Keith Skipper: Why every March has been pretty miserable since 1959
PUBLISHED: 22:40 07 March 2020 | UPDATED: 22:40 07 March 2020
Despite midweek joy for Norwich City, Keith Skipper says his birthday month of March has been full of misery ever since that original great cup run ended 61 years ago
March, so often carrying many moods and assorted weathers, has long been the most bitter-sweet month on my personal calendar.
It goes back over 60 years when I experienced much-needed praise and abject misery within a matter of hours to leave me far more befuddled than usual a week after my 15th birthday.
Wednesday, March 18, 1959, started so well at grammar school as my essay on "Gateway to Spring" picked up top marks out of a crop spattered with bursting buds, nodding daffodils, uplifting birdsong and a young man's fancy turning to thoughts of cricket nets.
I had a head start on most of my colleagues when it came to background material for a seasonal exercise like this. My daily country commute by bike from Beeston to Fransham, where I caught the train to Swaffham, provided so much scribbling inspiration.
Farms, fields, horses and tractors held sway most of the way as winter relented and less-spiteful winds rippled across reawakening land. Mud, muffled figures and sugar-beet moved over for liberating springtime outside chores and cheery waves from men behind hedges as I pedalled past, frantically late as usual.The March weather speciality on these constant dashes for a cosy railway carriage had to be those split-shift mornings spelling summer in the light and winter in the shade. Dramatic climate change several times within a few minutes and two or three miles.
Such a sharp contrast sums up my feelings as the second half of my sweet-and-sour 1959 Wednesday unfolded. Basking in praise for my lyrical composition in honour of Norfolk days pulling out, I joined a crowd of football-mad colleagues in the school Reading Room to tune into one of the most historic fixtures in Norwich City history.
We had been given permission to listen to commentary on the Canaries' FA Cup semi-final replay against Luton Town at St Andrew's in Birmingham. The first meeting at White Hart Lane, Tottenham's ground, had ended in a 1-1 draw in front of a 63,500 crowd.
City were bidding to become the first Division Three side to reach this final after toppling Manchester United, Cardiff, Spurs and Sheffield United. It was still a no-goal stalemate when I left to catch my train.
By the time I reached Fransham and disembarked for what I had hoped would be a triumphant pedal towards those famous twin towers of Wembley, the yellow and green tide had been turned back at last. Little Billy Bingham scored the decisive goal after 56 minutes.
When I interviewed him over a decade later in my role as Carrow Road scribe - he was then Everton manager - he claimed to have no clear memory of administering the blow designed to spell the end of that great Canary crusade.
I didn't believe the genial Irishman as I painted a tragic picture of a grief-stricken schoolboy who could hardly see the twisty road ahead on his journey home as tears welled up and splashed all over the handlebars.
Dusk was calling as I wheeled up our garden path, dismounted and disappeared on foot up Red Barn Hill to regain a measure of composure and put on a brave face for the inevitable teatime inquest.
I didn't get a chance to mention how I'd scored an impressive classroom victory earlier in the day. It paled into insignificance alongside the agonies of defeat at St Andrew's in any case.
Gateways to Spring still include a few skid marks of deep regret over what might have been. Pain eased a bit when I reported on Norwich City's first visits to Wembley, culminating in long-awaited success in the League Cup Final against Sunderland in 1985.
For all that, I tend to side with an old country boy called Jem Twaddletoes taking a gentle stroll on a bright morning at this time of year. He's the star of a popular East Anglian poem, Spring in the Air, by HC Buxton. Old friend David Woodward featured it regularly on our Press Gang entertainment rounds over 25 years.
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This rhapsodic saga culminates in someone, clearly impressed by the weather, pointing out big signs of winter's retreat. Forgetting old Jem is stone deaf, this determined enthusiast eventually bellows in his ear "Spring in the air!"
Jem screws up his face and replies "Whoi sh'd Oi?"
I felt a lot like that on being told to cheer up when that epic 1958-59 Cup run ende
SKIP'S ASIDE: As threatened last week with my short treatise on the glories of local gossip, here are a few favourites from my vast collection.
A keen ear, good memory and straight face are essential tools of the trade which began for me on village rounds in the early 1950s. Many an errand was spiced with titbits like "She's got a face liked a paralysed pork cheese" and "He's blessed with short arms and deep pockets".
These were unsolicited testimonials for characters I didn't know. I knew much more about this sniping business by the time I started my full-time years on local newspapers.. Valuable contacts would preface vital information with "Now, you didn't get this from me, but I gather ….."
That was the path to subtle hints like "He's not all he seems, y' know" and "I gather she's no better than she ought to be". Perhaps such comments seem like gentle praise when placed alongside some of the vitriol let loose on today's social media.
The value of pretending to read while you're tuned into a nearby conversation was underlined by two good ole Norfolk gals on a train journey from Cromer into Norwich. Let's call them Gert and Daisy …
Gert" : "Yew know when yar grandfather died?"
Gert: "Well, how much money did he leave ?"
Daisy: "Oh, all of it-… yew hev tew!"
Former Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, is renowned for his sense of humour. He told me about one of his predecessors speaking at a great gathering somewhere in the county. Chatting afterwards, one churchwarden asked the other: "Did you 'ear Bishop say Windum wuz better 'an Norridge?"
"Yis, I'm sure he say Windum's better 'an Norridge".
They shook their heads in disbelief and asked various other who agreed the Bishop had said Windum wuz better 'an Norridge. Then they spied the Bishop himself and asked if he had indeed said Windum wuz better 'an Norridge.
"No," replied the Bishop. "I said wisdom was better than knowledge".
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