Monday, 26 January 2009

Heated debate over the coffee and walnut cakes!

Welcome to my blog about life in a Norfolk village, though really it should be 'villages' in the plural, since what goes on in mine is very little and I will need to expand my horizons to find you interesting (I hope!) glimpses into life in Norfolk.
Whilst it is quiet here, around me there are villages all within easy driving distance where there is much going on and much to see, and a favourite visit is to a particular farmer's market, where amongst the usual greengrocery and butchery, you can buy everything from hand-made wicker baskets to micro-brewery beer, hand-dyed silk scarves to smelly cheeses. Not to mention excellent bacon butties!
There is always a cake stall, this seems to be the one most people head for first, and the selection is always mouthwateringly tempting, and diet and calorie counting are words which you need to drop from your vocabulary, just for the weekend at least. Normally trade is brisk, the customers are all regulars, know what they want, and after a brief chitchat about the weather, maybe a titbit of local gossip now and then, said in quiet undertones so that you have to sidle along discreetly if you want to pick up anything at all, they all go on their way, politely, smilingly, happily with their cakes. But this last weekend the stall was attracting more attention than usual, there was a small group of half a dozen or so locals getting quite hot under the collar it seemed to me.
So less than discreetly I walked over to the stall, pretending great interest in the cakes but with an ear on the conversation. And since it was getting quite loud and heated, I only needed the one ear to listen with! I heard comments like 'What about freedom of speech then?', 'We all have our own views on this subject you know', and 'There's a place for such things and the side of a bus isn't it'. Well, this last one was my undoing, I had to join the group. Fortunately this wasn't quite as rude a thing as you might be thinking, as I realised that one of the ladies was Jill, who I recognised from a sponsored walk she and I took part in a month or so ago, for a local charity.
I think we were drawn to each other because we looked so out of place, everyone seemed serious about it and we thought it was a 'Fun Walk', but both raised eyebrows at each other when we caught sight of several people wearing serious walking boots, others doing warm up exercises, and there we were in our flowery wellies, she with her lurcher and neither of us looking very serious about it at all. And when there was a sort of scuffle between two middle-aged gents about who should walk alongside Polly, the landlady of one of the pubs in the area, well.. we seemed to decide silently to just walk and talk together at our own pace.
In a break in the conversation I caught her eye, and she gave me another of her 'Would you believe this?' looks, before bringing me into the conversation. It seemed that Martha, another of the group, had been shopping in Norwich the previous week and noticed a small gathering of people staring at a bus, with much shaking of heads, tut-tutting and so on. A local television camera crew were there filming the bus so she went to see what the fuss was about, and there, on the side of the bus was an advert which read 'There's probably no God so stop worrying and enjoy your life'.
This caused great offence to many people, including this group at the market, who seemed to be divided as to whether or not this kind of advertising was wrong and should be banned. The bus company FIRST has this advert on about 800 of its buses around the UK, and they were put there by The Humanist Society, and apparently, more than one Christian bus driver has refused to drive a bus with this advert. The Humanist Society on their website say that they never intended to offend anyone, and are pleased that the Advertising Standards Authority had decided not to launch an investigation.
I didn't really have much to contribute to the conversation, since I have always maintained that my religion and my politics are nobody's business but my own, and so I was more than happy to join Jill when she broke away from the group and suggested we go for coffee in the new coffee shop around the corner, where the cakes looked suspiciously like the ones on the cake stall we had just left, but luckily, the conversation was kept to a low hum.