If good literature, sound logic and a calendar close-up went together, George Eliot must have started work on Middlemarch, her seventh novel, round about now in 1869.

Halfway through this month of many moods and wayward weather, I spare a thought for Mary Anne Evans, who adopted a male pen name to ensure her writing would be taken seriously and to shield her private affairs from public scrutiny.

Middlemarch is a study of provincial life with multiple plots and a large cast of characters, including the trenchant Mrs Dollop ( bet she liked a bit of squit), landlady of The Tankard on Slaughter Lane.

 A broad canvas built around the Great Reform Bill features many big items including status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, the march of medical science, education...

Yes, uncannily similar to significant matters dominating countless debates today. And then there’s  that deeply reactionary mindset within a settled community for the prospect of  what to many is unwelcome change. Remind you of anywhere?

I’m fascinated by the way certain themes keep repeating themselves during my Norfolk lifetime, none more loyalty-testing even at the age of 80  than how to marry best of the old with least damaging of the new.

While some of us struggle to see how a green belt around Norwich can absorb ugly colours of more straggling estates, landscape-scarring highways and choking traffic, others continue to point to a recession-busting development formula as the only road to a promising tomorrow.

Norfolk in general has long been seen as the right sort of place to set a healthy expansionist example. I recall a clutch of our MP’s and prominent county councillors from the 1960s onward telling us bluntly how we had both the space and the will to embrace new projects, fresh ideas and more tourists.

I countered with arguments based firmly on the premise that fighting for your precious heritage and unique character should be hailed as a virtue rather than a weakness. The long-running Economy versus Ecology battle on the Broads only came to a head  when it looked as if the former might prove so damagingly victorious.

My favourite supporter in a call for caution on how far to shove the tourism bandwagon was Lilias Rider Haggard. Her warning from the 1940s still carries a potent edge:

“If our authentic East Anglian rural scenery, our common heritage, is lost, not only will those who love beauty as a sure  escape from the ugliness of life suffer but the whole vast network of business interests who cater for summer visitor and tourist traffic will slowly but surely reap the unpleasant reward of heir indifference.”

I consulted my diaries to see how middle-of-March musings reflected familiar misgivings, especially about imposition of national creeds and targets on areas not afraid to show a defiant streak. On this very date in 1993 I noted how the government change its tune slightly on how Norfolk ought to grow into the 21st century. Building plans were scaled down from 72,000 homes to a “guideline” of 69,000 following a public revolt.

Even so, dark fears remained that our distinctive character faced more serious damage. Jonathan Peel, chairman of the county council’s planning and transportation committee exclaimed: “If Norfolk is to retain its special character, it will need all the determination and vigilance of the people who live here in the years ahead.”

In a stirring editorial the following day, the EDP thundered: “Few voices outside the development lobby believe large-scale development will bring prosperity to Norfolk, still less leave its character intact. The majority view within the county is that Norfolk’s housing expansion should be determined by local housing need and nothing more”

Ironically, Christopher Jones , president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, predicted house prices in East Anglia would not boom again for a generation. The recession and housing slump had shaken people’s faith in bricks and mortar.

March mardles and Norfolk-flavoured diaries were dominated a couple of  decade ago by views on more of those infernal surveys designed to cause as much consternation as possible on the flimsiest of evidence. For all the apparent clamour to build new dreams in Nelson’s County, we had to be content with 54 point and 12th pot in a table of best counties to live in .. four places behind Suffolk. An exercise conducted by Country Life Magazine unbelievably awarded  Norfolk zero for education, the arts and outstanding pubs!

Yet we scored eight for landscape, same as Cumbria, which includes the Lake District, and double the ranking of Derbyshire, home to much of the Peak District. Devon came top with 72 points while Staffordshire took the wooden spoon.