly dry sense of humour will be sorely tested in the next few years”.

In some ways, that could have been regulation issue for county defenders great and small  over the centuries. Now it can stand as a useful signpost for resumption of the Great Debate  about what might unfold during the rest of this one.

Some would urge us to be flattered by so much more potential interest  in this part of the world where “quality of life” and “time to relax” are more than snappy slogans. They claim there’s plenty of room to cope with more houses, more residents, more jobs, more traffic, more benefits and more attractions to keep more visitors amused.

Whatever the opposition, there will be more far-reaching changes, a fair number brought about by pressures dressed up as promises to spark a widespread economic recovery. Those clamouring for Norfolk to fall in line with the rest will shout the loudest.

Too many traditional virtues have been crushed under the wheels of so-called progress during the past half-century. There have been all too few examples of the future throwing out a warm hand to grasp old and new together, tactfully and tastefully.

Such foresight might have persuaded the most belligerent natives to seek a tremor of anticipation to replace the more familiar shudder of trepidation.

Sadly, proper scrutiny, sensible compromise and the odd dash of subtlety don’t figure high on a list of requirements for rampant developers. With planning rules all set to be eased considerably in their favour, applications are piling up like fines for lockdown breaches.

Automatic aversion to change is yesterday’s habit – unless it looks like the only reasonable answer to yet another direct threat to tomorrow’s world. The genuine Norfolk-lover will continue to make comparisons beyond  the scope of too many who make decisions and will be proud to be called an old stick-in-the-mud for doing so.

The true Norfolk-lover will continue to eschew passing fads and fashions and hold close those characteristics and customs which gave his home a durable reputation for daring to do different in a sea of bland uniformity.

The true Norfolk-lover will carry on smiling when the old-fashioned roof seems to be on the verge of caving in. A sense of humour still weans a sense of proportion – and provides useful shelter when the roof does fall in.

Even then, it is right and proper to stand up  again for pugnacious Norfolk.

Skip's Aside: Recent agitation over antics of outsiders, including second-homers, using Norfolk as a convenient hideaway against a raging pandemic came as no big surprise.

Cromer and many other coastal locations preening themselves in even more of a fashionable spotlight have long been used to feisty little arguments over such invasions. Naturally, these debates have sharpened during our lockdown marathon.

For some, they started just after the Second World War when recovery talk should have been focussed more on rebuilding local communities rather than extending a hearty welcome to folk from faraway places.

HJ Harcourt, writing in the fledgeling Norfolk Magazine in 1948, summed it up like this: “Strangers who come into our midst are inclined to treat us with benevolent condescension or with undisguised superciliousness – and then expect us to claim them as saviours and harbingers of civilisation”.

I gather some indigenous outback residents are still waiting for a full translation in proper Norfolk before coming to a firm decision over such sentiments.

“We reckon that could mean they ent noffin’ like us” hinted 97-year-old Gibby Hucker, retired mole-catcher and charcoal -burner from Higgler-on-the Hill. He is proud to include a finance expert from Stowmarket and Braintree-born chandler among his more recent ancestry.

"It must be admitted Norfolk still has to put up with a fair bit of ribbing about being suspicious of intruders and working overtime to keep the old drawbridge intact.

That special mechanical social aid somewhere near Thetford is currently out of action due to sabotage during the lockdown.

Plans are being drawn up to cover restoration costs through export sales of Norfolk County Council tacks mainly used on border control signs in Northern Ireland and Switzerland.

Happily, back in dear old Norfolk, there is now an element of admiration in backhanders like: “The only way to lead Norfolk people is first to find out which way they are going – and then march in front of them”.

It’s one thing to be noticed for being different – and then to be amusingly chastised for it – but Norfolk stalwarts draw the line at being asked to apologise for following natural instincts.
I’ve always been on my best behaviour for socially distant day out in Southwold. Even if the locals, and those who try to be, tell me it’s only Cromer with an A-level.