My parents married in 1957, and they honeymooned in the southwest of England. This event, monumental though it was of course at the time, was rather overshadowed by the launch of the Russian Sputnik satellite into space. And this was causing some consternation amongst the folk that my parents bumped into as they picnicked their way across the countryside.
‘It’ll change the weather’, the locals said, as they laid into another pint of scrumpy.
And, not so very long after, that reaction seems ridiculous. You could argue that the thousands of satellites that we have whizzing about us now do many, many things, but they don’t, as far as we know, change the weather.
And I was reminded of this story as I wandered in yet another sleep deprived daze, into Norwich station at stupid o’clock this morning. On the floor in the main concourse is a plaque, and it commemorates the electrification of the line from London to Norwich in (wait for it….) 1987.
I was lucky enough to be living in Norwich in 1987, and I remember the furore around this event (the electrification, rather than the putting of a rather pointless stone in the middle of the floor of the station. Although it does remind of a fabulous story about Prince Philip, when he visited the recently restored HMS Victory. His guide pointed out a plaque on the floor, and solemnly said that it marked the spot where Nelson fell. ‘Not surprised’ said our favourite royal, ‘nearly tripped over the bloody thing myself’). The reaction was not that far away from that experienced by my parents all those years ago: Why would we ever want to get to London any quicker…or at all ? And what would people from London want to come here for, anyway? By the way, some peoples view on answers would be a) we still don’t know and b) to buy up pretty much every single property in North Norfolk so they can wear hunter boots at the weekend.
Then I spy a copy of the Eastern Daily Press, which has a headline of ‘Premier League’. People in Norfolk are drawn to headlines like this, as a reminder that we do still (currently) have a football team in the top flight. These things are very important, but, as I say, we need to remind ourselves to keep in touch with our own reality. Anyway, this article is not about football, it’s about the investment committed by HM government into the East Anglian road infrastructure. Catching up on this online, I was also delighted to read the second lead story as well (Dereham Deputy Mayor’s Recycling Shock), which gives a pretty good insight as to the range of topics that the press hounds of the EDP have to cover. So, apparently, our PM is visiting Norfolk today (at last, a valid reason for me to be in London!) and keen to tell people about the biggest infrastructural investment in the country. Well, outside London and the southeast, it transpires, but at least that means that Norfolk can be nicely patronised while still sticking two fingers up to anyone living north of Watford.
Here’s the quote: Mr Cameron said: “Why does this all matter so much? Well put simply, the jobs of the future depend on infrastructure fit for the future. It is the foundation stone on which businesses can grow, compete and create jobs – jobs that provide financial security for families here in Norfolk and across the country.”
But I’m not sure I totally agree. I’m a long way from being a Luddite, but putting money into something that allows people to waste slightly less time travelling between two places feels a bit last year to me. Remember all that great stuff a few years back about the global village, where everybody was going to be able to telecommute, and think global and act local? Well, looks to me like we’ve lost sight of that a bit, amidst an enthusiasm for squeezing out as many fossil fuels as possible out of the planet to maintain our obsession with being in lots of different places, often for fairly negligible reasons. Surely the infrastructure we ought to be investing in is the one that allows us to have less relatively pointless journeys? By the way, as far as this blog is concerned, the great irony is that putting yet more cars on the road will of course, really change the weather…
The beauty of living in Norfolk is precisely because its hard to get to, and as a result, it hasn’t necessarily moved in the same direction or at the same pace, as much of the rest of the country. It might be lacking in a bit of drama as far as the landscape goes (although I remember mentioning this a few years ago and getting the response ‘Hills? What do we want with them? They’ll only get in the way of the view’), but its still largely of its own making. And most people respect it for that, and for not being just another commoditised settlement.
Of course, theres a down side to living here as well, being a hard place to get to means that its also a hard place to get out of, a bit like Royston Vasey (Welcome to Royston Vasey – You’ll Never Leave) for those of you who remember the League of Gentlemen. So it can be a bit insular, and someone once told me that it was the ‘graveyard of ambition’, but (trust me on this,) I’ve met far less ambitious people in my wanderings around the country than those I knock up against in this fine city.
If you like the sound of all this and you don’t live in Norfolk, then do look us up some time. Let us know when you’re on your way, wear comfortable clothes and make sure you get some food in for the journey. It takes bloody ages, which is, of course, just the way we like it.