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Pure Norfolk? Not so black and white!

PUBLISHED: 16:08 28 May 2008 | UPDATED: 08:58 13 July 2010

RETURNING home from an occasional trip to London is an eye-opener. After a day in the cosmopolitan capital, I am acutely aware of how few non-white faces or foreign voices there are in the streets of our local towns and villages.

RETURNING home from an occasional trip to London is an eye-opener. After a day in the cosmopolitan capital, I am acutely aware of how few non-white faces or foreign voices there are in the streets of our local towns and villages.

So I wasn't surprised to learn that the number of children from black or Asian backgrounds at North Walsham High School is just one per cent, compared with the 19pc national average. I'm sure the figure is roughly similar across North Norfolk.

Isolation is both charming and chilling. It helps preserve tradition and culture. But it can result in ignorance and prejudice too.

Staff at North Walsham High are all too aware of the dangers of pupils developing limited views and aspirations if they don't travel or meet people from other countries.

So they have actively sought International School status, pledging to ensure that the outside world comes into every aspect of teaching (I hope Ofsted ticks all the relevant “outstanding” boxes next time their inspectors call).

On the day I visited, candidates were sitting the first Polish GCSE exam to be held at the school, which now includes six Polish pupils. Teacher Simon Weal is also learning the language to help communicate with them.

Eastern European immigration is the latest addition to Norfolk's heritage.

Norfolk natives are rightly proud of their culture and dialect, but I sometimes wonder if they realise how much of both they owe to “furriners”.

My Norfolk-born, bred and educated partner has a strong local accent and can trace his county origins back many generations on his maternal side.

Pure Norfolk? Well, actually his mum's Dutch maiden name is a reminder of a much earlier wave of immigration into the county - and his dad was French Canadian.

I defy any of you to tell me there is such a thing as “pure” Norfolk.

As the daughter of an RAF family, uprooting every few years, I'm used to being an “incomer”. But, during my gap year working and travelling in the USA, I briefly experienced an added discomfort which must be common to millions in a world full of hopeful travellers and desperate refugees.

Dropping in on a gospel concert marking Martin Luther King Day, I quickly realised I was the only white person in the vast hall. It left me feeling conspicuous and ill-at-ease.

Later that year mine was again the only non-black face, this time among the waiters and waitresses working in a Washington DC restaurant. Behind the scenes my colleagues would angrily criticise our demanding and unsympathetic all-white bosses, cursing them in vivid language.

One day, while head waitress Florence was in full vituperative flow, waiter Danny butted in: “Hey, watch what you say! Alex is listening and she's white.”

I think Florence's reply was probably the best compliment I, or our nation, has ever had: “She ain't white - she's British.”

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