A Copywriter’s View of the Sheringham Sinkhole

For a writer, the best bit about drama and excitement is telling the story. Rather sad, really, when you think about it. It’s no different from watching a live band or a firework display through the camera of a mobile phone.

So, having removed myself from the front line of raw experience, and taken up a comfortable, objective viewpoint, my interest was piqued, in the summer of 2019, by the sinkhole that opened up in Sheringham High Street.

Picnic by the sewer

It’s a beautiful day. A family of four are enjoying tea and cake, al fresco, in Sheringham. Their table is right beside an excavation site, where sounds of machinery and piped water are accompanied by the faint aroma of sewage.

Am I the only one to find this bizarre?

Bribery is a dirty word

There’s always some sort of drama being played out in Norfolk’s premier seaside town. Like, for instance, the 14-year war that raged in Sheringham between a corporate giant and a community of long-standing local businesses. There was no actual bloodshed, but the sweat and the tears flowed like Lucozade in a sick room.

Tesco’s army, led by faceless generals, comprised approximately half of the Sheringham population, and their campaign was backed by healthy funding. The domestic army, led by a committee of passionate defenders of independent commerce, armed with nothing but sheer determination, fought battle after battle, defeating the stronger force at each attempted invasion. A lot of influence in this war belonged to Sheringham Town Council, and it’s a widely held belief that it was Tesco’s unlimited funds that ultimately persuaded members of the Town Council to vote in favour of a Tesco supermarket opening up in Sheringham.

Bribery’s a dirty word. But fuck it – I’ll use it.

Now, I’m a woman of strong principles, and before the first brick of this supermarket was laid, I swore I’d never – never, ever again – set foot in any Tesco store.

Alpha Papa

Sheringham has seen other excitement, too. The Alan Partridge movie, Alpha Papa, was filmed in various locations in North Norfolk – including Cromer, of course, because Cromer has to get in on everything. On a sunny day in 2013, Steve Coogan and friends arrived in Sheringham to film an exciting car chase down Station Road, and every Sheringham resident, it seemed, was on the street in the hopes of snatching a glimpse of Steve Coogan – or, better still, being immortalised in British film history.

… And how about the ambiguous pedestrian crossings that aren’t actually crossings at all! These subtle little pathways across the road cost a small fortune, by all accounts, but in fact serve no purpose beyond causing confusion to drivers. When pedestrians amble across the road, smug in the conviction that they have right of way, and then traffic piles up like dominoes behind a startled driver … well, I’m not convinced that confusion is the best policy.

Anyway, back to picnics by the sewers.

As tall as the buildings but going down

On Saturday 25 May, around lunchtime, a small sinkhole, about 60cm wide, opened up in Sheringham High Street. The area was cordoned off with light fencing, and that part of the road was expected to be closed for seven days whilst the Town Council looked into it. Besides filling the cavity with tonnes of hardcore, there was work to be done on damaged water mains and sewerage pipes. The main message, conveyed through signage and all other media was: SHERINGHAM OPEN FOR BUSINESS AS USUAL

It’s now 24 June, and the sinkhole dominates the town. The operation site is a gaping gash, eight metres deep (in Norfolk, that’s “as tall as the buildings, but going down”), and it’s full of cranes and drills and workmen – and workwomen, of course. A high barricade hides the action from the curious public.

Some businesses have suffered lost revenue as a result of the town’s famous sinkhole. One of the worst affected is a café and ice-cream bar, whose sinkhole special, Rocky Road Ice-Cream, is advertised on the worksite’s barricade. (Note to self: get a sinkhole special from Pungleperry’s.)

As always, Sheringham marches on, and I’m proud to call this town my home.

Must dash now. I need to get to Tesco.

Post script …

On Sunday 1st September, a street party was held in Sheringham to celebrate the end of work on the sinkhole and re-opening of the High Street.

The High Street, of course, was closed for the celebrations.

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