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Writing Fakenham Wensum columns for the Lynn News a great Norfolk history source

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The recent retirement of the Lynn News editor, Mark Leslie, reminded me that as a small cog in this particular wheel I’d been writing for the paper since 1985, long before he was appointed.

As a local correspondent my role has been comparable to that performed by numerous others in following up items across the district related to the places where we live. My main priority was to put together a weekly column concentrated on Fakenham itself which allowed me a good degree of individuality.

I have enjoyed this freedom of expression enormously.

Wensum's first scrapbook page (a bit worn) dating from October 1985.
Wensum's first scrapbook page (a bit worn) dating from October 1985.

To write under the title of Wensum, a name agreed between me and the then editor, has enabled me to ‘do my own thing’ in so many ways.

From the word go I was determined to keep copies of these relatively short pieces and now, stacked in one corner of my office, is a substantial pile of scrapbooks covering hundreds of topics I’ve written about over these decades.

Now that I’ve been long retired from my teaching position at Fakenham High school, I’ve found these Wensums to be a great source of bits of Fakenham history which seemed important at the time of writing.

Perhaps they were, perhaps not, but as everyone knows, it’s easy to lose track of the past if you fail to record it immediately.

That’s one of the great joys of local newspapers which keep people in touch with and highlight so many of the traditions and celebrations which towns and villages try their best to foster – whether it be flower shows, amateur dramatics, sport, anniversaries –and much more I’m sure you can fill in for yourselves.

In his farewell column last week, Mark wrote of how it had been difficult to make that final retirement decision when he did. Generally speaking, I have always reckoned this to be a tougher call for men than for women.

Primarily because, from my experience, women are natural socialisers in the scheme of things, whether they work from home or commute. I was made more aware of this when I swapped roles with my wife, staying at home with our two youngest, aged 6 and 2, whilst she returned to teaching science.

At the time it was considered to be a bold step and challenging enough for the paper to give it a page-worth of publicity, including photos.

In that 1980s era no-one had any dispute with a weekly Woman’s Angle feature in the Lynn News. I certainly didn’t and rather revelled in the limelight it threw on our decision.

The charming introduction by Sue Skinner was another reminder of a less combative world.

"How would your husband cope if you went back to work and left him at home with the kids and the housework?" she wrote.

"The mere suggestion is enough to send some men running off to join the Foreign Legion but one local dad seems to be settling in to his new role remarkably well….Undaunted at the prospect of entering into a female-dominated world, Jim has even joined the local mother and toddler group, which the ladies are tactfully proposing to rename the Under Threes."

How things have changed – not necessarily for the better – since that somewhat innocent if delightful time.

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