Use it or lose it! Norfolk vernacular must be saved

PUBLISHED: 18:24 20 October 2019 | UPDATED: 10:16 21 October 2019

Even in Norfolk there’s a time to accept change … Cley’s impressive parish church dons an autumnal fringe to celebrate a season of many colours.

Even in Norfolk there’s a time to accept change … Cley’s impressive parish church dons an autumnal fringe to celebrate a season of many colours.

Archant Norfolk 2014

Keith Skipper, Norfolk’s warrior for keeping our beloved dialect, says if we don’t keep using our local lingo, it will vanish for good

Autumn is putting on an impressive variety show worthy of comparisons with the Old Muckwash Magna Music Hall where legend has it no turn was left unstoned.

Raucous behaviour aside, our October bill so far has provided enough different types of weather to suit all tastes, flitting effortlessly from chilling winds and pelting rain to balmy breezes and consoling sun.

A quiet stroll along Cromer seafront, now hosting more seagulls than trippers, can turn into a frantic dash for cover as clouds roll in to cheer on angry waves below. Seeking refuge behind a beach hut offers just enough scope to contemplate climate change anew.

A gentle trip inland soon paints gorgeous colours on memory packages to sneak into winter. Various shades of brown, red and rust vie for admiration before November's wildest blasts blow them away. Now's the time to hang on to that mixing palette.

I stand on the headland watching man and machine in the old quest for a straight furrow. A froth of seagulls wait at the blade for rich pickings from chocolate-brown soil. The sun, a pale silver disc overhead, suddenly finds courage to charm away a curling mist.

It's not so much a season of decay as a time to accept change … hardly a habit that comes easily in Norfolk. Perhaps a bit of extra room and time for the familiar to stay intact simply makes it harder to watch it disappear. Even crumbling barns and ancient farm machinery ask for attention in an autumn sunset.

It was early in October 20 years ago that I made a Sunday afternoon pilgrimage to the heart of Norfolk amid a mixture of sharp showers and bright interludes. A gathering at
Yaxham Village Hall found enough guile and like-minded people to set up Friends Of Norfolk Dialect.

I had nursed a long-held ambition to help keep this vital strand of our heritage alive, not least in face of an epidemic of Mummerzet abominations let loose in national television and radio dramas allegedly set in this county.

"To lump all country dialects together in one big rustic pot is a wicked affront to so many areas rich with individual character and respect for truly local traditions" I trumpeted countless times during closing years of the 20th century. Echoes of a familiar theme …

For example, Walton N Dew made his stand while serving up a A Dyshe of Norfolk Dumplings, a fascinating book, in 1898: "To poke fun at a Norfolk man's speech and customs is an amusement of no recent birth.

"Some five centuries since, a Monk of Peterborough wrote his 'Descriptio Norfolciensium' wherein his pictures of our old peasant life are ludicrously portrayed ; in short, it is obvious throughout that our monastic author forgot to confine himself to the truth".

Well, the malady lingers on to underline good reasons for forming FOND in the first place and for the fight to continue on an official footing.

My role as founder-chairman taught me from the start it would be a tough job to destroy an obvious impression among a majority of acting and voice coaches that Norfolk tootles along somewhere between Devon and Dorset.

I sent tapes of the authentic Norfolk sound to numerous television and radio stations as well as to individual actors anxious to get somewhere close to the genuine article. "The accent is so difficult to do for anyone born outside the county" was a regular response.

"A time to accept change. Must do better!" I retorted as cheap laughs and ignorance carried on mocking efforts to present Norfolk dialect and mannerisms in an honest way. FOND remains a key force in aiding the cause, to shed a little light on corners where cobwebs of indifference can easily multiply alongside the dust of derision.

If Norfolk wants to maintain a reputation for "dewin' diffrunt' it must be heard taking delight in an essential strand of that alternative pattern. "Use it or lose it" can apply just as much to our vernacular as to village shop or pub.

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Back to Walton N Dew for a rallying call: "Never be ashamed of the dialect and customs of good old Norfolk. If we are behind the times compared with other counties, we can console ourselves with the thought that Norfolk men have played their part, and that right well, in the stirring events of our national history".


They tell me Norfolk's biggest growth industries are domestic scaffolding, constant roadworks, thoughtless parking, mobile-phone posing, supermarket moaning and celebrity spotting.

Let's look at the last of those in more detail. I won't mention any hallowed names for fear of being tarred with the same moth-eaten brush regularly waved around the speakeasies of Chelsea-on-Sea.

It's far more fun to drop little hints, spread a few juicy rumours and deliberately mislead about this actress, that chef and the other talent show judge who thinks Stewkey Blues make a really cool sound.

They're the easy ones to lift out of a crowd. Recognising a lugworm bait digger from Blakeney, a chimney sweep from Titchwell and a retired mole catcher from the outskirts of Thornham demands more attention to detail.

As a general rule, these rare home-grown characters will preface most comments with "Cor, blarst me!" and pretend hey don't yet have electricity in their tied cottages and as a consequence have no idea as to who or what represents proper culture these days.

They hum the theme tunes from ITMA and Dick Barton as a farewell gesture and drop little hints about the "shud down the yard" where sheets from News of the World and Picture Post vie for most attention.

Another useful pointer for those trying to sort wholesome wheat from chancy chaff is

the good ole Oxo tin held together by a giant elastic band. This refreshments receptacle contains spam sandwiches, Norfolk shortcakes and coypu-flavoured crisps, a veritable spread on the hoof for natives who recognise hard work when they see it

Ironically, many refugees from various corners of Tinsel Town experience sudden pangs of envy when they encounter colourful indigenous remnants, just like capital journalist Clement Scott in the 1880s as he watches farm labourers gather in the corn harvest.

Never mind prickly sweat, long hours and poor wages … "Laughter and song are hear all over the land, louder than the wind that bends the ripening crops or the sea that moans at the foot of crumbling cliffs". Poppyland or Chelsea-on-Sea, flowery images can blossom to justify the invaders and mollify the invaded.


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