Fakenham – magic in the ordinary


Sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon or being on Brancaster or Holkham beach, it is easy to feel the spirit of place. A little more difficult perhaps in the market place in Fakenham! Well maybe not…..

About a year ago I was in Tesco’s in the middle of town at the till checking my shopping out when the lady behind me said “Do you have one of these at home?” For a second I wasn’t sure what she meant when I saw a brightly dressed man behind her. A startling contrast to her muted colours. Realising that “what” she was referring to was her husband. “Yes, I do” I replied. “Don’t you find it really difficult?” was her next question. I thought for a moment as the shopping was disappearing into my bags and then replied “Oh sometimes but then I am a couple’s counsellor so I might have an advantage in working through the odd struggle”.

There were a few more exchanges, including a put-down directed at her from her husband. Then as I was leaving she said “Can I come and live with you in your villa?” I gave her as warm a smile as I could and said goodbye. When I got into my car I was overwhelmed by sadness and wondered how many other people felt like her in the later stages of their lives or even before . I was puzzled by her use of the word villa and looked up the full meaning which is farm or community. As I thought about it more I realised that in fact “my villa” was Fakenham itself.

Somehow about fifteen years ago Fakenham was named the most boring place in the World! It was a Wednesday and the shops were closed! What I love and appreciate about Fakenham is its extraordinary ordinariness and I am not being sarcastic. I asked the local historian Jim Baldwin what he liked about it and he said that he had never walked through the town without meeting someone he knew. Although I am an in-comer, it is the sort of town where you pass the time of day and know lots of the people who work there by name.

If I stand in the middle of the town long enough I can always find what I need including on industrial estates and in the countryside around  – there are crafts people and specialists of all kinds imaginable. What is even more interesting is that they will want to save you money. I was looking in a craft shop for some varnish and brushes to paint a cabinet and was advised that the really expensive ones I had picked out were not worth it or right. Guess what I keep going back. I had my card cloned and collapsed into the bank in tears and given a cup of tea (not literally that might be a step too far) and sympathy and lots and lots of willing help. The garage will try and mend the faulty part before ordering me a new one. My cup ran over when I discovered that there was also a growing group of Nichiren Buddhists in town as their desire to promote peace is close to my heart – who would have thought eh! Oh and before I forget there is Fabcom that has started to bring all the businesses in Fakenham together to put Fakenham even more on the map.

I have a huge debt of gratitude to the people of Fakenham because if it hadn’t been for them I probably wouldn’t have got married again. For some bizarre reasons at the last minute a spanner was thrown into the works. Part of the solution was proving that we had spent a lot of money on the preparations! Well we hadn’t – my son who is a chef was doing the catering, the football ground had given us an amazing deal on the marquee, friends were going to help decorate it and I had made the invitations. The blow came on market day, suddenly there was this incredible feeling that we had everyone behind us including the local registrar. I went into Aldiss, where we had our wedding list, in tears and all this passing the time of day came into play. Someone overheard and whipped off with the wedding list and said “Well you might not have spent lots of money technically, but your friends and families certainly have!” A letter was typed with a copy of the money spent and by the end of that week we were happily married. I was deeply touched by all these strangers caring and that still continues even today.

Going back to this extraordinary ordinariness, I came into Fakenham this week to take some photos for this blog and my eye was caught by a decorated lintel and I spent the rest of the morning looking up. Some of them are really lovely. There is a fascinating stone carving over the jewellers at the end of Norwich Street with the motto Animo Non Astutia  (by courage not craft or deceit) on it which belongs to the Gordon Clan.

This sets me off on a trail of “I wonder….”. My little grandson was in seventh heaven when the Christmas lights were turned on and the buzz in town was fantastic and yet the children’s ride was really simple and the highlight of his life was getting into the fire engine. We love going to the Christmas tree festival in the church – people come in coach loads to see it and yet it is so simply done but with a lot of love and enthusiasm. I find the best children’s books ever there. Every year there is a concert for Remembrance and I am always so impressed with the variety of talent there is in these parts. The hairs on the back of my neck went up when some young drummers put on a light show. 

Last summer everywhere I went people commented on my clothes and how great they were. Where did I get them? Fakenham, of course. I could go on and on about Fakenham and why I appreciate it so much but this is firstly about saying thank you and secondly about acknowledging  its spirit of place.

When we do that the feelings of belonging and support start to take hold. Meeting the lady in the supermarket has encouraged me to write a book on healing disappointment and putting something back into that “villa”. How interesting there is a history of printing in Fakenham too. At times of uncertainty in the world a need to find out who we are and where we come from often comes to the fore – a need to belong. Strangely enough when I saw that John of Gaunt was made Lord of Fakenham I understood more clearly for myself why I have ended up here as he is one of my ancestors and as if that weren’t enough I am also a Gordon. However, I had my appreciation of Fakenham before I found that out – it was simply icing on the cake.