Keith Skipper: Women like the simple things in life - men

Norfolk comedian Sidney Grapes, seen here entertaining as an old washerwoman, gave Aunt Agatha a bol

Norfolk comedian Sidney Grapes, seen here entertaining as an old washerwoman, gave Aunt Agatha a bold voice with her philosophical gems at the end of his Boy John Letters to the EDP - Credit: Archant

Norfolk legend Keith Skipper on the battle between the sexes

It's been a tetchy old start to the new year for those of us who like a bit of banter. Well, it's not every day of the week you can pick up a shrill cry of 'misogynist!' across Cromer's main highway.

One of the town's most venerable characters, well versed in giving more than he gets, collected a straight red card from a passing matriarch for what many might regard as no more than a useful example of quick thinking outside the box.

I must accept partial blame for his pavement fall from grace. 'Frisky winds probing places they didn't ought to go?' I hinted as we tidied scarves and upturned collars. 'Bit like a nosey mawther!' he chuckled as one of that ilk dropped anchor alongside our shivering forms.

She played her game perfectly, threatening to spark a pitch invasion or encouraging trouble in a gathering crowd with an over-the-top flourish of indignation and stark instructions as to where to go for an early bath. That could have been welcome on such a chilly day – but she kindly declined our invitation to share the loofah and lavender soap.

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We likely lads were left to consider our grimy pasts and repartee futures. Would it ever be safe again to decorate the mean streets of north Norfolk with baubles of badinage created out of scraps of native cunning and wit? Does sparkling spontaneity stand a chance against dull uniformity? How many women does it take to change a way of life?

Only one well-respected authority to turn to in a crisis like this – the redoubtable Aunt Agatha. She rejected a lucrative offer recently of a pundit's job on Cley Sports when it became clear the company would not sanction time off for twitching, rambling, smoking kippers and organising lessons in how to talk proper Norfolk.

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Aunt Agatha remains a beacon of common sense in a sea of uncertainty even though her full-time role as dispenser of philosophical gems with that true Norfolk flavour ended 60 years ago. She added telling postscripts to most of the endearing Boy John Letters printed in the Eastern Daily Press between 1946 and 1958. They were composed by Potter Heigham comedian and garage proprietor Sidney Grapes.

I found Aunt Agatha in the dug-out marked Home Truths as I arrived to put her on the spot about what she used to get away with in the name of harmless fun. 'If yew never change your opinion, yew never correct your mistakes' she offered with just a hint of mystery. 'Thass good to change your mind now an' again. That help ter keep it clean' I retorted with half a knowing smile.

Our warm-up session ended. Time now for the cut-and-thrust of a proper match to show how Norfolk stands in a league of its own for even-handed attacks and familiar foibles and frailties. I kicked off with a fair wind behind me: 'She's a werry wise woman what say noffin' at the right time'.

My worthy adversary countered swiftly: 'Women like the simple things in life … Men'. I was stung into a speculative shot from the halfway line: 'A woman kin never keep a secret … unless she git a few friends to help her'.

Aunt Agatha let fly from the edge of the area: 'All husbands are alike, only they hev diffrunt faces so yew kin tell 'em apart'. I tried a crafty lob over a packed defence: 'Some men git what they deserve. Others remain single'.

Back came my plucky opponent with a delicate chip to the far post: 'Many a woman hev lorst a good sweetheart by a'marryin' on 'im'. A stern midfield tackle earned me a ticking off: 'Marriage is a fine institution … for them what like institutions'.

With only seconds to go, Aunt Agatha struck the bar and almost netted the rebound: 'Widows aren't the only ones who have late husbands'. Extra time failed to separate worthy contestants. I tried to break the deadlock with a piledriver: 'If women know so much, how come they ask so many bloomin' questions?'

But the queen of Norfolk one-liners saved her best till last, forcing a replay in the spring on neutral ground behind Snape Maltings: 'Yew kin allus tell a Norfolk man …. but yew carnt tell him much'.

We shook hands and agreed we might yet team up on Cley Sports.

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