I moved to the Czech Republic from Thetford about
12 years ago, and I still think of the old town with fondness.
It’s always been a peculiar thing. Whenever I meet
another person from Norfolk and say I’m from Thetford, there’s a
slight pause, “Oh, Thetford… that’s where all the Londoners live,
Lewis Paines now lives in the Czech Republic.
It seems to come out automatically like Noel Coward’s
“terribly flat” description of Norfolk.
But I do miss the old town, despite what people
think of it. There’s a sort of 'wind up the windows and don’t stop'
feeling that people have about Thetford, as if they were driving
through Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Then there’s Abbey Farm,
a council estate which some people like to think consists of muggers,
drug dealers, bank robbers and snipers ready to pick off any outsider
foolish enough to go there.
Every time there was a crime in the town, reporters
would note the culprits “were seen running off in the direction
of Abbey Farm” even if they were on the other side of the town and
would have had to run for miles through the better areas to get
there. But we all knew their sort and where they were running to!
Now, while I’m sure many locals are just a little
proud of the town’s tough reputation, I’ll have to let the secret
out: I spent years walking to and from work through Abbey Farm,
often at night, and never once was I shot or mugged.
So all the rest of you from outside Thetford are
wrong. It’s a great place. There’s no other place in the county
with as much open, publicly accessible space.
The town has commons and parks and, of course,
the forest, while the rest of Norfolk seems to consist of 12ft hedges
and signs with 'get orf moi land'.
The river and the parks are beautiful. The forest
is great to play in if you’re a kid, and if you like swimming, there’s
a great pool.
I only come back to Thetford once every couple
of years, but I think it’s improving. It seems a lot livelier now,
and the new communities are really giving a new atmosphere to the
Thetford must be the only town in the county where
I could go down the main street last year and hear Russian, Polish,
Slovak, Spanish and Portuguese at the same time.
I wonder if the attitude towards Thetford will
change too. When I say I’m from Thetford, will there be a slight
pause and then, “Oh, Thetford. That’s where all the Portuguese live,