Home sweet home

The fabulously named Institute for Economics and Peace has just declared my hometown to be the most peaceful part of the country to live thanks to its amazingly low levels of violent crime.

I say hometown, but I exaggerate. Broadland in Norfolk is way too rural to be deemed a town – it’s more a state of mind. The secret’s in the name. It’s a vast expanse of fields, reed beds, unpretentious villages and sleepy (unless I’m behind the wheel of a Hoseasons cruiser) Norfolk Broads.

Its beaches are just as beautiful as Cornwall’s, but without the breakers that attract teenage surfers. Its waterways are just as scenic as The Lakes, but without the literary connections, and its villages as pretty as the Cotswolds, but without quite such an influx of green wellies at the weekend.

And on Wednesday I learnt that the University of East Anglia in Norwich has beaten Oxford and Cambridge in a survey of 12,000 students by the Times Higher Education survey to find the university that gives students the best overall experience of student life.

Norfolk’s clearly on the up and it’s about time its image got a well-deserved makeover. The county is used to being the butt of city slickers’ jokes and has been used for years by arch, allegedly worldly, comedians as a euphemism for anything vaguely backward, narrow-minded and generally country bumpkin. We all love Steve Coogan’s excruciatingly gauche Alan Partridge, but why is living in Norwich always part of the joke?

For years people from Norfolk have had to smile wryly when anyone mentioned “NFN”, the acronym that GPs would allegedly scrawl on patients’ notes when no other diagnosis could explain their patient’s apparent slowness and unnaturally vast expanse of space between the ears. It stood for Normal For Norfolk.

This week’s news shows that it’s time to reclaim and celebrate all that is Normal For Norfolk. And I was more than slightly cheered by the lovely Julian Clary who came out as a Norfolk fan only last week. “I love Norwich. There, I’ve said it,” he declared on Twitter. As a Norfolk girl, I thank you.

I can vouch for Broadlands’ peacefulness. We moved there when I was in my late teens and my parents lived in the same house on the Broads until they died a few years ago. I can’t remember our family being the victim of a single crime in all those years.

Their house was at the end of a long deserted road that ended with a chain ferry across the river. You couldn’t have invented a lonelier place, but I never felt a moment’s worry there, and the house survived untroubled by burglars or vandals despite being empty on and off for almost two years after my mum died.

The only time we could ever even loosely claim to have been the victim of a crime happened years ago, when I was a student and Dad got me up at the crack of reed warbler’s yawn to drive me to the station to catch the first train back to London one winter morning. It was still pitch dark outside as we got into the (unlocked) car. As we started the car something began to move on the back seat.

We turned round to see the dozy figure of a man curled up on the back seat who’d been rudely awakened by the sound of slamming doors and Radio Norfolk on the car radio. I’m not sure which of us was the most startled. It turned out he’d missed the last ferry home the night before and rather than face the alternative, which was a three mile walk to the nearest phone box and a seven mile walk to the nearest taxi, he’d crept into the garden and kipped in our car.

“Budge up,” said Dad, lobbing my bag in the back next to him, and we gave him a lift. Now that’s NFN.

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