Will we find true value this Christmas? That all depend...

An old-fashioned Christmas card with a timeless edge. Mistletoe, holly and a beaming face full of gr

An old-fashioned Christmas card with a timeless edge. Mistletoe, holly and a beaming face full of great expectations - Credit: Archant

Norfolk stalwarts who stick stubbornly to linguistic basics can make three words go a long way, even on the feverish final furlong to comparative calm of Christmas Day.

There's nothing more soothing for a troubled soul peering over the top of a packed trolley in agitated aisles than rich matter-of-fact tones of hardened locals making light of another festive shopping safari.

They answer breathless inquiries about their current state of health, how it's all going in general and what's left of life savings with time-honoured classics like 'Fair ter middlin'', 'Nut tew bad' and 'Jist abowt brook!'.

Perhaps the first three-word Norfolk fundamentalist I encountered was a little old lady for whom I did Saturday morning jobs during my village childhood. She may have thought me far too nosey at times and answered most of my questions with an intriguing 'That all depend'.

For all my follow-up probing, worthy of Dick Barton or Paul Temple , she never revealed exactly on what it might depend and made it abundantly clear any more inquiries would meet with the same stoic stance.

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I didn't take it too personally on discovering she could be equally oblique towards grown-up acquaintances. A close neighbour would ask if she was going to bingo that evening or to the chapel anniversary on Sunday. Out came the well-oiled straight bat with that familiar stonewall of a response: 'That all depend'.

Years later, on learning about that old girl's hard life punctuated by a number of family tragedies, I began to appreciate why she put up that tantalising curtain against too many efforts to force her into orthodox line with most of the others.

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She had taught herself to cope with myriad uncertainties and hurtful experiences and so took nothing for granted. That didn't push her to wallow in misery – she constantly wore a gentle smile and kept busy indoors and out – but it did render her careful in verbal encounters.

I received a surprise invitation into her little cottage living room just before Christmas in 1954. She gave me a home-made sausage roll and glass of lemonade to go with my regular sixpence for services rendered. A few trimmings trembled over the fireplace while framed photographs etched in tinsel on her chiffonier lined up with a few seasonal greetings cards.

My instincts warned not to ask about the photographs. I had no need to inquire how she would spend Christmas Day, 'I'll have my usual company in here' she announced to forestall any clumsy attempt on my part to drum up a bit of traditional comfort and joy. She wasn't referring just to her rather ancient and bad-tempered cats.

I suppose it is testament to the closeness and caring of small rural communities in those austere post-war years how pockets of isolation and loneliness were filled. Even so, I wondered even then why it took big swigs of the Christmas spirit to prepare some folk for the sort of genuine empathy needed all year round.

Thankfully, voices from the past, family members included, can usher me purposefully towards another Christmas Day. Not preaching, screeching, and fawningly beseeching voices. Just gently whimsical intonations drifting across the homely headlands to help me bed down comfortably on the same old terrain.

We've been advised our latest spell of austerity is all but over. Reckon 'that all depend' if you're a city banker, hedge fund manager, Brexit negotiator, star footballer, Z-rated celebrity, housebuilding firm chief executive or someone desperately waiting for the latest Universal Credit lifeline.

We're all urged to have a jolly good Christmas based on the premise that having more than we need is good for us. Reckon 'that all depend' how seriously you take the latest homeless statistics in this country and those harrowing images of starving children in the Yemen and other conflict-haunted spots.

We have the technology and know-how to contact loved ones all over the globe to share emotional reunions and special 'wish you were here' messages. Will we find time for a quick call next door or just up the street to spread a little joy closer to home? Reckon 'that all depend' if you know your neighbours or that little old woman who always smiles when she goes by.

There's an old adage about knowing the price of everything but the true value of very little. A happy Christmas as you sort that one out.

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