Tomorrow marks a landmark day for me in a small, personal kind of way. It will be 25 years since I moved to Norfolk.
Actually, it may already have arrived. I can’t quite remember, but I am pretty sure that I arrived on December 12, 1987. It was a Sunday, anyhow, and the first four months of my time here was spent in Thetford so to be honest it wasn’t the most auspicious of starts. Thetford in the 1980s on a Sunday night was not exactly Las Vegas. Well, to be fair, in those days of Sunday trading laws, nowhere in England was much, but I was moving up from London where things were at least fairly busy along high streets, sabbath or no.
I had moved for work and because I felt I had got in something of a rut in London and needed to strike out on my own. I guess it worked because a quarter-of-a-century later I’m still here.
In that, I guess, I share much in common with many readers. Lynn was a London overspill town, a phrase that frankly has acquired something of a negative ring about it over the years.
Ironically, that was true of Thetford, too. Londoners wrenched away from their friends and families and settled deep in the Norfolk countryside.
As we know too well, social problems often followed, not least because the quality of housing offered these incomers simply wasn’t good enough (although the locals muttered some of the incomers didn’t show it the respect it deserved).
When I first came to work up here the joke was often made to me that you’ll be accepted by Norfolk people – in 25 years time!
Is that true? By a strange quirk of fate, my future wife also came up to Norfolk (from Essex) at almost exactly the same time as me, arriving in October 1987, although it was to be many years before we met.
We both love Norfolk, which is why we’ve stayed. But we agree that when it comes to being accepted as part of the community, it is one of the less welcoming places.
East Anglians are reserved by nature and not given to foolish shows of affection without good reason, on the whole.
As a Londoner that did not come as any great change. Indeed, in the pressure-pot of the capital, reserve is the least of your worries where people can be quite rude or even aggressive at the drop of a hat or the spillage of a pint.
But of course in a great metropolis there are far more people to interact with, and a surprising number of them are of a mind with you and can be quite nice.
Here we are rather more thinly spread, so we have to take what we are given.
Norfolk, although less cosmopolitan than much of Britain, certainly has changed in the 25 years I have been here, particularly in the last 10-or-so years with a big influx of eastern Europeans and Portuguese.
It has not been without its frictions, no doubt, but in West Norfolk it seems we have at least seemed to handle it somewhat better than neighbouring places where community relations have almost broken down at times.
Maybe that reserve has something going for it. It could be another way of showing politeness, a facet of human nature that must be prized above all things. Anyhow, 25 years... where do I get my naturalisation papers.