War Memorial Gary Trouton

Notes from a newcomer

February 2004

A delightfully irreverent view of village life

Notes from a Newcomer

When we first came to Norfolk we were lucky to live in a village that still boasted a pub and a church: the two time-honoured ways for newcomers to get to know the natives. The Bedingfeld in Oxborough has had its ups and downs but 14 years ago it was all that a pub should be - a comfortable rendezvous with a well-kept cellar, pub grub, and a roaring fire in winter. And there you'd meet all the locals from Henry Bedingfeld, popping across from the Hall for a box of matches, to dear old Herbie Gathercole who used to cycle over and push his bike back home at closing time - or later!

If we needed a plumber or someone to rid us of a wasps' nest, we had only to leave a message behind the bar and within days there would be a knock on the door: "I hear you've got a problem." If our visitors needed a bed for the night, the pub did an excellent B & B.

In London we never darkened the doors of the church but attending services in the picturesque ruins of St John's brought an unpredicted dimension to our lives as well as introducing us to another circle of people. (A circle that became headline news when the vicar remarried and our group of parishes declared its independence from the Church of England. But that's another story...).

The loss of our rural churches has closed one avenue for incomers who wish to become part of the community. Pubs, too, have either fallen into disuse or changed. Some have turned into restaurants with sophisticated, expensive menus while others now set their sights on attracting a younger age group. And there's nothing wrong with that - heaven knows, there's little enough for them to do in the evenings. I just feel nostalgic for the time when, so I'm told, the landlady of the Duke's Head in Stoke Ferry made all feel welcome with a real fire and fresh flowers on the tables.

Of course, there is a third way (to borrow Mr Blair's phrase). Newcomers with children soon get to know other young families at the school gate but, short of adopting an orphan, the PTA route is not an option for those of us who move to the country when retirement looms.

The television and the car have to take their share of the blame. Anyone who has tried to set up group activities - whether it be line dancing, whist drives or evening classes - knows how hard it is to lure people away from the soaps on a chilly winter's evening.

When we do venture out we do so in our cars, sealed off from all human contact.

So how do people get to meet their neighbours? Walking the dog is a reliable way. But if you don't have a dog, then strolling down to the village shop is a good alternative. My husband used set off every morning to collect the paper - a five-minute walk - but often didn't return for an hour." Where have you been - all the way to Fleet Street?"

"Ah no, I've been shooting the breeze with a few people I met on the way". But then he was an Irishman who would, I'm sure, have struck up a lively dialogue with a Trappist monk.

Marion Clarke

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