OPINION: Bare-faced cheek is being displayed by plenty of holidaymakers

Quieter times on the local holiday beat at Wroxham in the early 1950s. Hats very much in fashion –

Quieter times on the local holiday beat at Wroxham in the early 1950s. Hats very much in fashion – and room for social distancing! - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper says its business as usual up on the Norfolk coast for residents as they fight for pavement space with visitors

An old friend, rarely given to cynicism or exaggeration, summed it up thus: “There are enough short fuses out there to make Guy Fawkes and his cronies feel really envious!”

He recalled countless examples of little niggles threatening to turn into full-blown clashes on his rounds as jobbing gardener, car-boot sales enthusiast and amiable mardler in town and village.

While little skirmishes between old and young came as no big surprise, he was concerned at the number of ill-tempered confrontations featuring folk of more mature years jostling and pushing over nothing more than positioning of chairs on a green space with room for plenty.

“I feared heart attacks coming on as troubles flared out of very little. Thankfully, a mixture of tactful persuasion, common sense and acute embarrassment finally prevailed to bring several unseemly incidents to an end. It was good to see a couple of close neighbours shake hands and smile”.

While much of this dramatic dip in tolerance levels can be blamed on awkward restrictions involving face masks and social distancing, I suspect it is far worse in areas where hordes of holidaymakers traditionally mix freely with locals.

My recent strolls into Cromer town centre, suitably attired and avoiding congested pavement areas, still betrayed an uncomfortable “them and us” edge.

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A masked minority trying to negotiate a way round large contingents of bare-faced carefree visitors sums up a worrying divisive trend.

There were reports earlier this virtual summer about residents in Cornish resorts being too afraid to go out shopping in crowded streets dominated by visitors seeking instant mental and get-away lifts after lockdown. “Benidorm on steroids” led the headline stampede.

I bumped into Norfolk stalwarts from other tourist hot-spots including Wells, Holkham, Brancaster and the Burnhams complaining much longer and louder than usual about that high-summer siege mentality. Indiscriminate parking blocking roads and home entrances topped the list.

“We are used to being taken over for a while, sacrificing our finer sensibilities in the name of a fragile local economy” said one, “But there’s an extra layer this year bordering on the downright rude. Frankly, we feel like second-class citizens on our own patch” said a woman from Wells.

I prodded for more. “Some visitors seem to think we should be far more grateful for their valuable patronage. They get very sniffy if you suggest some are here this time only because they cannot head for their usual holiday haunts abroad”.

With both treating the other as necessary evils, it hardly augurs well for what is bound to be a busy autumn overflow of this year’s fractured holiday campaign. September normally brings a fairly gentle winding-down after several hectic weeks packed with carnival flavour.

Now, as fresh virus fears continue to circulate and every kind of argument threatens to spill over into a lather of impatience, intolerance and temper tantrums, my favourite month will do extremely well to find any measure of positive progress. We can all do with a bit of mellowing as nights pull in faster than any beer belly on the Costa-del-Croma and doom-laden pundits start spreading scare stories about flu epidemics, giant snowdrifts, overloaded hospitals, bread shortages and a world under threat from mutant algorithms.

With no apology whatsoever, I intend to continue observing all health and safety rules designed to keep old codgers out of trouble and allow ample time to carry on what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years – working from home. Well, a pleasantly watered-down version with regular fresh-air breaks.

I will continue to chat to neighbours and share points of view without being too dogmatic or contentious. I must try to take a more charitable stance towards visitors and local alike who use our road as a short cut or free parking lot. They tell me it happens everywhere and can be a source of extra short fuse production.

These opening days of September remind me how significant this month has proved along my alluring Norfolk pathway. For starters, I graduated from village classroom to grammar school in Swaffham on a mixture of bicycle power and railway steam in September, 1955. I moved to Thetford for start of my reporting career exactly seven years later.

I exchanged quill for microphone in September 1980 when the BBC showed sound thinking in extending its local wireless network into Norfolk. The station soon celebrates its 40th birthday. I was there when it opened.

Skip’s Aside: While splinters multiply as you slide down the bannister of life, remember wise words you heard on the landing of youth.

That’s an old Norfolk proverb I made up to partner telling echoes from my farmyard world of over 60 years ago.

I was muttering and moaning about the iniquities of a system which demanded dirty hands and aching limbs in return for a few pennies. The Saturday job was getting me down.

It set me scowling at cattle snorting for feed, chickens itching to be cleaned out and pigs spoiling for another rough-and-rumble over a pail of swill. They were ganging up on me.

I kicked at the chaff-cutter, cursed the pain shooting through my tears and asked my ancient minder why such mundane tasks survived into middle of the 20th century, His smile and response shamed me with their gentle reproach.

“Come on, bor. Try and enjoy yarself now … these are the good ole days yew’ll talk about later on”. He was right, of course, and probably had been offered the self-same advice by another Norfolk son of the soil many years before.

The sort of homely wisdom worth handing down whenever rebellious youth threatens to veer out of control. I was upbraided more than once by parish elders before leaving school and discovering they really did know a few things about life and its little vagaries.

Yes, I am a touch sentimental about my rural roots, but certain points about closely-knit and predominately self-sufficient communities surely needed emphasising whenever grandiose schemes to “revive country life” are mooted.

Another wise old man on my farmyard scene left me with his glowing tribute to a glorious spell of weather after the corn harvest. He called them “mellowsun days” as he peered skywards shielding his eyes and undoing another button on his weskut.

It took a while to work out what he meant. I thought he might have been talking about “medicine” or “Nelson” as he rolled out words and phrases in broad dialect tones.

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