I meet them all the time, walking the dog on the East Beach. People who’d upped sticks from Luton, Leeds or London, two or ten or twenty years ago, and come to rest here, in Cromer. Some are retired. Others came when, after an idyllic summer holiday, they felt that here would be a healthier place, an easier place to raise their children. I’m just like them.
My sister and brother in-law came to Cromer from London a few years ago, when bro-in-law got a job in Norwich. My sister tells me she’s possibly the only person who’s moved to Cromer without having been there first on holiday. So, naturally, Cromer was a place where my own family would come for a few days. Predictably, we fell in love with it, and as holidaymakers will, we gazed longingly into the windows of Estate Agents, marveling at how much your £££ would get you. We fell in love with it on idyllic July days when sandcastles were made and the wind was light. But we fell in love with it, too, on freezing February days when, the children togged up like astronauts, they made sandcastles in howling, horizontal sleet.
The moment – the moment – came in August, 2006. We’d spent a fabulous week in Cromer that July, and, a few weeks later, were on our way to a caravan park in South Wales (the second part of a distributed, two-centre summer holiday, you see). As we left London, I looked round at Mrs Cromercrox, who had a very strange expression on her face.
“I know – you wish you were going back to Cromer instead, don’t you?” I asked.
She nodded. We both knew that you only have one life, and, come what may, we’d move to Cromer as quickly as ever we could. We sold our dreary falling-down 1990s box in Ilford for what I considered an obscene amount of money (but which my neighbours thought too little) – and bought an ex-council house at the back end of Cromer for just over half my London sale price. We moved in that November.
Just down the end of the street, through some woods, across a playing field and down the cliffs, here it is – the East Beach. Now, if you want fun and games, the West Beach is the place to go – closer to the town and its amenities, closer to the ice-cream shop, the funfair and (let us be be practical here) the public loos. But just a few hundred yards to the east lies the East Beach, almost deserted, even in the peak of the summer holidays. On those jewel-like days when the sun shines and the wind drops (cherished because they are so few), you could be on some desert island.
I’m in the happy position of being able, if I choose, to come down here most days. In the summer I take off my crocs and paddle, or sit down and dig holes in the sand with my toes. I can have it all to myself – well, there’ll be Canis cromercroxorum, too, chasing sticks, balls or gulls, racing in and out of the waves, and living the life that any dog would envy. We meet other dogs, and their owners, all of whom feel like they’re the greyhounds who’ve woken up to the fact that the rabbit they’ve been chasing is only a worthless toy, and have chosen to come here instead. To hear the sea – to breathe the air.
When we announced we were moving to Cromer, many of our colleagues thought we were mad. But most looked at us and wished they could do it too – wished they could simply relocate to where they wanted, rather than live – or exist – where jobs and family obligations demanded. But then, in 2006, we felt that we’d look unblinkingly at ouir jobs and family situation and face down any objections that might have been raised. To take control of our lives. As I said, you only live once, and it is your duty and your right to make the best of it that you can.