Monday 16 June 2014

Disappearing Norfolk.

The tide of progress sweeps inexorably across the country, with it come the luxuries and advantages we all enjoy and prize so highly.  Unfortunately these improvements come at a price in the form of change to the places we love. Like every other English county, Norfolk is not exempt from this trend.  Due to this state of affairs I have become a man with a mission - the mission to record as much of disappearing Norfolk as time will allow.

Many years ago in the East end of London I was in conversation with a market trader.
When he learned I was from Norfolk he began speaking very slowly in his native "Cockaneese" so that I might understand everything that was being said to me.  He informed me, with unnecessary and patronising delight, that Norfolk was one hundred miles from London and every mile took you back one year. A form of time travel.

His barbed comments were intended as a joke at my expense.  I looked around the litter-strewn market-place and noted the mangy old mongrel cocking his leg up against a "fruit and veg" stall.  I compared this to the green fields back home stretching out under the big Norfolk sky, and I wondered just how long we must wait for the missionaries to reach our part of the world to save us.

"Street Market" courtesy Stephen McKay

The market trader was right, Norfolk, at that time, had escaped the rigours of rampant progress and  it dawned on me just how lucky we were.  At this exact moment the campaign to plough up the A11 at the Norfolk border earned my everlasting and undying support.

Fast forward forty years and how things have changed. Improved road links and faster trains have brought the long awaited progress to Norfolk and accelerated change to this part of the kingdom.

I cannot imagine how we managed all those years ago without a McDonald's or Witherspoon's.  We had to make do with old coaching inns and village pubs.
For so long we were denied the magical experience of giant supermarkets where customers are processed like peas.  Instead we had to endure the corner shop where the friendly old shopkeeper would ask if your mum's Lumbago was any better or enquire if we were we going on holiday that year.  We exchanged our ancient country lanes for wider roads and dual carriageways.  These enabled  us to dash from one place to another without seeing anything of interest in between and take out large numbers of wildlife while doing so.

The advent of the credit card, a simply wondrous event that allowed us to buy things we did not need and could not afford.  Laptops and mobile phones have acquired the status of an extra limb, giving us rolling news and instant internet access.  Oh for the days when the only tablets needed to sustain life were issued by the family doctor not PC World.

Along with progress came the inevitable interest of property developers, the sprawling acres of Norfolk farmland were ideal for housing developments.  Bricks and tarmac spread across large tracts of the county like a cancer, eating up pastures and woodland, destroying the habitat of the wildlife that was once so abundant in Norfolk.  There are some species of British butterflies and birds that my Great grand children will, in all probability, never see.

"Honey Bee" Courtesy Jon Sullivan

Some species of these seemingly insignificant little creatures like Bull Finches, Bees and Bats are already tottering on the edge of extinction. A casual shrug of our sloping shoulders does not excuse us. We must all take some responsibility for not taking greater care of this little patch of England that was entrusted to our keeping.

Visitors to Norfolk fall in love with our county, most are attracted by the slower pace of life.  As more folk settle here the very things that made this county so attractive and unique are gradually diluted and lost.  Improving road and rail links will only serve to accelerate this process.

The Norfolk of my childhood no longer exists, it has simply melted away, almost unnoticed.  Many might say it is a good thing.  Modern drugs and medicines have increased our chances of a long and healthy life span, far greater than our grandparents could have hoped for.  Better housing,  nutritious food, the benefits are endless.  Alas, for everything gained something is lost, this is the nature of progress.

For just one day I would love to be transported back to my school days. Perch on a farm gate and watch the ploughman pull a furrow. straight as an arrow without the aid of GPS.
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