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That ripe old whiff of Norfolk nostalgia - recalling the poo-collecting honeycart

PUBLISHED: 07:31 26 January 2020 | UPDATED: 07:32 26 January 2020

Litcham legend Wally Feeke and his horse-drawn honeycart  before life beyond the pail

Litcham legend Wally Feeke and his horse-drawn honeycart before life beyond the pail

Archant

It was like the Deliveroo of its day, only in reverse. Keith Skipper recalls the takeway convenience of the honeycart

Be honest, we gnarled natives like a laugh at the expense of newcomers, holidaymakers, second-homers and myriad birds of passage who tumble headlong into Norfolk's puckish potholes.

Listen for stifled titters as maps are consulted with earnest requests for the way to Happisburgh, Wymondham, Postwick, Alburgh, Salle and several more. Tell them Garblesham is nice at this time of year. Cossey keeps growing.

Watch sly nudges multiply while Old Charlie tells a growing pub audience how three of his chums at village school got their nicknames of "Spam", "Curfew" and "Rations". One of them had a sister called "Stockings".

Smile knowingly and nod sagely whenever self-styled local historian Hermione Bodice recalls an old futility rite known as Knockin' and Toppin' and when Trowse Lighthouse and Gressenhall Treacle Mines were major tourist attractions after Pete Diggins invented the Broads.

Plenty more rations of wholesome squit to dispense in the name of mischief rather than malice just to underline Norfolk's traditional urge to dew diffrunt while rest of the world wraps itself in dull uniformity. And there's no reason why local history should be boring.

A key topics for enlightenment must be the full flavour of village life some 70 years ago. The fact I was there in the middle of it could be behind my appointment as special advisor on outside ablutions and offered a seat on the board at Lower Dodman Museum of Rural Relics.

It is staffed by such and open every weekend from November until March to help while winter away and prepare ambassadors for summer safaris into holiday hotspots to highlight Norfolk fundamentals too easily shunned and forgotten.

One of the biggest holes in "local" knowledge is the part played in community welfare before indoor toilets by the ubiquitous honeycart. I've even heard it billed by well-educated incomers as "surely something to do with Winnie the Pooh".

I can merely assume they envisage a vital delivery service to Norfolk's equivalent of Hundred Acre Wood. There is a Honeypot Wood near Wendling, next door to my home village of Beeston, but I've yet to take off the lid to any connections with AA Milne's endearing little bear.

There's also an additional blind spot among those who think "the mains" were important items on a restaurant menus and "shud down the yard" a place to shelter flower pots, slug pellets and other garden essentials.

No, the honeycart was a carriage of convenience, a takeaway transport of delight before life beyond the pail. One of my boyhood heroes, Wally Feeke of Litcham, still lights up our social history trail.

His honeycart escapades are legendary and I recall how his widow May visited Radio Norfolk's Dinnertime Show in the early 1980s to share precious yarns and, at the behest of Litcham Historical Society, present me with that famous picture of her Wally getting on with a job that had so many others turning up their noses.

The framed memory-stirrer has pride of place in my study - even though it isn't quite the smallest room in our house. I like to think it may have inspired this newspaper to come out of the closet on January 4, 1984. A grand breakthrough on the back page with the headline: "Breckland to scrap honeycart".

The first time, surely, such a label had been pinned on the old wagon by the EDP in a serious report. The story referred to over 100 Breckland homes still using pail closets being given five years to get rid of them. The district council confirmed they were dropping their night-soil collection in 1989, leaving householders to make alternative arrangements.

Can we assume that dateline was met and all shuds down the yard, many given camouflage treatment behind privet, ivy, lavender or lilac, now do house flower pots, slug pellets and other gardening essentials?

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A big push towards a place in local folklore came with Bobby Benton's hymn of praise, The Honeycart Song.

Those searching for international acceptance could point to Unreliable Memoirs from Clive James and his early days in Australia. "From outside in the street there was rattling, banging and shouting and the full pan was loaded on to the dunnycart".

We gave the blessed vehicle several other names, including violet wagon and perfumed garden on wheels. My favourite, however, has to be the humdinger for one that boasted a bell and went like the clappers around Long Stratton way.

SKIP'S ASIDE:

A couple of gentle jaunts along and around the north Norfolk coast enabled me to usher into play a few of my favourite words - character, cherish, durable, inviting, peaceful and space.

Perhaps they did emerge all the more readily as a welcome January sun stirred the soul and brought extra appeal to the familiar. It did no harm either to remind ourselves it will be some time before the holiday hordes return.

One of my favourite local authors set the bar high for this sort of outing. Lilias Rider Haggard waxed poetically in A Norfolk Notebook (1946): "Such enchantment lies upon the coast of north Norfolk, which leaves it in memory, not just an impression of peculiar beauty, but a series of pictures standing out as vividly as if you had opened a book".

We sauntered a few hedgerows inland to wonder again how Letheringsett keeps its nerve and lingering rural feel despite a constant snake of traffic through its heart.

For those in reflective mood, it's a delightfully long stretch

to Langham after leaving the main Holt to Fakenham highway. Pheasants, pigs and inkpen branches abound as the eye lifts easily from clearly-defined fields to wide open skies. There's a rare residence on the right. How did Smokers' Hole get that name? I've asked many times but received no reasonable answer. Norfolk ignorance is not good for your health.

Langham seems to wander off rather absent-mindedly towards wartime runways and Cockthorpe Church playing hide-and-seek among the trees. Morston Church stands castle-like on a knoll , a chunky square tower partly rebuilt in red brick in 1743 providing a marble- cake flavour.

Stiffkey clings to an eternal belief that no amount of vehicles passing through its narrow and twisting middle

in search of extra coastal charms can destroy its inherent good looks or self-sufficiency.

A brave stand worth celebrating with a look in and around the village church.

Traffic silenced by history, nature and thinking.

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