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The Great Soup Delivery and other tales of Bronickle End

PUBLISHED: 11:31 28 October 2017

The Great Soup Delivery: Keith thinks this might be an actual picture of Souper Syd and Donkey Oatie in action. Picture: Keith Skipper Collection

The Great Soup Delivery: Keith thinks this might be an actual picture of Souper Syd and Donkey Oatie in action. Picture: Keith Skipper Collection

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You may struggle to find the Norfolk village of Bronickle End on the map. But don’t worry, because Keith Skipper seems to know all about it. Here’s his latest report...

Granny Biffin, by a country mile Bronickle End’s oldest and wisest indigenous remnant, is calling for extra rations of “true grit” to steer her small community through testing times.

As county council cuts mount, and national economic uncertainty intensifies on the cusp of winter, she points to old-fashioned self-sufficiency as the key ingredient of a local survival programme.

“Most of our cottages still have wall ovens. We can keep ourselves warm and cook tasty home-made meals at the same time. We can take it in turns to feed and entertain each other,” enthused this rural sage with a penchant for traditional virtues.

“There’s also the bonus of using cinders and ashes from our open fires to treat the single-carriageway track running into and through Bronickle End in the event of snow and ice paying unwelcome visits,” she added with all the poise and purpose of a born leader.

Recalling harsh winters borne with a phlegmatic countryside carry-on spirit, she cites The Great Frost of 1940 as inspiring her tiny hamlet’s finest hours. The weather at the start of a year destined to be one of the most significant in our history was bitterly cold with snow.

By the middle of the month, Norfolk and Suffolk were held in the icy grip of one of the most severe frosts of the century. Roads were blocked, rivers and broads frozen, towns and villages were cut off and a fierce north-easterly blew for several weeks.

And it was all a big secret. Any references to the weather were censored for 15 days for fear the information would be useful to the enemy. It didn’t matter much. The whole of Europe had returned to those Ice Age conditions.

“That freezing wartime chapter taught us valuable lessons. Like stocking the larder with plenty of bottled fruit and other essentials, making sure the shed is full of logs and enough coal to boil water for at least one bath a week and always having the accumulator charged to keep wireless news flowing,” mused Granny Biffin.

“A full pot under the bed did wonders for my chilblains,” offered Egbert Dodman. “An old army coat on my bed kept frostbite to a minimum,” chipped in Abel Boddy. “I had a candle beside my bed to keep evil spirits at bay,” whispered elfin Maude Morphrey.

“What light through yonder window breaks?” inquired retired actor Valentine Crisp in his constant mission to raise the cultural tone.

His idea to produce A Winter’s Tale in the front room of his small abode, Final Curtain, in case theatre outings are cancelled through bad weather has yet to be discussed by the emergency events committee. Charades, whist drives, Postman’s Knock and community singing with a wind-up gramophone are already on the list.

Granny Biffin accepts younger residents – the few under 75 – are more likely to talk about exceptional post-war winters like 1963 but has no doubts the entire population of 57 hardy souls will back her “true grit” campaign with proper parochial passion.

“We are able to cope with the unexpected because we are always ready for it. Compare that to nearby Muckwash Magna, a dozen times bigger than Bronickle End with shop, pub, school, village hall and yoga classes. They panic when two snowflakes arrive on a stiff breeze!”

She chuckles at such ineptitude and rolls back the years to the early 1900s when her colourful uncle Syd Hinds was responsible for organising The Great Soup Delivery to deserving cases within a 13-mile radius of Bronickle End.

“He always did brisk business in Muckwash Magna in those days when people weren’t too proud to admit they had fallen on hard times. They used to call him Souper Syd (with Donkey Oatie) and he was particularly welcome on cold days or during periods of deep rural depression”.

So, with plenty of stirring exploits behind them, the “make-do-and-mend” generation in one of our region’s most remote villages are determined to set an example of how to survive – and even flourish – as a counter-blast against the forces of austerity, cutbacks and shrivelled ambition.

Former Scotland Yard detective Ernest Pingle will keep an eye on law and order from his office under the stairs at Duncuffin while retired district nurse Alice Tizzick has jurisdiction over Bronickle End’s NHS – Norfolk’s Homemade Service.

“I’ve told her all about my pot-luck cure for chilblains. It’s a winner,” said Egbert.

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